For those who appreciate the Argentine tango, chances are you’ve heard the bandoneon with your own ears. Along with the piano, cello, viola, double bass, and violin, the bandoneon is what gives a full tango orchestra that telltale sound that makes it a full force of nature. It’s an instrument known for bringing eyes, ears, and full attention to tango dancers with each and every performance.
Upon first look, the bandoneon may look like your typical accordion, or “squeeze box” as it is sometimes affectionately called. In reality, this is quite a different instrument, and one that gives tango music it’s classic sound.
Why Isn’t The Bandoneon More Widely Known?
Those outside of the tango realm may have a hard time learning more about the bandoneon. You’ll be directed to accordions, you may be told you’re confusing this instrument with another. There are two key reasons for this:
- 1. It’s primarily used in Argentine tango music today – The bandoneon has become something of an exclusive sound to Argentine tango music. Those who are yet to appreciate tango dance or tango music may have never heard a bandoneon being played to begin with. However, it is one of the main contributors to the classic Argentine tango sound.
- 2. It hasn’t been widely used since the 1800’s – Surprisingly, the bandoneon was quite popular worldwide a couple of hundred years ago. During the 19th century, the bandoneon was an instrument commonly heard in religious and popular music around the globe. As generations went on, this instrument was replaced by other popular sounds, but has remained a mainstay in Argentine tango.
The History Of The Bandoneon
The bandoneon has a storied and rich history, and one that is still celebrated in tango music. For those looking to understand the bandoneon better, looking to its history is a great place to start.
The 1800’s was the early days of the bandoneon. The instrument was created in Germany by Heinrich Band, a music teacher hailing from the small town of Krefeld. What Band was trying to accomplish was creating a much smaller and more portable organ that could travel with a musician to different churches to provide music for churchgoers. This goal was realized, and the bandoneon was a very popular church instrument of the time. The name “bandoneon” comes from the last name of Heinrich Band.
The way a bandoneon works is both simple and complex at the same time. Like an accordion, the bandoneon uses push and pull motions to force air to create sound. However, in the bandoneon, the bellows force air through reeds by buttons on either side of the instrument. These buttons travel parallel to the bellows, unlike what is found in the accordion, and each button produces a different type of sound on the push or pull motion.
The bandoneon is a fairly “new” instrument as far as musical instruments go, but it’s near impossible to imagine Argentine tango without it. With a rich history in religious and classic popular music, the bandoneon is sure to make a big impression any time it's played.