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The Organetto

Updated: Apr 12, 2020

Juliet may have once argued that a rose is a rose but when it comes to Italian folk music there is in fact a distinction when it comes to the organetto which is often confused with the accordion. While the two instruments are both well-known musical elements in this genre, they do differ from one another.

Much like its counterpart the accordion, the organetto is a small, portable organ carried by a strap over the shoulder. It is most common in central and southern Italy. It can be played alone or accompanied by several other instruments. The organetto is diatonic button instrument (known in English as a diatonic accordion) meaning that its musical harmony is dictated by seven natural pitches to form an octave, and bellows that provide the wind supply.

The organetto is comprised of two parts: the melody side (with one or more rows of buttons producing the notes of a single diatonic scale) and the bass side (with buttons arranged in pairs where one button sounds the fundamental chord and the other a corresponding triad -a chord made up of three tones). Among the various types of organs, the most widely used in traditional Italian music are the 2 bass, 4 bass and 8 bass.

This particular instrument is played by the right hand pressing the keys while the left pumps the bellows. The bellows produce notes or pitches by the air moving through the reeds within the instrument based on the push and pull action when playing the organetto which is often why it is referred to a squeeze box. With an accordion however, each key produces a single note regardless of the direction of the bellows therefore creating a distinction between the two. Another difference between the two is that the organetto has a button-type keyboard whereas that of the accordion resembles a piano.

It is the push-pull action of the organetto that makes it particularly well suited to the lively rhythms of folk music and folk dances like the tarantella where this instrument is most prominent. The quick tempos of the folk dances can be played with greater ease and speed on an organetto than they would on an accordion.

 The Organetto: It’s Not an Accordion - The organetto is a traditional folk instrument that has been played for hundreds of years. It is part of a rich heritage and culture, one which the Organetto Project proudly carries on.

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