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Accordion to Most Sailors

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If there is ever one musical instrument that is associated with sailing, you can bet it will be the accordion. When the audience hears accordion music, it sets the stage for adventures with sailors and pirates on the high seas. Other similar free-reed instruments, such as the concertina, may also qualify for this trope; historically, the concertina may even be more relevant, although the average audience member is more likely to recognize the accordion.

Sailors have always been associated with music, since there wasn't a lot else to do for entertainment on a long voyage (a lot of ships forbade games that might be used as a cover for gambling), and music actually serves a practical purpose on a ship: sea shanties originated as a way to coordinate sailors during shipboard tasks. The reason concertinas are particularly associated with pirates is because the concertina was popularized as a small, cheap, versatile instrument in the 1830s, and a lot of popular pirate media is set right around that period because it's seen as the last romanticized gasp of the tall ships before they were replaced by more modern ones.

This trope can come in diegetic and non-diegetic flavors. In diegetic music, it seems that fictional sailors are more likely to pick accordions as their instrument of choice while playing sea shanties. Otherwise, expect accordions to be heard in the non-diegetic musical scores of works featuring sailing, or else only heard in scenes featuring sailors.

Frequently overlaps with Pirate Song. When it comes to Video Game Settings, accordions may be heard in the music playing in Gangplank Galleon, Palmtree Panic, and Port Town levels; Variable Mixes tend to introduce an accordion when the player character is near harbors or ships.

Compare Polka Dork and French Accordion, which are likely the few times you'll hear the accordion in popular media outside of sailing.


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  • In a Pop-Tarts commercial from the 2000s, an anthropomorphic Apple Strudel pop-tart sails on a ship playing an accordion.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Towards the beginning of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on the U.S. Navy ship, Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) plays the guitar while singing "A Whale of a Tale", but he's also accompanied by an accordion.
  • In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Terry Gilliam has a Creator Cameo as a singing accordion-playing man trapped inside the belly of the giant Sea Monster.
  • In Cabin Boy, Captain Graybeard plays a concertina at several points throughout the film, including when the crew pelt Nathaniel with beer cans for entertainment.
  • In The Demoniacs, many of the scenes in the sailors' cafe have an accordion playing in the background.
  • The whalers at the Spouter Inn early in Moby-Dick (1956) liven things up with a concertina rendition of "Amsterdam" (aka "A-Rovin'") after the topic of Ahab puts a damper on conversation.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • The orchestral score for the film series tends to feature accordions, fitting the pirate characters and setting. Notable examples include "Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)", "The Brethren Court", "Drink Up Me Hearties", and "Hoist the Colors Suite". When performed live on Hans Zimmer's tour, the Pirates of the Caribbean medley is the only time an accordion is brought out on stage.
    • More specifically, in The Curse of the Black Pearl, during the "Moonlight Serenade" sequence where Elizabeth first sees the undead pirates for what they truly are, one of the pirates sitting on the capstan is playing a concertina. The instrument's bellows is as rotted and decrepit as the pirates are, raising the question of how it can still produce music.

  • Defied in Das Boot. The onboard concertina of the submarine is crashed during a storm without having been seen in action. Some of the crew's songs are accompanied by harmonica instead.

    Live-Action TV 

  • The Decemberists, whose music generally has a "guitar and accordion rock" flavor, use the concertina/accordion in a lot of their sailing-themed songs.
  • The "Drunken Sailor" sea shanty is popularly performed on the accordion.
  • From the Norwegian band Katzenjammer, there's the Title Track of the album A Kiss Before You Go. It has some accordion and is played in the mood of a sailing song, and the singers are dressed like pirates onboard a rowboat on the album's cover.
  • An accordion can be heard at the end of the Rammstein song "Reise Reise" (from the eponymous album), which is about sailors and sea travels.
  • Befitting a pirate metal band, the accordion features prominently in Alestorm's signature songs — one about a suspected sailor not sharing the booty getting slapped with a keelhaulingnote  and another about being a pirate getting shipwrecked and doomed to die.

  • In the Dino Attack RPG "Fifteeniversary" story Pirates of the Tropical Sea, Mary Rose listens to a trio of pirates playing a jolly sailor's jig aboard the Beatrice, with one of them playing the accordion.

    Theme Parks 

  • One of the LEGO 31109 Pirate Ship alternate models is the Pirates' Inn, which includes an accordion for one of the pirates to play.

    Video Games 

    Web Videos 
  • The Guild had plenty of this when Codex worked at a pirate-themed restaurant.
  • This erm... "unique" Pirate ASMR video by The Most Ever Company opens with an awkward jig tune performed on what sounds like a cheap keyboard replica of a concertina, replete with the sound of a limping wooden leg.

    Western Animation 
  • In Captain Pugwash, Tom The Cabinboy is an expert concertina player, and part of his repertoire is "The Trumpet Hornpipe" (a.k.a. the Captain Pugwash theme).
  • Phineas and Ferb:
    • In "The Ballad of Badbeard", the kids get told about the legendary pirate Badbeard in the form of a song, which starts with Buford pulling a concertina out of Hammerspace to start it.
    • The song about the "Shark of Danville Harbor", which is a sea-shanty, includes a concertina player.
  • The Octonauts: The Octopod is seen as a ship, and Captain Barnacles is occasionally seen playing the accordion (and sounding awful).
  • In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, whenever Sea Hawk sings a sea shanty(or begins to sing one and is interrupted) accordion music can be heard in the soundtrack.
  • Silly Symphonies: In the beginning of "King Neptune", a group of pirates was shown sailing across the seas and singing, before they notice a group of mermaids to kidnap. During their song, one of them was shown playing a concertina.
  • The Simpsons: In Bart the Fink, Krusty has faked his death and while looking for him, Bart and Lisa encounter Handsome Pete, a lookalike at the docks who plays the "Sailor's Hornpipe" on the accordion and dances for nickels. As they leave, Bart tosses a coin into his cup.
    Sea Captain: Not a quarter! D'arr! He'll be dancing for hours!
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, many scenes involving the swashbuckling Mr. Krabs are scored by accordions, with this production track of "Drunken Sailor" being a prime example.
  • Total Drama World Tour: In the episode "Newf Kids on the Rock," the contestants have to sing while rowing to the Newfoundland shore. Alejandro starts out the song, a pastiche of sea shanties, by playing an accordion.

    Real Life 
  • As a girl the Inuit author Anauta Blackmore was gifted an instrument that she describes as an accordion, and at least beginning instruction in how to play it, by a visiting sailor.


Video Example(s):



Captain Barnacles has many talents; the accordion is not one of them.

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Main / AccordionToMostSailors

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