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Harmonium: The Instrument Created by Frankenstein

If you are looking for an instrument to add to the number that you can play, then you may want to think about playing the harmonium. This instrument, similar to a pump organ is often used in Hindustani vocal music and in Islamic Qawwali music from the Middle East. The harmonium, which can be found on eBay, is also used in many different styles of folk music, including that from Appalachia, Finland, Scandinavia, India, and Norway.

What is a harmonium?

A harmonium is an instrument similar to a pump organ. Air moving across the billows within the instrument produces the sound. The air forces down keypads inside the harmonium to produce their unique sound. While there is some debate about where the first harmonium was created, many believe that Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein at the University of Copenhagen, who many believe was Frankenstein, created the first harmonium.

How is a harmonium played?

Most harmoniums are played by pushing pedals with the feet while playing piano-like keys with the hands. Larger harmoniums often required an assistant musician to control the billows while the musician played the keys on the instrument. In India, however, harmoniums were developed allowing the musician to push the billows with their left hand while playing the melody with their right hand.

Common variations in harmoniums

There are many different choices that need to be made before buying a harmonium. These include:

  • Standard or fold-up - Some harmoniums fold up, some have handles on their sides, and some fold into a suitcase shape.
  • Number of reed banks - More complex music can be played on an instrument with more reed banks; however, they add to the overall weight of the instrument.
  • Presence of a coupler switch - This device allows the harmonium to play notes exactly an octave apart. The human ear only hears the top note of the two octaves, but it sounds more complex.
  • Stops - These large button-like knobs on the front of the instrument allow the musician to control which reeds get air and how much air they get.
  • Drones - These small button-like knobs on the front of the instrument allow the musician to play one sound without hitting a note. They are traditionally set to sharp notes.
  • Bellows - These accordion-folding panels help control the sound of the instrument. They can have from one to seven folds.
  • Number of keys - The more keys that are present, the more notes can be played on the harmonium.
  • Shift changer - This option, sometimes called a scale changer, allows the keyboard to be shifted to the right or the left, changing the scale of the music. A scale changer allows music to be played in a different scale without having to learn it. Additionally, some musicians find it easier to use the scale changer, so they are always playing in the same place on the keyboard.
Are harmoniums portable?

Yes, harmoniums can be transported. Some models collapse in on themselves with the billow board coming up to form the top of the box. On other models, the instrument fits in a special suitcase for transport. Those models that fold with the billow board on top are generally lighter to carry but more complex to fold.