Harmonium - Indian Musical Instrument




In India the harmonium or reed-organ, or "the poor man`s pipe-organ," belongs to the same family of instruments as the mouth-organs and accordion-type instruments. It has freely moving reeds (as well as rising reeds) on which a patent was taken out in 1840 by the French instrument maker, Alexandre Debain.

It became an extremely popular instrument in the United States and Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, used mainly for accompanying the voice in the home and in church, since it had the tone of a pipe-organ without the bulk or the enormous expense.

The harmonium has a piano-like body which usually is elaborately carved in the fashion of the day. Harmonium has two foot-pedals connected to two bellows that provide air supply and keyboard has a range of five octaves. Below the keyboard there are two siphon paddles operated by the player`s knees. One initiates sort of swells mechanism while the other is used for musical emphasis like a general crescendo.

In India harmonium was introduced by the missionaries who brought these percussion instruments in the nineteenth century. Since then the instrument was portable and easy to learn and handle, it became quickly popular. The genres of Indian music, specially North Indian music, harmonium plays an important role. However it was modified later keeping in mind the Indian need which is a hand held one and is generally played by keeping it on the floor. Besides music, Indian harmonium carved a place for itself on stage as well. Especially, in Parsi and Marathi theatre it was widely used and the role of the harmonium was usurped to some extent by the electric organ in the second half of the twentieth century, though not for religious music.

Brief Introduction

Harmonium usually belongs to the family of free-reed aerophones. The instrument is a small, tabletop size, organ which has bellows at the back that is pumped by one hand while the other hand plays the keyboard. A standard Harmonium always has a wooden box known as body, handles to move the instrument, bellows, keys, stops (main and drone), reeds, reed board, coupler and scale changer. Today in India it is widely used in all forms of Indian music be it classical, Hindustani, devotional or film music. A high quality Harmonium with full sound range and keyboard has 39 keys and thus supplies a tonal range of 3 octaves, 4 adjustable drones are possible. The Double reeds make sure that every tone is supplied with two reeds (for medium and lower octave). Three variations with different settings can be achieved by blowing the reeds either separately or together.

How to play a Harmonium

For playing harmonium, a sitting position must be followed which should be a standard sitting position where the harmonium is placed on the ground. A right handed player uses the right hand for the keys and the left hand for pumping the bellows. It is the most preferred position in India. The other position is the qawwali where the harmonium rests partly on the player's lap and partly on the floor. In some cases, the harmonium is worn around the neck using a strap. In this case, the harmonium can also be played as the player is standing and walking.

Popular Musicians

Suyog Kundalkar
Some prominent harmonium Indian players are Pt. P Madhukar, Pt. R K Bijapure, Pt. Manohar Chimote, Pt. Tulsidas Borkar, Dr. Sudhanshu Kulkarni, Dr. Ravindra Katoti, Ajay Joglekar and Vyasmurthy Katti. Harmonium is considered to be one of the most versatile instruments in Indian Music which is usually used as an accompanying instrument for vocalists. However, some musicians play the harmonium as a solo instrument and they are Pandit Muneshwar Dayal, Pandit Montu Banerjee,Pamabhusan Jnan Prakash. One of the largest pioneers of this style is Pandit Tulsidas Borkar of Mumbai. More recently, Dr. Arawind Thatte from Pune has sought to create a separate identity for the harmonium as a solo instrument. More and more music students are learning in this fashion.


The popularity of the Indian harmonium had many people believing that it had originated from the country. When the British brought the instrument to India, the foot pedal stayed; however, a hand-pump version was introduced in India it self. This was beneficial for the Indians as they primarily sat on the floor to play their instruments. Often Indian musicians sing while playing their instruments, and the harmonium sounded well with vocals. Indian music generally is melodic, and musicians usually don't play chords on their instruments. Since Indians only needed one hand to play individual keys on the instrument, they had a free hand to pump air, making the whole process of using the harmonium easy to learn.

Where to learn to play a Harmonium

TARANG School for Classical Indian Dance and Music
Manager: Marie-Luise Siebenkaes
Johannisstrasse 14D-90763 Fuerth
Germany Telephone: +49-(0)911-6708040
Fax: +49 (0)1212-512616701 USt-IdNr.: DE228189973

Where to buy a Harmonium

Contact: Mr Ashish Shrivastava
Sathyadeep Musical Palace
Beside Vysya Bank
Post- Puttaparthy
Dist-- Anantapur
Andhra Pradesh Pin- 515134
[email protected]
[email protected]