Harmoniums are an Indian musical instrument, somewhat akin to the early American pump organ. The harmonium is also called a peti or baja. This instrument is not a native Indian instrument, but was invented in Europe in Paris in 1842. During the mid-nineteenth century missionaries brought hand-pumped harmonium to India, where it quickly became popular due to its portability and its low price. Its popularity has stayed intact to the present day, and the harmonium remains an important instrument in many genres of Indian music, as well as frequently being found in Indian homes. Page 1 of 2. Check out our Harmonium accessories, information on how to play the harmonium, and how to take care of your harmonium.
Harmoniums are in the family of free-reed aerophones. Harmoniums resemble small, tabletop size, organs. Each harmonium has a bellows at the back that is pumped by one hand while the other hand plays the keyboard. Inside they contain multiple chambers. There are 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. There are two main types of harmonium: a foot-pumped version that resembles a small organ, and a hand-pumped portable version that folds up for easy transport.
Harmoniums give an amazing amount of good sound and music, even for the beginner with little skill or experience. Their mellow, warm-sounding tone blends well with the human voice; thus they are especially well-suited for individual or group singing.
Although this is a European invention, it has evolved into a truly bi-cultural instrument. The keyboard is European, but it has a number of drone reeds which are particularly Indian. European models came in both hand pumped and foot pumped models. The foot pumped models disappeared in India many years ago, as the foot pedals required one to sit in a chair; something which is unusual for an Indian musician. In addition, the only advantage of the foot model was that it freed both hands so that both melody and chords could be played. Indian music has no chords, so this was no advantage. Although the hand pumped models required one hand to pump they were more portable and comfortable when played on the floor.
The Harmoniums are not meant to be played in concert like a mini organ. This is instrument was introduced to India by the British. It has been embraced and is now a truly Indian instrument used as accompaniment in devotional songs. The reeds in the harmonium are tuned to sound well together, not necessarily with other instruments. As such they are not in concert pitch and are not meat to be. As with many Indian instruments the key for the music is selected to best suite the vocals, or to set a mood. Traditionally, Harmoniums are usually higher pitched if compared to the Western Scale. Harmonium tuning does not reflect the Western Scale and is not meant to.