Introduction of the Harmonium
Harmonium is not native to India the British introduced this
instrument to India during the colonial period. Indian artist
quickly adopted this instrument and modified it according to
their style and needs. The original harmoniums brought to India
were of two basic types, those with a hand bellows and those with
a foot pump. Though the foot pump model
was more popular with
Western musician it has draw back for the
Eastern musician. In this model it was required to place up the
harmonium on a table and the musician seated in a chair. Indian
music is traditionally played from a position seated on the
floor. In this condition the relevance of foot pump became
negligible. Thus the Indian artist modified harmonium by removing
foot pump and adding some other features such as drone stops and
a scale changing mechanism. Today it is widely used in all forms
of Indian music be it classical, Hindustani, devotional or film
Description of the Harmonium
Harmonium belongs to the family of free-reed aerophones. It is a
small, tabletop size, organ with bellows at the back that is
pumped by one hand while the other hand plays the keyboard. It
contains multiple chambers inside with different banks of free
reeds in each chamber. The size and shape of each reed in the
bank determines its pitch. Engaging Stops directs the airflow to
various chambers. Each playing Key and each Drone controls the
air through one or multiple reeds within a chamber. When engaged,
Drones provide a continual harmony note and are played in unison
with the keyboard.
Parts of the Harmonium
- The body is the wooden box that contains the various parts of
the harmonium. There are two basic styles of the box one is a
simple box with everything in a fixed position and another is a
suitcase style of enclosure. This box or cover prevents dust from
entering into keys or other parts. Most, but not all models come
- The handles
allow for easy transport of the harmonium. In a box type, there
are two handles on the sides. In a suitcase style, there is only
a single handle.
The bellows are collapsible cardboard enclosures with the help of
which air is passed through the reeds. There are really two sets
of bellows, one internal and one external. When pumped by hands
the external bellows forces the air into the internal bellows.
The internal bellows act as a reservoir for the air. These
bellows lay deep inside the instrument and are visible only by
disassembling the instrument. The internal bellows push against
a spring; it is this spring which forces the air over the reeds.
The keys also
known, as "chabi" in India are the small wooden controls that the
performer fingers to play the music. There are black keys and
– The main stops are a series of valves which control the way
that air flows in the instrument. These Stops control the airflow
to the various banks of reeds. There are usually a minimum of one
stop per reed chamber; although there can be multiple stops for a
chamber. Multiple stops may simply allow more air to a chamber
for a more powerful sound, or they may control special functions,
such as tremolo.
- The drone strops are the most distinguishing feature of Indian
harmoniums. The drone strops are usually the knobs on the bottom
of the front of the instrument. These stops control the flow of
air over un-keyed reeds. When engaged they provide a continual drone of a
harmony note. There may be any number of drones set to any pitch;
however they tend toward, A sharp, C sharp, D sharp, F sharp, and
- The reeds a
series of thin brass tongue set into the opening of a heavier
brass base. Each base is roughly 1/4 inch by 2 inches. There
must be a minimum of one reed per key while two or three are the
most common. The thin tongue vibrates when air passes through the
opening. Small thin reeds have a higher pitch than wider longer
- The reed board is a flat piece of wood with a series of long
holes that are covered with brass reeds. These reeds are arranged
in banks. If there are two banks of reeds, it is said to be a
double-reed harmonium. If there are three banks of reeds, it is
said to be a triple-reed harmonium. Usually the triple-reed
harmonium is considered to be superior to the double-reed
– Coupler is a mechanical feature, which allows double key
function. It automatically presses the corresponding key of the
next octave when any key is pressed. The result is that playing
one key engages two reeds simultaneously. This arrangement
produces a much richer sound than an uncoupled keyboard. The
coupler may be engaged or disengaged by the user.
– This is an elaborate mechanical arrangement whereby the entire
keyboard may be shifted up or down. The keys are connected with
cloth tape allowing them to be slid up or down the scale from
note to note. One can easily change the key of a musical piece by
sliding the keyboard, rather than learning a new fingering
technique. But a precaution should be taken while buying
scale-changing harmonium, as the failure rate is very high rather
There are two common playing positions a standard position and
one used by qawwali singers in India. In standard position the
harmonium is placed on the ground and player sit in front of it
in cross leg position. In this position usually the right hand
plays the keys while the left hand pumps the bellows. You can
play the keys with your dominant hand also. In the second
position used by Indian qawwali singers or folk artists the end
of the harmonium rests on the ground while the other end rest
partially in the lap. You can also place the harmonium on a table
and sit in a chair while playing.
The harmonium has a number of delicate parts that are made of
cloth or leather and thus requires proper care to ensure
durability. Here are the some general tips for your harmonium:
1. Harmonium should be kept in a cool (never below freezing) and
dry place free of insects. Use a cover or box for storage.
2. Use the harmonium regularly, move all stops and play all keys.
If not being used everyday, it should at least be cleaned or kept
in a clean place free
of dust, which can cause buzzing in the
reeds or otherwise wear in the exterior finish of the harmonium.
3. Before you start to play, pump the external bellows to fill
the internal bellows until some pressure builds up.
4. Never expose the harmonium to direct sunlight. This will damage
the outside surface of polish.
5. Keep it out of the range of children don't allow them to hit the
keys or over-pump the bellows.
6. Don't tamper with the springs, action regulating screws, or
reeds it can cause buzzing.
7. Don't turn the damper or drone knobs, as this will cause air
8. The instrument itself is hand crafted of wood, which can react
to the changes in moisture and temperature.