A harmonium is a keyboard that was invented in England in around 1840 and has gained immense popularity in India and other eastern nations. However the most peculiar thing about harmonium is that it has (albeit with slight differences of detail), retained the crafting originally given by A. Debain.
While some harmoniums are hand held, others come with foot pedals for controlling the pump, allowing the player to use both hands to control cords and keyboards.
The harmonium used by Indians is generally hand-held & is placed on the floor while playing it. With one hand the musician plays the melody, he uses the other hand for the bellows.
Harmonium has evolved into a bi-cultural instrument. The keyboard is European, but it has a number of drone reeds which are typically Indian. It is mostly the European models that came in hand as well as foot pumped models.
The foot pumped models are not popular in India because the foot pedals required one to sit in a chair which is not how Indian music is generally played or Indian concerts generally happen.
And anyway the only advantage of the foot model is that it freed both hands so that both melody and chords could be played. Indian music has no chords, so this is no advantage.
The harmonium keyboard has a range of five octaves. Below the keyboard, on the more elaborate instruments, you will find that there are two siphon paddles. One initiates a swell kind of mechanism while the other is for musical emphasis like a crescendo.
Whether the harmonium is crafted in India, Europe, or the US in each case, the keyboard is divided into bass and descant sections. Registers are available through coupling in similar to that of pipe-organs. Simple harmoniums have only one register but on the the larger and more elaborate instruments you may find up to eleven.
The basic harmonium comes with 2-5 stops. The stop pulls out and allows air to pass to a bank of reeds. Most harmoniums will have 2 banks of reeds, sometimes a male lower bank and a female higher pitched bank.
As you progress and shift to a more sophisticated harmonium you will realize that the instrument is very versatile and very temperamental.
Harmonium is one of the most popular instruments for solo performance as well as for accompaniment or even group performances. By careful selection of metal, size and placement, craftsman can produce wonderful array of tone.
Would you like to know how to buy a good harmonium, read our next post….