There are many types of keyboards out there, from keytars to mellotrons.
But did you know that there is a type of keyboard you blow into? You probably do, and that’s likely why you’re here.
Question: What Is The Name Of The Keyboard You Blow Into?
Answer: A melodica.
A melodica is a free-reed instrument. People often compare it to the harmonica or pump organ.
My buddy, singer-songwriter Jonathan Ferguson happens to own one, and I think he’s even played it on stage and in the studio.
But if you’re interested in learning more about the melodica, stick around, because the melodica goes by other names, and there are some other interesting facts worth learning.
A Brief History Of The Melodica
The melodica, or at least the melodica as we know it today, was developed in the 1950s by German manufacturer Hohner.
Early forms of the melodica, or instruments like it, supposedly existed in Italy since the 19th century.
In the 1960s, composers like Steve Reich treated the melodica as a serious instrument and composed music specifically for the instrument.
Around that time, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal figured out a way to sing while playing melodica, which increased its overall versatility.
Augustus Pablo, a Jamaican dub and reggae musician, popularized the instrument in the 1970s.
Today, the melodica is a popular instrument in music education, especially in Asia, much like the harmonica or recorder.
As I was growing up in Japan in the 90s, I first learned harmonica and then recorder and never the melodica, but I did see kids from other schools playing melodicas.
Is The Melodica Known By Other Names?
The short answer is “yes”.
Depending on the manufacturer, the name can vary quite a bit, but not for any reason outside of marketing.
A melodica is also known as a:
And, there are other names for the melodica beyond the ones mentioned here.
What Types Of Melodicas Are There?
There are several types of melodicas, which are generally classified by their tonal range.
It’s worth noting that melodicas are usually made of plastic, though there are also wooden and metal melodicas.
A metal melodica is known as an accordina, and it works much the same way a melodica does, but the keyboard is replaced by buttons, like those that can be found on an accordion (thus the name, accordina).
Aside from that, here are the three types of melodicas available:
- Soprano and alto. Higher-pitched melodicas that are meant to be played with both hands. The black keys should be played by the left hand while the white keys should be played with the right hand. Some soprano and alto melodicas, however, are played the same way tenor melodicas are.
- Tenor. Tenor melodicas are lower-pitched than soprano and alto melodicas. The right hand plays the keyboard while the left hand holds a handle on the bottom of the instrument. If you want to play it with two hands, you can insert a tube into the mouthpiece hole and place the keyboard on a table or other flat surface. Basically, like you would play any other keyboard.
- Bass. Bass melodicas are rare, but they do exist. Naturally, they are lower pitched and are perfect for playing bass lines.
How Is The Melodica Played?
Although I will offer a bit of a description as to how the melodica is played, it’s worth getting a visual.
Here’s a helpful video:
A melodica could be considered a wind instrument since you need to be able to blow into it to produce a sound.
So, you would either blow into the mouthpiece or tube and hold down a key. That will produce a note.
The easiest way to play the melodica is with the instrument sitting on a table or desk, especially if you’re used to playing a keyboard instrument.
Aside from that, the melodica is played much the same way a piano or most other keyboards are played.
The notes are laid out the same, which makes it relatively easy for a melodica player to move over to another keyboard instrument. No wonder it’s used in music education.
Besides that, melodicas are just a lot of fun to play and mess around with. There generally isn’t a lot of instant gratification in learning an instrument, but the melodica can be quite gratifying, even for a beginner.
What Types Of Music Can You Play With The Melodica?
I think it’s safe to say you can use the melodica to play whatever genre you want.
Sure, its strong, cheery, sometimes piercing sound wouldn’t necessarily work in every musical context.
But since it’s a keyboard instrument, and you can play in any key (if you know how), there’s virtually no type of music in which you couldn’t use a melodica.
Additionally, you can always add effects to a recorded track to make it sound more how you want it to sound in a mix.
Here are a few examples of songs that include melodica:
- Oasis – “Champagne Supernova”
- Cake – “The Distance”
- Stars – “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”
- Gorillaz – “Clint Eastwood”
- The New Pornographers – “The Bleeding Heart Show”
- R.E.M. – “Boy in the Well”
- Franz Ferdinand – “40”
As you can see, the melodica has been used in rock, alternative rock, art pop, indie rock and more.
I wanted to make some comment about the melodica not being great for metal, but I fear I will regret those words. Depending on how it’s used and what effects, you apply, it could work in metal too.
If you like its sound and it complements whatever song you’re thinking about using it in, then nothing should stop you from recording a melodica track.
Is The Melodica Hard To Play?
Beginners and experienced players alike should find the melodica a relatively intuitive and straightforward instrument to play.
You do not require previous experience to be able to play the melodica, whether it’s piano or another woodwind instrument.
If you want to get good at the melodica, as with any other instrument, you will need to spend some time practicing.
And, although it is played much like a piano is played, the technique is a little different. Of course, you also need to breathe into the mouthpiece or tube if you want to produce a note.
So, no, the melodica is not hard to play.
What Is The Name Of The Keyboard You Blow Into, Final Thoughts
Now you know a little bit about the melodica, its history and how it’s used in music.
For beginners, the melodica is a great instrument to start on because you can easily transition over to a keyboard instrument, or if you’re more ambitious, a woodwind instrument, after you’ve gained some experience.
More advanced players might find some interesting ways of using it in their music, as there’s no reason it can’t be used as a solo or lead instrument.
Regardless, remember to experiment and have fun.