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
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
- 2 Mouthpieces
- 37 Keys
- Lightweight Case
- Integrated Hand Strap
- Soft Carry Case
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.