What Is The Melodica – Also Known As The Wind Piano

In this blog post about “What is the melodica” I will look into a fun little musical instrument that many may not know so much about. You will get to learn who invented it, how it works and how to play it. By the way, did you know that well-known bands and artists have used the Melodica on recordings?

I will break the content down into the following paragraphs:

  • What is the Melodica
  • How to play the Melodica
  • Melodica in pop music
  • Different Manufactures
  • Great Value
The Melodica at keyboardplay.com

What Is The melodica

The Melodica is a portable musical instrument that has common features with the harmonica but also includes a keyboard. The tone of the melodica is quite thin and reedy, at times reminiscent of the oboe. It can be described as a free reed system with a mouthpiece, air chamber, and keyboard. The Melodica, also known as the Wind Piano is played by blowing air through the mouthpiece that fits into a hole in the side of the instrument. Pressing a key opens a hole, allowing air to flow through a reed. The keyboard covers usually two or three octaves. Melodicas are small, light, and portable.

The Melodica is very popular in modern music teaching, especially in Asia. Since this very easy-to-play instrument is equipped with a keyboard, it is perfect to illustrate the basics of music theory. However, it is not only used for educational purposes but is also popular in pop music. A well-known performer is the reggae profile, Augustus Pablo.

Melodicas have a rectangular shape and are held with one hand in a handle underneath. The keyboard is played with the other hand. On the left side is a hole for the mouthpiece. To the right of the keyboard or on the back is the air release button. This button can be pressed while holding the Melodica with the mouthpiece area facing downwards. By gently shaking the Melodica, you allow gravity to exert moisture from the instrument. In a playing situation, by holding down the shutter button, you can reduce the volume coming from the melodica just like the soft pedal of a piano.

The air that is blown in through the mouthpiece continues in a tube until it reaches the so-called “tongue” which is put into vibration. The vibrating waves in the instrument create the tones, the height of which is determined by the keys. Thus, the Melodica can play several notes at the same time, unlike many other wind instruments. This, of course, makes it particularly suitable as an educational instrument. Melodicas come in different variants both in terms of pitch and mechanics and are available in soprano, alto, tenor and bass modes. There is also a variant available without keys but with buttons like on an accordion. This is called the Accordina.

Models and pitch

Melodicas are available in soprano, alto, and bass tone range. Tone, key size and dynamic range vary by manufacturer. All are in plastic except for a special one made of wood. The reeds are made of metal, as in accordions and harmonicas.

Regular melodicas cover approx. 3 octaves, known as alto melodicas. The soprano models and the unique bass Melodica enables the possibility of organizing a Melodica orchestra.

The pitch of each model is as below. 

 

  • Soprano: F4 – C7
  • Alto: F3 – F6 
  • Bass: F2 – E4

How To Play The Melodica

Although Melodica sounds very much like a harmonica, it produces sound only by exhalation, not inhalation. When you play multiple notes at a time (polyphonic), it sounds very much like an accordion. Apart from that, the instrument has its own identity.

Hold the Melodica with your left hand in the strap on the back of the instrument. Press the lips around the mouthpiece and make sure all the sides are closed. Another way is to place the Melodica on a table and use the flex tube that comes with to blow. It can also be put on top of your piano and you can play with one hand on each instrument.

To make even passages (legato) use “breathing mode”, ie to breathe air into the instrument. For more marked passages use attacks, ie to blow as in a whistle either much or less, as needed. The tongue can further be used to play short and precise tone values (staccato) when required. If you quickly vary your breath, tremolo (volume change) is created which is the melodic version of vibrato (pitch change). In this way, you will develop suitable articulation for all types of playing.

Playing vibrato

There are two different vibration techniques, either by mouth as a flutist or by shaking the instrument like the accordion players do with the belly.

Playing staccato

There are two different staccato techniques, by the fingers like the pianist or by the tongue like wind players.

Tuning the Melodica

You can tune the Melodica by scraping the reed. If you scrape a reed around its top, the pitch becomes higher. If you scrape around its root, it becomes lower.

The Melodica In Popular Music

The famous jazz musician Phil Moore Jr. used the Melodica in a 1969 recording, and it was then popularized by the already mentioned Augusto Pablo. It has then appeared in indie music, thanks in part to Paul Duncan in Warm Ghost.
Song examples where the Melodica is played:
  • Oasis – Champagne Supernova
  • Stars – Your Ex-Lover is Dead
  • R.E.M. – Boy in the Well
  • The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon.
  • The Beach boys – Cabin Essence
  • Augustus Pablo – Java live
  • New Order – Love Vigilantes
  • Blackstreet – Don’t Leave Me
  • Faith no more – Midnight Cowboy
  • Blur – Mellow Song (live version)
musician-playing-the-melodica-at-keyboardplay-com

Different Manufactures

The Melodica is a fun and cool instrument with a rather interesting story. When the German musician and instrument inventor Mathias Hohner once traveled to Japan, he heard a mouth organ called “sho”. He became interested in this instrument but wanted to improve the design. Through a series of trial and error, he succeeded and gave us the Harmonica and the Accordion. Later, in 1959, Hohner also invented the Melodica.

The Melodica in those days was not a keyboard-type but a button-type. In 1961, the Japanese company SUZUKI, which was also a harmonica manufacturer, produced the Melodion, which was similar to Melodica.

Different manufacturers have given different names to the Melodica: Melodion (Suzuki), Triola (Seydel), Melodika (Apollo), Melodia (Diana), Pianica (Yamaha), Melodihorn (Samick), Diamonica (Bontempi), Pianetta (Guerrini) and Clavietta (Borel/Beuscher) are just some of the variants.

Interested in owning a melodica?

Great Musical Value

The Melodica has great value as a musical instrument for many. In Asia, it is very common as a child’s classroom instrument, especially to teach basic keyboard skills and music theory. It has become popular in jazz and to some extent in pop music. The Melodica is a lightweight, portable and affordable musical instrument. It is a useful tool for piano teachers to give children keyboard skills in different and more fun ways, and maybe the best part – no batteries!

I recently bought the most affordable 37 key alto model from Gear4music to check the quality and suitability for teaching purposes. After testing the Melodica for about a week I would say that the quality is surprisingly good for only $ 21.45. For just over $ 20 you get a lot of value for money. The sound is medium sharp and can sound quite powerful if you like. To be made of plastic, the keys also work well, and with 37 keys you can actually play a lot of tunes too, although the size is a little small for my adult fingers. It is absolutely perfect for kids.

Price includes:

 

  • 2 Mouthpieces
  • 37 Keys
  • Lightweight Case
  • Integrated Hand Strap
  • Soft Carry Case 
gear4music melodica
gear4music melodica2
gear4music melodica3

The melodica is a very interesting musical instrument that I recommend to get to know. No matter which instrument you tend to play, you can easily play this wind instrument with a keyboard on it.

As a music teacher, I would definitely recommend testing out melodicas in school and teaching contexts. I think the Melodica would increase the student’s understanding of both scaling and other music theory. The Melodica is also perfect to put on a desk and easy to store after use.

If you have any questions related to this post about what is the melodica, please leave them below and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.

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22 thoughts on “What Is The Melodica – Also Known As The Wind Piano

  1. Avatar
    Aabidah Ahmed says:

    I know the Melodica to be a free-reed instrument, which makes it easier to play by hand and mouth, at the same time. 

    I love the mouth piece which is the musical instrument on top, that allows you to blow in and play your own tune, this making music with your mouth. 

    This instrument might look and seem similar to a trumpet, but it has a different style to it with the piano keyboard attatched. I would love to have an instrument like this to practice on.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, and all the best.

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks a lot, Abidah! I appreciate your comment. Maybe someday you’ll have the opportunity to try out the melodica as well.

      All the best,

      Geir S

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    water life says:

    What did you remember me? My grandfather had a Melodica in the ’80s and he was singing melodies and we grandchildren were gathering and dancing. At that time, the Melodica and the flame were taught in school, in Greece, where I live. Too bad that musical instruments are not taught right now, just in the music schools I suppose. Perfect article with lots of memories and much useful information for learning her.

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      admin says:

      Thanks for your comment and for enjoying my post! Sorry to hear they no longer teach musical instruments in schools in Greece.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Henderson says:

    Wow, never knew they were called melodic a. Maybe because its been different names by many manufacturers. Seeing that it has a really long history is really cool but I dint understand how this musical instrument is not so wide spread in America. I’m also concerned that juxtaposing between blowing the air and pressing the keys might be a hard thing to do for someone who is just about learning. What do you think?

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Hi, and thanks for commenting on the post! Of course, it can be a little tricky to blow and press the keys in the beginning, but it’s like learning the trumpet or any other wind instrument, I think.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    iToLing says:

    Thanks for sharing your newfound love, Geir! We certainly enjoyed your through and informative article as we LOVE playing the keyboard, guitar, drums and other instruments. The harmonium has been an instrument we have been looking at for a while now as well. Am feeling that the melodica will sound NICER than a recorder…  iTo is familiar with the melodica and loves it. Ling is new to melodica and is intrigued… and VERY tempted to pick this piece up (or rather.. all three… one each for soprano, alto and bass! Just a cheeky thought. 🙂 As a music teacher, what would you recommend to a parent who wishes to learn with her little one (8 yo) who is keen on learning the melodica (said parent has classical piano skills of up to Grade 6)…. other questions we have are:

    1) Can any of the melodica instruments by Gear4music have a port that allows for connection to a music editing software? (WOW, we love the idea that Gear4music has awesome shipping and policies!) We are sensing awesome presents for other nieces and nephews….

    2) How durable is it?

    3) What is the process in fixing it? (perhaps we may have to investigate a brand that has a centre in Oz for repairs and warranties…) Silly questions maybe… but if we don’t ask….? 🙂 Thanks for your time!

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Hi, and thank you for commenting on my post. I would recommend a Hohner soprano model for the adult and for children I would have chosen the affordable model from gear4music that I reviewed in my article.

      For your second question. Suzuki made a model with MIDI interface but I don’t think it was a great success and I’m not sure if they still produce it.

      Most melodicas are made of plastic and should be treated with care. They also need to be tuned occasionally and on youtube, there are tutorials on how to do this with simple tools.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Carol5162 says:

    I have seen this instrument in some music shops and I have always thought it is a complete keyboard, just that it is small. I see that you are supposed to blow air into it and not just press the keys, very interesting.

    Your explanation of how to play the melodica is so detailed. I feel like I already know how to play it. I think this is one of the best classical musical instrument that should be implemented in school curriculum.

    Thank you for this interesting article.

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for your nice comments, Carol. I really appreciate it. 

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Nuttanee says:

    That brought back good old memories when I was in a high school band back home in Thailand. I love the way that I look and sound so professional by just using one hand to play the song lol. Champagne Supernova is one of my favorite songs, I didn’t know that they use melodica, that is awesome! I am considering getting one for my nephew to play so he can stay focus and learn simple cords. Might help with his concentration too, I am sure he will jump with joy after he can produce sounds. Thanks for the fun fact. 

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for your nice comments. I think your nephew would have liked to play the melodica 🙂

      All the best,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    crownwole says:

    Thank you for sharing such informative review. I bought my first psr 550 piano 10years back. I’ve never heard about melodica before. You’ve done a great job by providing detailed explanation on how to play it. I love the vibrato and staccato techniques you gave and there relationship with other musical instruments. I think i will prefer pianica yamaha with suprano model. Useful article, thanks.

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for commenting on my article. Hope you get to play the Melodica sometime 🙂

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    JJ says:

    Hi Geri, I enjoyed reading this especially because I am a keyboard player who used to play the melodica in my school days. I like it as an instrument to introduce pitch and movement on the keys at the very basic level using the right hand only. You might enjoy blowing instruments and in all others you play one note at a time using finger combinations. On the melodica the ability to play chords makes it even more enjoyable. I am familiar with the music of Augustus Pablo because I live in Jamaica and hear his signature music very often. It is also on Third World recordings, and is played by Ibo Cooper.Thank you for a review of this instrument, for teaching me some history about it, and reminding me of those fun music days. I might just purchase one for myself.  

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      admin says:

      Thanks for the nice comments. I think you need to resume your melodica skills 🙂

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    Pentrental says:

    Great post! I’ve always been curious about this instrument but honestly I hadn’t read much about the Melodica until now. It’s interesting that it’s a combination of the harmonica and keyboard. I guess that makes for a unique instrument and thus requires a specialized musician. It’s really fascinating to think of how music and instruments have evolved over time and been implemented in so many different musical genres. I was not aware that the Melodica is popular in Asia. It’s helpful to know that this instrument is available in different tone ranges. Now every time I hear Champagne Supernova I’ll be reminds of your post. I know a few musicians who will find this information useful to consider and I will share your post with them, well done!

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for your comments on my article. I am very glad you enjoyed it and for sharing it with others.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  10. Avatar
    Taetske says:

    Good afternoon Geir,

    Your post on the Melodica reminded me of my youth, quite a while ago I must admit. For 4 years I played the soprano flute and added the alto flute 2 more years. Then my parents thought I should try the piano but I did not study enough. I think it was an overload of hobbies like painting, drawing, making things, working with clay, play with the cat and dog in the garden going on exciting expeditions, there was not enough time for all of it. Anyhow, while it lasted I loved playing instruments and I even wrote some small pieces of music.

    I liked reading your post on the Melodica, for me a new instrument I had not heard about before. It would be fun to hear a couple of them play in a concert. As you mentioned it is not expensive and for an instrument made of plastic, the sound is also quite good. I think this would make the perfect gift this coming Christmas for the younger ones in the family.

    Regards, Taetske

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for your nice comments! No, I don’t think many people know the melodica very much, although it’s an easy-to-play instrument that most people can learn how to play.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply
  11. Avatar
    Isaac says:

    Cool, so a melodica is a like a mix between a harmonica and a keyboard? but aside from the tone difference, do you think it has just as many melodies as a piano?

    What are the sole difference between this and a piano? And is it harder to learn or about the same? sorry for so many questions, but I would really like to know.

    Reply
    1. Avatar
      Geir says:

      Thanks for the comments! Learning to play the piano is so much more than playing the melodica, even though the keyboard is structured equally. Most melodicas are available up to 37 keys and of course, have a limited register as to the pitch of a piano (88 keys). On the other hand, it will work well in concert with the piano.

      Regards,

      Geir S.

      Reply

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