Musette Theory

Throughout this site you will see that I use the term Musette quite a bit, so I thought I should give some explanation of what Musette actually means. When discussing the various tunings of accordions, you will as often as not hear the use of words like tremolo, wet tuning or wetness as much as musette, but in essence they actually all mean the same thing.

Musette de Cour

A Musette or ‘musette de cour’ was in fact an early French bagpipe or shepherds pipe that was played using simple bellows, the qualification ‘de cour’ refers to the instrument’s connection with the French court and aristocracy of the early seventeenth century. The musette employed a “shuttle” drone: a short cylinder with narrow channels connected in series to supply four drones, each sounded with a double reed that were tuned slightly out of tune with each other to give a tremelo acoustic effect.

Musette tuning used in accordions, also called “wet” tuning, is where two or more sets of reeds are intentionally tuned slightly off pitch from each other, giving a vibrato effect. True musette tuning uses three reeds, one “on pitch”, one slightly below, and one slightly above; however, many accordions only use two sets of reeds tuned slightly apart from one another. The degree of “wetness” is determined by how far apart the reeds are tuned.

Reed Assembly

The smallest musical interval in western music is the semitone which can then be broken down further into micro-intervals commonly called a cent from the Latin ‘Centum’ meaning one hundred. So, 1 semitone = 100 cents, therefore 100 Cents = the distance between 2 successive semitones in an equal temperament scale, and the degree of wetness in the accordion world is commonly defined in cents.

As a broad guide, the most common types of musette used in the accordion are – German =14 cents, Italian = 18 cents and French = 24 cents. So, if you purchased an Italian accordion with a three reed musette, the most common tuning would be something like the following –

 

Low A = 435 Hz (18 cent flat)   Middle A = 440 Hz (in tune)   High A = 444.5 Hz (18 cent sharp)

However, it must be understood that the examples I have mentioned are no more than an approximate guide.There are infinite variations available to you so if you are purchasing a new instrument, It is always very important that you try several different instruments before you make your final choice, then you can specify your preferred tuning to ensure you get an instrument with the exact the musette sound you want.

Now follow the link below and have a play on the sound generator and hear the musette effect for yourself – First enter 440hz in both left and right ears, then increase one side to 445hz (press play each time) – a strange sensation I’m sure you will agree but that is how the musette sound is created.

Tone generator

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