The melodica was invented in the 1950’s by the Hohner music company, although it has been suggested that earlier models of the instrument existed in Italy as early as the 19th century. The melodica is a free reed instrument with a keyboard that is similar to the harmonica and the pump organ. It is categorized as a wind instrument since it produces sound by blowing air through the instrument.
The melodica is played by first blowing air through an airtube on the side of the instrument. A key is pressed on the keyboard which opens a hole that allows the air to flow through a metallic reed. Most melodicas will have a range of 2 to 3 octaves.
The body of the instrument is usually made of plastic, although there is a wooden version called the Mylodica. The melodica can be either held from a strap on the back of the instrument and played with one hand or laid flat on a table played with both hands, similar to the piano.
The melodica is truly a unique instrument. The melodica’s sound is especially unique, it has its own character, although at times it can sound similar to the harmonica or the accordion. The melodica has more range and depth than the harmonica, but can only produce sound when blowing outward. It is easier to play than the accordion, both in air control and keyboard technique, but lacks some of the volume and bass that the accordion has.
Unlike other woodwinds, which can only play one note at a time (monophonic), the melodica can play multiple notes at the same time (polyphonic). Not to mention other woodwinds require multiple fingers for one note, here on the melodica, only one finger is needed. Accidentals (notes with flats or sharps) can easily be played on melodica, where on other woodwinds extra keys or uncomfortable fingerings may be necessary. Chords and melodies can also be played together which makes it an especially versatile wind instrument.
The melodica can be a great instrument for kids learning music in school, pianists who want a light-weight portable instrument to take a jam in the park, composers looking for a different sound, and anyone in between.