Musical instruments are the common elements of cultures throughout the Universe but certain musical instruments become synonymous with a particular culture or country. Harmonium is one such instrument. It has gained popularity as an important part of the Indian music. It is also called as ‘peti–baja’ in India. As a musical instrument, the Harmonium is found in most of the homes in India, particularly in North India but is not so prevalent in South India. Belonging to the keyboard family of musical instruments, the Harmonium is not known for its ability in switching from loud to refined notes. Hence, it is shunned by many connoisseurs of classical Indian music. It supports compositions of large voice and in–group singing. Widely used in popular compositions of nomadic singers and wandering musicians singing folklore songs, the Harmonium sounds and operates like an accordion.

How did it originate?

A Harmonium–like instrument was developed in Europe but a more popular type with bellows was created in America. The invention of Harmonium is credited to the Frenchman Alexandre Debain in 1842. The instrument became popular in the 19th and early 20th century but inventions of new instruments soon replaced the Harmonium. Though it is very popular in India, Pakistan and Nepal, the Harmonium is not a native instrument of India or other Asian countries. It was imported from Europe in the 19th century and continues to be a popular instrument of South Asia. The earlier type of Harmonium was big in size and was foot–operated. Low pricing and portability has made the Harmonium a popular instrument.  

How does it work?

A Harmonium works like an accordion with the use of bellows and keyboard. The pushing of the bellows and the touching of the keys simultaneously produces sound on the Harmonium. A Harmonium has a number of reeds. When the keys are touched and bellows are inflated at the same time, volume of air passes through the reeds and musical notes are produced. The unique sound of the Harmonium improves with time and usage.

What are its components?

Components of a Harmonium include the handle, bellows, reeds, keys and stops which are all attached to a wooden body.

Which genre of music is it popular with?

Harmonium is the most commonly used musical instrument in Indian music. Bhajans, ghazals, kirtans, qawwalis and all types of devotional songs are played to the accompaniment of the Harmonium.  Due to its inability to produce certain refined elements of classical Indian music, it is not looked upon by elite composers, but is quite popular with a certain genre. Beginners find it easy to play due to its simple mechanism.  Nomadic groups of people carry this instrument along with them and sing songs of folklore.  

Mention its types?

Harmoniums are available in the following variants:

  • Standard or fold up:  These models of Harmonium can be folded and be easily transported.
  • Reeds: Harmonium usually has 1, 2, 3 or 4 bank of reeds. Male, female, tenor and bass are the names of the reeds, each one of which make a unique sound. More number of reeds makes the instrument heavy and creates a complex sound.
  • Coupler buttons:  Coupler is a device or a knob that connects one key with a high or low corresponding key. This model requires less number of reeds but demands more pumping of air through the bellows.
  • With Stops: Stops are big knobs in a Harmonium model that allow passage of air in the air chamber and control the amount of air or volume of the reeds.
  • Drone models are Harmoniums fitted with smaller knobs.
  • Bellow position: Bellows are folds that help to pump air into the body of Harmonium to make a sound. Some models have bellows fitted in the front, in the inside and sometimes to the sides.
  • Scale changer: A scale changer or a key changer is a complex mechanism fitted to a Harmonium. It enables to shift the keyboard left or right. Also, it helps to play a song in different keys. 
  • A number of Octaves: Harmoniums come in various sizes. Number of octaves depends upon the size of keyboard. Bigger the keyboard, the more is the number of octaves.  
Mention some of the great players of this instrument?

Top Indian vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi used the Harmonium as an accompaniment in an orchestra. Well known qawwali exponent Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan always played the Harmonium in his compositions. Ustad Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan was known as the King of Harmonium and played along with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. 

How does one learn and how long does it take?

The Harmonium is the one of the easiest instruments to play amongst the musical instruments. The beginner’s Harmonium is available for the beginners to get basic lessons in learning. Also, there are music classes and teachers to teach particularly in India.

Add/View Comment
The most wonderful and precious element of universe is the human life which can only be guided by the right knowledge and right attitude. So, here is an ocean of knowledge, both in English and Hindi encompassing every detail and each facet of human life which ‘one must know’ in order to grow and attain the summits of success. A team of around 200 dedicated members is working ceaselessly to turn such a colossal dream into reality. We are confident that this portal will help bring change in people across the world.

Content creation, research, development and execution done in-house at Aatman Innovations.