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Though it is perhaps most closely associated with Indian music, the harmonium was actually invented in the early 19th century in Europe. Also known as a reed organ (or pump organ), the harmonium is a small keyboard instrument that makes sound by blowing air through reeds, and sounds not unlike a church organ, though a little less cumbersome.
When shopping for a harmonium of your own, you should know the basic mechanics of the instrument, as well as what features are useful and which are pretty frivolous.
What You Should Know Before Buying a Harmonium
Harmoniums come in a variety of sizes and formats. The sound will change depending on several factors, as will how easy it is to play.
Portable vs. Non-portable: These are the two basic types of harmonium, and they are relatively self-explanatory. Non-portable harmoniums stand upright and keep their shape, while portable harmoniums fold up and can be carried like a suitcase. Standard harmoniums work well if you don’t plan to travel with your instrument, while portable harmoniums are attractive for how easy they are to carry.
Range: Harmoniums come in several ranges, from 2 1/2 octaves and up; the average being around 3. Beginner players should be perfectly fine with 2 1/2 octaves, thought more of course always provides more variety.
Reeds: Most harmoniums come with at least two reeds: a high set and a low set, which blend to create a rich, full sound. From lowest to highest, reeds are in bass, male, or female octaves, and different combinations blend to create different sounds. A bass, male set is really all a beginner would need, though.
Instant Response Keyboard: Look for an instant response keyboard, as many poor quality harmoniums will come with a lag on the keys.
Additional Features: Some harmoniums come with additional features like stops, scale changers, and couplers. Not all of these features make a huge difference to the instrument. Stops and scale changers for example are often considered relatively redundant. An octave coupler is a helpful feature which adds an octave to the note you’re playing and can amplify the sound.
1. Maharaja Musicals Folding Harmonium
Handmade and shipped from India, this harmonium includes all of the features we’re looking for in a quality instrument ideal for first-time players.
It is of the folding portable variety, and also comes with a harmonium book and padded gig bag. It has two reeds, bass and male, a 3 1/2 octave range, instant response keyboard, and octave coupler feature. It does not have a scale changer, but most musicians find this feature unnecessary.
The instrument produces a wonderful sound, and we also like the rosewood finish. Because it is handmade in India, each one will have distinctive markings and finishes, giving you a truly unique piece to play and collect.
Pros: Handmade in India and includes all necessary features.
Cons: Due to the handmade nature of each piece, harmonium will not be exactly as pictured.
2. Maharaja Musicals Harmonium
This harmonium includes all of the features we like about our first choice, but in a deep mahogany finish rather than rosewood.
The harmonium is made from dried Indian wood, with attractive brass knobs on the stops. The bellows, which can leak in some harmoniums, have been checked to ensure good sustain — referring to the evenness of the sound. It is a folding, portable version, but be aware that it is still around 25 pounds, so it is not exactly lightweight.
Pros: Even, rich sound quality. A portable pick.
Cons: Though it’s a more portable option, it can still be heavy for some.
3. Kaayna Musicals Harmonium
This handmade harmonium features nine stops, 42 keys and 3 1/2 octaves. It’s handmade from an Indian cedar wood, which is rich and full of character. The genuine wooden top, brass knobs and dark cherry lacquer add to the handsome finish.
This harmonium is slightly taller than the other ones on our list, helping to deliver a longer sustain. The instant response keyboard means there’s no lag when playing. There’s also a coupler function to give you more options.
This set includes a padded gig bag for easy storage and transport.
PROS: Extra height and longer body.
CONS: The design may not be for everyone.