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Harmonium or Pump Organ

Harmonium or Pump Organ

Today we will look at another important Musical Instrument, the Harmonium or Pump Organ. It is also called as Melodeon and is a keyboard instrument. A Harmonium is a free-reed organ that generates sound with a foot or hand pumped bellows. It produces sound as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame.

The physical characteristics of the reed like its mass, length, cross-sectional area and stiffness determines the pitch of the sound. The physical dimensions of the chamber in which the reed is fitted, the amount of air flow etc. are also important in the pitch of the sound produced. The original idea of a free reed organ is imported from China through Russia after 1750. The first Western free reed instrument was made in Denmark in 1780.

The portable hand pumped Harmonium is a prominent instrument in the musical performances in the Indian Subcontinent. This is a localised version developed and produced by Indians in India for the local needs.

Foot-Pumped and Hand-Pumped Harmoniums

In the foot-pumped versions, the player presses two pedals with feet at one time. This foot pedals are connected to a a mechanism operating a bellow. Bellows blows air into a small opening in order to make something work. They have a kind of air sack, when the sack is squeezed, air is pushed out. This air is send to the reeds. The keys on the Harmonium are played by the player with both hands.

In a hand-pumped Harmonium, the player pushes and pulls a handle back and forth with one hand. This is joined to bellows and thus air is blown. The player can use only one hand to play the keyboard.

Octaves and Keys

Normal Harmoniums are equipped with twelve semitones of the tempered scale in three Octaves. They are Lower (Mandra), Middle (Madhya) and Upper (Tara) Octaves. There can be 42 Keys arranged in 3 1/2 Octaves in Indian handmade Harmoniums. Some of them have only three Octaves and 37/39 keys.

A group of seven White and five Black keys together make up 12 notes which we call as an Octave. There are 8 notes major, relative minor and Harmonic minor scale in an Octave. But including semi notes, we have 12 notes in a Harmonium.


There will be a series of knobs on the front side of the Harmonium. These knobs when adjusted (pulled-out or pushed-in) controls the flow of air into the respective air chambers inside. These are known as the Stops. These stops allow the player to play one or all of the set of reeds and also control the volume of air flowing to each set of reeds. There could be 7 or 9 stops depending upon the type and size of the Harmonium.

Let us watch a basic Harmonium Lesson to know better.

Picture used for illustration only – Credit: Collins Dictionary

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