When researching the best harmonium brands I was surprised at all of the harmoniums available on the market to choose from. This made writing this article easy in many ways and difficult in others.
No matter how young or old you are, you can always begin to learn how to play an instrument or gain instruction on how to better care or upgrade your instrument.
There are several different types of harmoniums. Your preference in types might be linked with previous experience with other instruments or no true preference at all.
If you have no preference or are hoping to expand your knowledge of the instrument, perhaps understanding the history of the instrument and the various types of instruments will give you a better insight as to what you want, and hopefully inspire you to learn a different variation of the harmonium.
The goal of the article:
This article will inform you about the best harmoniums and the best harmonium brands you could buy or experiment with to your heart’s content!
We will take a look at the best harmoniums focusing mostly on style, some on-brand, as well as zero in on their features and benefits. Not all harmoniums are created equally as you will see and the features really matter in finding the best harmoniums.
What is a harmonium?
A harmonium is a reed instrument that creates sound when air is pumped through its bellows.
History of the Harmonium
At first glance, the harmonium might resemble a piano to you, if you are unfamiliar with it or what type of instrument it is. Its original design was just as bulky and cumbersome as the original piano or organ, luckily, the instrument has gone over several redesigns in the past few centuries.
Some sources suggest that the precursor to the harmonium, the free-reed organ was inspired by India’s mouth organ instruments. There is no definitive date on when the mouth organ instrument was created, however, the free-reed organ was created in 1770.
The harmonium instrument would not be created and legally patented until 1842, by a Frenchman–Alexandre Debian. The harmonium became especially popular and used frequently by those who could not afford to buy an organ e.g. small churches and private residences/homes.
Harmoniums were especially popular back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries because a person did not need electricity to play an instrument.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, Christian missionaries, especially, began bringing the instrument all over the world, as it was a great fit with devotional and gospel music.
It was during this time that Indians altered the harmonium–they redesigned the instrument so that you did not need to sit in a chair to play it e.g. got rid of the foot pedals. Its most common form is a medium-sized wooden box that you sit on the floor with, and use your hand to pump as you play it.
Several different versions of the harmonium were created, starting in the nineteenth century, and they stayed a very popular instrument until the electric organ was created sometime in the twentieth century.
Today, the harmonium remains a popular instrument in the eastern part of the world, mainly in India.
History of the Harmonium Overview
- Its creation was inspired by both India’s mouth organ instrument and the free-reed organ
- Became popular in use for those who could not afford to buy an organ instrument
- Its popularity increased due to it not needing electricity to be played
- Christian missionaries popularized its use around the world for evangelizing, starting in the mid-nineteenth century
- Native Indians redesigned the instrument so it would be less bulky e.g. got rid of the foot pedals and the necessity for a chair to play it; you play it sitting on the floor or anywhere else you choose
- Remains popular in India
Keys are one of the first things you notice when looking at a harmonium. These look similar to the keys you find on the piano because they are black & white.
Harmoniums come with a cover. This is a very important feature that serves to protect the harmonium. It also mutes higher frequencies if there is a need for that.
Bellows are used to push air as well as make the sound you hear from a harmonium. They are two types 1. multi-fold or 2. two-fold.
You see the stops on the front of a harmonium. These are called knobs that control the flow of air. There are two types of stops, 1. Drone Stops and 2. Main Stops.
A harmonium has metallic strips which are called reeds. These help to create the sound of a harmonium.
The final part that is important in creating a sound an octave apart is the coupler. When a key is pressed the couple enables the same key an octave higher to be pressed.
Parts Of Harmonium (Infographic):
Every part is important in producing the best harmonium brands.
Styles & Features
There are several features that you can choose to add to your harmonium. Some are not needed, so this is where previous experience, or newfound knowledge of the type of music that you want to play, is very helpful.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up with a harmonium with a feature that, at best, you don’t need and never use while you are playing your instrument.
There are two primary styles, Kolkata, or Calcutta, and Delhi.
This is where beginners will start learning to play the harmonium. Overall this is the most frequently played harmonium for professionals as well. This is because of three primary reasons.
Delhi harmonium is comparatively less expensive than Kolkata harmoniums and less expensive than other musical instruments in general. They will come in a range of $500 to $1000.
One of the reasons for the less cost is the simple design. They are light in weight as well as easy to take care of. For this reason, they are easy to travel with as well.
Delhi harmoniums are heard in a diversity of music. This is due to its organ tone.
– Box Types: Standard & Collapsing
– Coupler(optional): right action, activated by wire mechanism located under keys
– Exterior Construction: Traditionally pine or kale softwood, sometimes teak
– Interior Construction: Softwood; sometimes composite or particleboard
– Key construction: One-piece.
– Length of Scale: 2 to 3.5 octaves, 25 -42 keys
– Reeds: Punjabi: various levels of quality
– Reed banks: 1 or 2, Brass, Male
– Reed orientation: Horizontal
–Scale changer: Not available
–Weight: 13-28 lbs.
These are quite different than Delhi Style harmoniums in almost every way including feel, sound, price, and how they look.
A Kolkata Style harmonium costs in the range of $1200-$1800. The most expensive ones can cost a price of $3000.
They are sold in construction with an ornate intricate design you can only describe as beautiful. Their engineering is very detailed.
Kolkata’s produce a full tone because they are built with three, and four sets of reeds. This allows them to play easily in different octaves.
– Box Types: Standard & Traditional Collapsing
– Coupler: typical, left action, activated by wooden bars under the keys
–Exterior Construction: Teak, quality varies.
– Interior Construction: Solid teak
– Key construction: Two-piece
– Length of Scale: 3 .3.75 octaves, 37-44 keys
– Reeds: Palitana; various levels of quality
–Reed banks: 3 or 4, Brass Male, Female
– Reed orientation: Horizontal / Vertical
–Scale changer: Available
– Weight: 32-48 lbs.
There are several different types of harmoniums e.g. standard and fold-up, and beyond that, there are different variations in harmoniums that can drastically alter their sound.
The number of reed banks, type of reed banks, whether or not the harmonium has a coupler, stops, drones, and bellows make a difference.
The number of octaves and whether or not the harmonium has a scale changer also influence how the harmonium sounds. The quality of the wood that your harmonium is made out of can also make or break the sound of your instrument.
Sound Quality depends on the Quality of the woods
The most important feature that you have to make sure is completely correct is the type of wood your harmonium is made out of. If your harmonium is not made out of quality wood, then it will drastically alter the type of sound you are trying to create.
Harmoniums should be made out of quality wood. If you do not plan to move your harmonium around very often, it should be constructed in a heavier wood e.g. teak or mahogany. This type of wood will give it a resonant sound if that is what you are looking for.
If you plan to travel with your harmonium, then it should be made of pine or fir, which are lighter woods. That should make it easier for you to carry it around.
Standard harmoniums have two handles on either side and are the most commonly used harmoniums around the world.
Fold up harmoniums
This type of harmonium is designed and built specifically to make traveling with a harmonium a lot easier than with a standard harmonium.
There are two types of fold-up harmoniums–one type folds up into itself, with the bellows covering its top, and the other type folds into itself and has a separate lid to cover it. Generally, the latter type of harmonium is much more expensive and heavier than the former type of harmonium.
Harmonium Sound Features
The sound of the harmonium is affected by several different elements.
Number of reed banks
The number and type of reed banks it has, for one. Harmoniums can have either 1, 2, 3, or 4 banks of reeds and each reed bank has a totally different sound.
Type of reed banks
They have different names e.g. male, female, bass, and tenor. A different, unique mix of these reeds can be placed in each bank, which contributes to the harmonium’s unique sound. The more reed banks a harmonium has, the more unique its sound will be. However, this means that it will also be heavier.
A coupler is used to connect one key to its higher or lower, yet corresponding key. It can play two octaves of a note at the same time, which can give it the sound of having more keys/reed banks than it actually has. However, you will have to pump more air into the instrument to utilize this.
Stops are a feature that allows you to put more air into the harmonium by turning large knobs. Essentially you use these to control how much air goes to each set of reed banks.
Drones are utilized by smaller knobs that you can use to hear a fixed note when you turn the knob. Generally, these notes are C, D, F, G, A, or a selection of all of them.
Harmoniums have external bellows–either 1, 3, 5, or 7 of them–while also having internal bellows. Some use the bellows as a way to control the instrument–having a greater number of them–but a proper pumping technique mitigates most of the troubles in that area.
Number of octaves
Because there are different variations of keys per every harmonium, the octave ranges also vary. Most harmoniums have a range of 3 to 3.5 octaves.
Lastly, a scale changer is used to shift your keyboard from left to right. Most harmonium players will never use this feature because most do not need to change keys will playing a piece of music. It is very delicate, so it is not recommended for those who travel often with their instrument unless specifically needed.
Harmonium Types Overview
- Fold up
- Harmonium Sound Features
- Number of reed banks
- Type of reed banks
- Number of octaves
- Scale changer
- Quality of materials used
What are the best harmonium brands?
Here is a list of the best harmoniums by brand according to The Top 10 on the Indian website.
- 1. Kepler Harmonium: This is the top-selling harmonium on the Top 10 India website. A 9 Stopper, Chudidaar Bellow, 42 key, two reed, Baas Male, with Cover.
- 2. Khushi Musical: The second best-selling harmonium in the Top 10 India is a Folding (Portable) With Coupler 3.5 Octave 9 Stopper Rosewood.
- 3. Pal Music House: The third most popular selling brand in India.
- 4. Bajaj collection: Comes in #4 on India’s top-selling harmoniums
- 5. Bina: They are a legend in the harmonium industry. Known for using only the highest quality wood. It is able to produce harmoniums that deliver the best tone available. Their staff is top-notch overseeing all aspects of the manufacturing process.
- 6. Harmoniumwala Harmoniums: Makers of high-end Calcutta Harmoniums with designs and acoustics that rate at the top of the market.
- 7. Paul &Co. Harmoniums: Built for longevity using only the finest wood. Performers tout them for their durability and elegance.
- 8. Sharma Musical Store Harmonium: 8th best-selling brand.
- 9. Sur 0 Bani: # 9 on the list.
- 10. Singh &Sons: Rounds out the Top 10 best brands of harmoniums in India.
Other best harmoniums brands:
- Maharaja Musicals Harmoniums: With expert craftsmanship, they are able to deliver a quality product at a reasonable price.
- MKS Harmonium: A fourth-generation company originating in Kolkata, they specialize in all of the technical aspects of harmonium manufacturing.
- Daljit Dosanjh Harmonium: Higher quality and priced brands are available online from various retailers.
Are the best harmoniums only made in India?
The harmonium was first created in Europe, yet any harmonium you buy today will have been made in India. And within India, generally, the harmoniums are made in either Delhi or Kolkata.
The Delhi style of the harmonium is one of the most popular styles, and it is what you will see the majority of people playing, whether they are professionals or beginners.
It is one of the best harmoniums to use because it is lightweight and easy to move around if needed. Its sound is very common, but is very dynamic and can be used to play all sorts of music e.g. folk songs, ambient, indie rock, etc.
Best of all, compared to other styles of harmoniums, this is relatively inexpensive to buy. It comes with 1 or 2 reed banks (bass and male) and a coupler. Its octave range is 2 to 3.5 octaves. It can weigh between 13 and 28 pounds.
The Kolkata style of the harmonium is very very different from the Delhi harmonium. This does not mean it is bad, or that it is the best harmonium instrument, but it is just different.
These are very solidly constructed and designed instruments and contain 3 or 4 sets of reed banks, which brings with it a wide octave range. The sound is very full and somber and are mostly used in Eastern music composition and styles, but can be adapted to suit Western music composition and styles as well.
The reed banks are either bass, female, or male. It comes with a scale changer and a coupler. Its octave range is 3 to 3.75 octaves. It can weigh between 32 and 48 pounds.
Delhi Harmonium Overview
- Most popular
- Lightweight and easy to travel with
- Easily adaptable to several different genres of music
- Comes with: 1 or 2 reed banks (bass and male), a coupler
- Octave range: 2 to 3.5 octaves
- Weight: 13 to 28 lbs
- Cost: $500 to $1,000 USD
Kolkata Harmonium Overview
- Very different and not as popular as the Delhi harmonium
- Made of heavier wood and not as easy to travel with
- Can adapt, with some doing, to western-style composition
- Comes with 3 or 4 reed banks (bass, female, male), a scale changer, and a coupler
- Octave range: 3 to 3.75 octaves
- Weight: 32 to 48 lbs
- Cost: $1,200 to $3,000 USD
What is the best quality harmonium brand to buy?
There is no “best” harmonium instrument, per se. There are preferences and there are those that you want to buy. For most people, beyond cost, what the harmonium will be used for dictates what type of harmonium they buy.
If you intend to travel often with your harmonium, then it would not be advisable for you to buy a Kolkata harmonium.
Considering the size
When it comes to size, you should also be aware of just what a “small” and “lightweight” harmonium actually means. This does not mean that the harmonium will be “easy” to transport–it just means that it will be “easier” to transport than it was before, with its traditional designs and materials.
When you decide to buy a “small” harmonium, you are making certain sacrifices in its sound quality.
Because you have bought a smaller harmonium, the bellows will not able to get as much air through the reed banks, which creates an “inferior” sound–inferior to what it could have been with a larger harmonium. This doesn’t mean it’s bad–just different.
You will also want to buy quality harmonium and that costs money. If you do not, then you run the risk of buying a cheaply made harmonium that cannot retain air, which means it cannot create decent sound.
Lastly, make sure you know what you are buying. Just because a harmonium is identified as “small” does not mean that it is. Make sure you know how much the harmonium you are buying weighs, particularly if you are wanting to travel with it.
Harmonium Brand Quality Overview
- Smaller harmoniums create a less complex sound
- Cheaper harmoniums cannot retain air, which is not conducive to quality music
- Always make sure to check the weight of your harmonium before you buy it
Remember, the best harmonium is the high-quality harmonium that you buy, learn how to play, and experiment with!
No matter how old or young you are, it is never too late to learn how to play a new instrument, and the harmonium is perfect for those who are wanting to play a reed instrument but do not want to buy a piano–of which even the larger harmoniums (Kolkata) would be easier to move and travel with, if necessary.
There is no rush for you to choose which kind of harmonium you want, or how many of its features you need. Take your time–evaluate not only your budget (because you will need to buy a high-quality instrument unless you want to keep buying cheap harmoniums as they break down) but also your lifestyle and the type of music you want to play.
Are you interested in playing more western-style music? The Delhi harmonium is your best bet. But if you want to learn how to play traditional eastern-style music, then the Kolkata will be the best harmonium for you to buy–if you can afford it.
There are many factors that go into a decision, and it should not be taken lightly–you have all the time in the world to decide on the best harmonium instrument for you!