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B/C OR C#/D: Irish button accordion tunings compared

Probably the most common question we receive is about the two Irish button accordion tunings, B/C or C#/D. That’s why we wrote the following lines. Here you’ll get a small overview on the matter alongside some points we believe are most important to know. We hope they prove useful for one or the other aspiring box player.

What’s the difference for the player?

In two -totally oversimplified- sentences the difference is this:

On a B/C box you’ll have to move your fingers quite a bit while the changes in the bellows movement are relatively little.

On a C#/D box you will have to move the bellows quite a bit, while the fingering work is less demanding.

You can get a better picture when you look at the following D-scale and the according tabulatures for both C#/D and B/C:

B/C or C#/D comparison of the D scale

No too surprisingly the D-major scale can be played entirely on the inside row of a C#/D accordion while on B/C accordion two notes have to taken from the outside row.

Now let’s take the same scale and look at the bellows movements (“in & out”):

B/C or C#/D comparison of bellows movement the D scale

When playing the D scale on a C#/D accordion you will have to work the bellows more. Now as for the fingering, note that you will only need 4 buttons (3′, 4′, 5′, 6′) to play the scale so you can conveniently use one finger for one button. On the contrary, the B/C tuning will require 7 buttons ( (3′, 4′, 5, 5′, 6′, 6, 7′) ) so you cannot use one finger for just one button and have to spent some more thought on fingering.

Whats the difference in sound?

Of course the two tunings not only play different, they sound different too. C#/D is sounding much more ‘choppy’ than B/C because of the frequent bellows movement. This pattern is sometimes more and sometimes less obvious and I know for sure that good players can emphasize or surpress the push/pull sound to fair degree too…

Here is an example:

Benny McCarthy from Danu. He is a prominent C#/D player and you can clearly hear the rhythm from the bellows movement

Here’s a nice example of some smooth B/C playing:

Shane Mitchel from Dervish plays a B/C button accordion. Since the band plays everything half a step up, his tuning becomes C/C#.

So which tuning should you pick?

Here are some points to consider.

C#/D is closer related to non-Irish diatonic button accordions.
If you have some experience on a diatonic instrument such as a melodeon, a concertina or even a harmonica, you will probably find the C#/D tuning easier to start with. The scales are also often perceived as less chaotic. You can see the trend on the above D-major scales. Note how regular the D-scale is laid out as compared to the B/C one…

Here’s the biggest argument in favor of B/C: It is much more popular than C#/D. That might sound like a bogus argument to you, but it does have quite some relevance. There simply exist more books, dvd’s or teachers for the B/C accordion. Finding a teacher for the C#/D box can be a problem.

If you are still undecided, remember that in the end, it does not really matter all too much. Both systems can be played in any key. Both systems are giving you an authentic Irish sound and finally both systems are incredibly fun to learn and play.

Looking for a beginners box in C#/D or B/C? Take a look at our Shop.

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