A Hohner melodica
Wind/Percusion instrument; free reed aerophone
Usually 2 or 3 octaves
accordion, harmonica, pump organ, yu
The melodica, also known as the pianica, blow-organ, key harmonica, free-reed clarinet, or melodyhorn, is a free-reed instrument similar to the pump organ and harmonica. It has a musical keyboard on top, and is played by blowing air through a mouthpiece that fits into a hole in the side of the instrument. Pressing a key opens a hole, allowing air to flow through a reed. The keyboard is usually two or three octaves long. Melodicas are small, light, and portable. They are popular in music education, especially in Asia.
The melodica was first used as a serious musical instrument in the 1960s by composers such as Steve Reich, in his piece titled Melodica (1966). Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal developed a technique consisting of singing while playing the melodica, resulting in a wide tonal and harmonic palette. It is associated with Jamaican dub and reggae musician Augustus Pablo who popularized it in the 1970s.
Melodicas are classified primarily by the range of the instrument. Melodicas with different ranges have slightly different shapes.
Although the majority of melodicas are made of plastic, some are made primarily of wood. The Sound Electra corporation makes the MyLodica, a wooden melodica designed "...to produce a warmer richer sound than that of its plastic relatives." The Victoria Accordion company in Castelfidardo, Italy, produces a range of wooden melodicas and accordinas that they market under the name Vibrandoneon.
The melodica is known by various names, often at the whim of the manufacturer. Melodion (Suzuki), Triola (Seydel), Melodika (Apollo), Melodia (Diana), Pianica (Yamaha), Melodihorn (Samick), Pianetta and Clavietta are just some of the variants. When a recording technician who did not know a melodica called it a "hooter", the band The Hooters used that as their name.
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Melodicas are unusual because unlike most conventional woodwind instruments, they make use of a piano keyboard rather than a specialized fingering system using holes and/or buttons. This allows the player to use a single finger to play any one note of the instrument's range, rather than requiring several fingers to play individual notes, as is the case with most other woodwinds. The player can then play chords by using their remaining fingers to press additional keys, and thus, sound additional notes. In other words, whereas most woodwind instruments such as saxophones or clarinets are monophonic when played by trained musicians, the melodica is polyphonic. Additionally, for a beginner, a melodica can play accidentals more easily than a woodwind, which requires special fingering.