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Registers of the Standard Stradella Keyboard

Written by:
Donald Balestrieri
Publication:
Accord Magazine, USA. Reprinted courtesy of owner/editor Faithe Deffner. Back copies available.
Date written:
1979
The standard stradella button keyboard, either alone or as an integral part of expanded
systemizations which incorporate free bass as well, demonstrates a stylistic viability which is
reflected in vastly different approaches to musical composition for accordion. Composers continue to
draw on the standard stradella system's resources, sometimes extracting new possibilities or
realizing latent potential.
Recognition and use of these possibilities demands imagination and a practical application of
information about the following:
1. Range of the single note buttons.
2. The inversions produced by the fixed chord buttons.
3. And the characteristics of the various registers.
These offer challenges that not all composers and transcribers
have been able to meet. Few have recognized the full musical
potency there, but additions to the repertory of very interesting
substance and the system continue to interest the performer
and composer alike.
In Galla-Rini's Concerto for accordion and orchestra, written in
1941, and in many of his transcriptions, complete and
consistent application of the musical resources of the standard
stradella keyboard are in evidence. These works abound in
effective and idiomatic writing for the left hand, which must be
carefully studied by every serious student of the instrument.
Continued widespread use of the stradella system and the
music associated with it is enough to warrant attention. The
analysis set forth in this article, of the registers in particular, is
necessary information, not only for the composer and arranger,
but for the teacher, student and performer as well.
THE BUTTON KEYS
The standard stradella keyboard consists of 120 buttons - six
parallel rows of 20 buttons each, graduated on a rising angle which are functionally divisible into two sections.

The two rows (mediant and fundamental) adjacent the switches


produce 12 different single notes, the remaining 28 buttons in
these two rows are duplicated for facility in fingering at different
keyboard locations. (Use of the thumb is rarely practicable.)
The buttons of the next four rows produce fixed chords 12
each of major, minor, dominant seventh (fifth omitted), and
diminished (triad). The correct note content of the latter may be arrived at by spelling a diminished
seventh chord, letter named according to the row in which it is found, and omitting the fifth. The
remaining eight buttons in each row again provide duplications for ease of fingering.
THE SWITCHES
These Switches are the mechanical levers which effect changes of reed couplings. Standardized
combinations of the reed sets are indicated by the switch symbols (see illustration). Each space
within the circle represents a difference of one octave. Reeds are open and
operative when a dot appears on a given space or line; inoperative (closed)
when that space is empty. The middle line denotes the set of reeds (contralto)
which doubles the pitch of the upper half of the tenor and the lower half of the
alto reed sets.
According to the register in effect, single notes will be affected by changes in
basic pitch location and octave duplication; chord buttons by various inversions,
pitch levels and octave doublings.
THE STANDARD SETS OF REEDS
A set of reeds may be defined as a chromatic sequence of single reeds equal in
number to the semitonal content of the immediately available range of a
keyboard (measured by the single note button range in the case of the stradella
keyboard).
For the standard stradella keyboard these sets of reeds consist of 12 semitones
(one semitone short of a complete octave). These reed sets are, with the
exception of the tenor and bass sets which can only respond for the single note
buttons, shared commonly by both the single note buttons and the fixed chord
buttons.
In other words, any set of reeds which is open (as represented by a dot in the symbol) will respond
for the single note buttons as shown by the long bracket (marked B) in illustration 2; the short
bracket (A) indicates the upper three sets of reeds - soprano, alto and contralto - which, if open,
respond for the chord buttons.
Illustration 2 shows the sets of reeds for the standard stradella keyboard together with the symbols
representing each specific set of reeds. With the exception of the soprano set, these sets of reeds
are not usually available uncoupled.
The symbols which represent
the seven standard reed
coupling combinations are
pictured at the left.
THE SOPRANO REGISTER
The Soprano Register is the
highest pitched octave of the
standard left hand keyboard.
The uncoupled soprano set
of reeds (c'' to b'') will
respond for both the single
note buttons and the fixed
chord buttons. The latter will
then produce chords with

pitches and in positions


consistent with these tones.
The switch symbol for this
register shows a dot in the
space representing the
soprano set of reeds (see above), indicating that this set is operative, while the empty spaces
indicate that the other sets of reeds are closed.
Example 1 shows the pitch and range of the single note buttons and that of the fixed chord buttons
are the same.
Example 2 illustrates the positions and pitch of the C and B chord buttons which will result
accordingly in the Soprano Register.
The Soprano Register's reeds are small and may be easily overpowered by the right hand keyboard.
Relatively little dynamic strength (volume) is possible. Careful attention to the registration and
substance of the material played on the right hand keyboard is necessary to avoid obscuring the left
hand keyboard's performance in this register.
Infrequently encountered in accordion literature, the Soprano Register is usually not available in any
but professional model instruments. Student accordions generally do no even contain the required
set of reeds. However, the Soprano Register can be very effective and its use by composers should
not be discouraged.
Notation for this register is not always given at pitch. Although notation at pitch, or at least not more
than one octave lower than sounding, should be recommended. Bass clef notation may be found as
much as three octaves below the actual pitch. Chord buttons are often indicated by an abbreviated
notation - root and chord symbol (single note notation).
[The musical examples throughout this article are given with notation for the left hand at pitch. In the
case of octave duplications, according to the lowest sounding set of reeds. Fixed chords are given in
full (unabbreviated) notations.]
Example 3 is an excerpt from
Ernest Krenek's Toccata (1952).
The single note buttons of the
left hand are exploited to good
advantage in the Soprano
Register. Excellent balance
between the left and right hand
key boards is achieved through
the use of the Ottavino (piccolo)
Register of the right hand
keyboard - the reeds being
similar in size to those of the
soprano set which is indicated
for the left hand keyboard.*
Notice in the last measure, the
continuation in pitch of the left
hand part, by the right hand
which sounds one octave higher
than normal treble clef notation.
Example 4 shows the application
of the chord buttons in the
Soprano Register, which is
relatively rare. In Prelude
(1971/rev. 1972) by Donald
Balestrieri, a 12-tone series is
verticalized. Notes from both
hands often overlap. The simultaneous four notes in the left hand at each of the last two measures
is accomplished by combining two chord buttons with two notes in common. However, since the
single note buttons are also operating the soprano set of reeds, the same aural result could by be
obtained by use of single note buttons alone or by combining certain chord and single note buttons.
THE ALTO REGISTER

The alto set of reeds is pitched one octave lower (c' to b') than the soprano set of reeds. A coupling
of the alto set of reeds with the soprano set of reeds constitutes the Alto Register. Both sets of reeds
will respond for either the single note buttons or the chord buttons.
It is, however, the alto set of reeds, being the lower octave of the coupling, which establishes the
basic pitch of this register. Both the single note buttons will then generate upper octave duplications
via the soprano set of reeds, but the basic pitch is established by the alto set of reeds.
The switch symbol for this register shows dots in the spaces representing the alto and soprano sets
of reeds (see above), which indicate they are open while the others are silent - clearly illustrating the
octave relationship between the two sets of reeds.
Example 5 shows that the
alto set of reeds (whole
notes) coupled with the
soprano set of reeds
(diamond notes) will be
operative for both the single
note and chord buttons.
Inversions of the various
chord buttons will be the
same as in the Soprano
Register, albeit one octave
lower, since the range for
determination is also from C
to B. Since, as with the
Soprano Register, the sets of
reeds which are open will
respond for either the single
note or fixed chord buttons,
the chord buttons will
produce inversions and
pitches consistent with the
range and pitch of the single
note buttons.
Example 6 demonstrates the
C and B chord buttons. The
upper octave duplications by
the soprano set of reeds
(diamond Notes) could be
taken for granted in notation and they are, in any case, implied by the dot in the upper space of the
register symbol.
The preferred notation would usually be at pitch (in the treble clef) or at least not more than one
octave lower (in bass clef). However, this register may be found notated in the lower part of the
bass clef staff as well. Chord buttons are often given in abbreviated notation (root and chord
symbol).
Example 7 is a passage from Felice Fugazza's Danzi di Gnomi (1959), in which the alto Register's
single note range is utilized for the lower part in a three-voice episode.
Example 8, a quotation from Anthony Galla-Rini's transcription for accordion solo of the Rhapsodie
Espagnol by Liszt, will illustrate the rarely encountered pitch relationship between the single notes
and chord buttons in the Alto Register.
Some curious writing for the left hand keyboard has sometimes resulted from an apparent failure to
comprehend the fact that the same set of reeds will respond for both the single note and chord
buttons in the Soprano and Alto Registers. In these registers, should a chord button be depressed
along with single notes which are already members of that chord (or added after the chord button is
depressed) the single notes in question will prove of no aural purpose. Reeds which are already
sounding for a chord button cannot, at the same time, be duplicated by single note buttons, or vice
versa.

The opening measures of Otto Luening's Rondo for accordion solo illustrate such an instance where
the single note buttons can be omitted without resulting in any audible change.
THE TENOR REGISTER
The basic pitch level for the single note buttons in the Tenor Register is established by the tenor set
of reeds (c to b) which is the lowest sounding. These are coupled to the alto and soprano sets. Since
the tenor set of reeds cannot respond for the chord buttons (see Illustration 2), it is the alto set of
reeds, being the lowest sounding set activated for the chord buttons, which will establish the basic
pitch level and determine the inversions of the chord buttons in this register.
Attention should be drawn to the fact that only in the Tenor Register is there no break in the basic
pitch continuity between the single note buttons and the range for determining the chord buttons.
The practical significance of this will be pointed out in a successive example.
The three octave voicing of the
single note buttons is
graphically illustrated by the
switch symbol (see above),
showing that the soprano, alto
and tenor sets of reeds are
operative. The silence of the
tenor set for the chord buttons
must be understood.
Example 9 shows the reed
sets which operate for the
single note and chord buttons
in the Tenor Register
THE SOFT TENOR
REGISTER
Example 10 illustrates an
alternative voicing - Tenor
(piano) - available for the
Tenor Register. With it, a more
subdued effect is achieved by
eliminating the soprano set of
reeds. Thus, the basic pitch of
both the single note and chord
buttons remains undisturbed;
the single notes will now sound
in octaves (tenor/alto) and the
chord buttons undoubled (alto).
The sets of reeds for Tenor (piano) Register are shown in the switch symbol.
Because the tenor set of reeds cannot respond for the chord buttons, they will sound exactly the
same in the Tenor (forte) Register as in the alto Register - with the soprano and alto sets of reeds
responding for the chord buttons in octaves (refer to example 6). The chord buttons in the Tenor
(piano) Register will yield pure, uncoupled chords since the soprano set of reeds is silent and only
the alto set will respond for the chord buttons.
Example 11 lists for comparison, the C and B chords as they will sound in the Tenor (piano)
Register.
A decided increase of strength over the previously discussed registers is evident in the Tenor
Registers because the reeds of the tenor set are larger. This alleviates some of the more delicate
problems of balance mentioned in connection with the Soprano and Alto Registers.
Notation is in the bass clef, sometimes one octave below the actual basic pitch. Chord buttons are
often given in abbreviated notation. It is sometimes convenient to notate the single note and chord
buttons one octave lower using either the ottava alta sign (8 - - - -) or the clef alta sign (####).

Example 12 is a melodic excerpt from the Alan Hovhaness Accordion Concerto - Opus 174, played
against an aleatoric background of multitudinously divided strings, which falls within the single note
compass of the Tenor Register. The Tenor (piano) combination, sounding in octaves, is used; the
unison doublings of the right hand add strength and solidity.
Example 13 shows
application of chord buttons
in the Tenor (piano)
Register in an excerpt from
Paul Creston's Fantasy for
accordion and orchestra,
Opus 85. Note the
following points: firstly, the
left hand accompaniment is
consistently above the
melodic line which has
been assigned to the right
hand in a low register. [The
right hand will sound one
octave lower]; secondly,
each of the four note
chords beginning at the
penultimate measure of the
example is achieved by
combining two chord
buttons which have two
notes in common.
Example 14 demonstrates
an application of the
continuity in the basic pitch
between single note
buttons and that of the
fixed chord buttons. Here,
in a transcription for
accordion and orchestra by
Donald Balestrieri of Liszt's
Prelude and Fugue on the
name of Bach, the melodic
shape of the left hand part
has been preserved by
being passed between the single note buttons and the lowest notes of the chord buttons. The upper
harmony notes of the chord buttons unobtrusively double those in the right hand. Note that the left
hand part will sound one octave higher than usual bass clef notation and that the right hand part will
sound one octave lower than usual treble clef notation.
BASS REGISTERS
The Bass Register is established when the bass or lowest-sounding set of reeds (C to B) is
operative for the single note buttons.
Three different reed set combinations are available in the standardized systemization. They are
shown and described in the following paragraphs
THE MASTER REGISTER (BASS FORTE)
All five sets of reeds - soprano, alto, contralto, tenor and bass - are open as shown by the five dots
which mark the switch symbol. The contralto set of reeds is the lowest sounding for the chord
buttons and it establishes the basic pitches for the fixed chords, while the bass set of reeds
determines that of the single note buttons.
Example 15 shows which reeds are operative for the single note and chord buttons.
Here, as elsewhere, the blend of these upper octave duplications with the fundamental, pitch

establishing set of reeds, is such that it is hardly more than amplification of the basic overtone
series.
Example 16 illustrates the sound of the chord buttons, given again for C and B chord rows, for
comparison.
THE SOFT BASS REGISTER (BASS PIANO)
Example 17 illustrates the
bass set of reeds coupled
with the tenor and contralto
sets. These will respond for
the single note buttons; the
contralto alone responds for
chord buttons in this register.
Example 18 shows the
contralto reed set, which
responds for the chord
buttons, without doublings.
This register is exceedingly
useful in balancing with
certain registers of the right
hand keyboard. In general, it
provides a more subdued
effect, by eliminating the
soprano and alto sets of
reeds.
THE BASS/ALTO REGISTER
Example 19 pictures this
most exotic and seldom-used
of the standard reed
combinations. The bass, alto
and soprano sets of reeds are
open and respond for the
single note buttons. Only the alto and soprano sets will sound for the chord buttons, as previously
shown for the Alto and Tenor (forte) Registers. See example 6.
The two octave separation between the bass and alto sets of reeds results from the absence of the
tenor and contralto sets and creates the "reedy" quality. The low-high relationship between the single
note and chord buttons is the hallmark of the register.
The range of the bass set of reeds (C to B) is used to notate the single note buttons in the bass
registers. Different upper octave doublings are clearly shown by the standard register symbols.
However, the range - one semitone less than a complete octave - is sometimes exceeded in the
notation (usually upwards), in order to avoid voice leading which appears awkward. Ambiguity of
pitch placement results from the multiplicity of octave doublings and the overlapping of a portion of
the tenor and alto reeds by the contralto set of reeds.
In fact, some ears may be convinced that a larger range is active. This notation practice,
accompanied by the term bassi soli (b.s.) when the upper bass clef area is used, is easily abused.
To guide in writing, awareness of the actual pitch range is necessary.
The pitch is readily
recognizable in all registers
other than the Master
Register. The limited range
of 12 semitones is audibly
obvious and, written
melodic or harmonic
intervals involving tones
beyond the actual compass

of a register will sound


inverted.
Examples 20 and 21 are
excerpts which utilize the
single note range in bass
registers. The first (20)
from Henry Brant's Sky
Forest for four accordions,
involves an imitative duet
between two accordions in
the same left hand register.
In the second example (21), from Alexander Tcherepnin's Partita (1962), the dynamically reduced
effect of the bass (piano) Register might perhaps be better suited than the Bass (forte) Register. The
absence of the two highest sets of reeds in the Bass (piano) Register will also give the illusion of
greater depth since, in fact, the overtones by octave duplication will have been reduced.
Upper notes of the chord buttons are delineated more distinctly when sounded without duplications as in the Bass (piano) Register. By contrast, the confusion caused by the unison and octave
doublings obscures these top notes in the Master Register.
Example 22, from the second movement of the Concerto for accordion and orchestra by Anthony
Galla-Rini, uses chord buttons in the Bass (piano) Register to double a melodic motive and provide
a harmonization one octave below the right hand.
Numerous dance-derived rhythmic patterns of bass/chord are often used idiomatically in the bass
register. The low bass and medium chord provide the characteristic relationship.
Example 23 shows several patterns: a) Concerto for accordion and string orchestra (1941) by Hugo
Herrmann; b) Threnody by
Arthur Carr; c) Prelude and
Dance, Opus 69, by Paul
Creston; d) Divertimento in
F, Opus 59, by Hans
Brehme.
The proximity of the
switches allows the buttons
and these levers to be
activated simultaneously.
Instant octave changes and
chord inversions are possible
at slow to moderately fast
tempi.
Example 24 illustrates this
technique: a) Overture to
Zampa by Ferdinand Herold
(Galla-Rini); b) Concerto for
Accordion by Eugene Zador;
c) The Rosary by Ethelbert
Nevin (Galla-Rini); d) Sonata
(in one movement) by
William Kuehl (arrangement
by the composer for two
standard accordions); e Un
Larme by Modeste
Moussorgsky (Balestrieri).

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