:: Indian Musical Instrument's User Guide ::

Harmonium

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 music. 

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
Body
- 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 with covers.

Handles - 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.

Bellows - 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.

Keys - 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 white keys. 

Stops (main) 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.

Stops (drone) - 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 G sharp.

Reeds - 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 thicker reeds. 

Reed Board - 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 variety. 

Coupler 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.
 

Scale Changer 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 deplorable!

 
Playing the Harmonium
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.


Care and Caution

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 leakage.

8. The instrument itself is hand crafted of wood, which can react to the changes in moisture and temperature.

 
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