Home Music & Audio Learn the Melodica: What is a Melodica?

Learn the Melodica: What is a Melodica?

by Jonathan Logtenberg

Musical instruments come in various shapes and sizes. The sounds they produce vary greatly too. While some instruments are common and used by popular bands and musicians, others are rare and used by a few individuals who understand their importance. The melodica falls under this category.

What is a Melodica?

If the name melodica sounds strange to you, you are not alone. There are several people around the world who know very little about this instrument. Asides from music students and enthusiastic instrumentalist, most people care very little about little instruments like the melodica. If for any reason, you are interested in the instrument, we will discuss a few things you need to know about it and how to learn to play it too.

In simple terms, the melodica is a free-reed instrument that creates musical notes when air is blown through the mouthpiece and keys are pressed. The instrument looks like a miniature piano: it has a musical keyboard on top and a mouthpiece through which air is supplied to the internal part. The keyboards are mostly two or three octaves long.

The melodica is played by blowing air through the mouthpiece is pressing the keys on the keyboard to create different musical notes. When the keys are pressed, they open up holes for air to flow over the reeds; this is basically how music is made with the instrument. Other names for the instrument include pianica, pianetta, clavietta, melodeon, melodika, triola and more.

History of the Melodica

Before we proceed to talk about other aspects of the instrument, there is a need to have a brief look at the history of the melodica. Free-reed instruments, generally, have been in existence for centuries. The modern melodica, however, is a recent instrument.

Though the precursor of this instrument can be traced to 19th century Italy, the melodica as we know today was invented by Hohner in the 1950s. It was first used as a serious musical instrument in the 1960s by Steve Reich and some other composers. The use of the instrument received a major boost when Hermeto Pascoal, a Brazilian multi-instrumentalist, developed a technique consisting of singing while playing the melodica. It was popularized further by reggae musician Augustus Pablo in the 1970s. It remains a relevant instrument to date, which is basically why we are discussing it.

Who Uses the Melodica? 

While the use of the melodica is still not popular among A-class artists, it remains an instrument of choice for introducing people to music. It is mostly used for educational purposes now. Many music schools use it for instruction since they are easier to learn than most other instruments. The skills young players can acquire from playing the melodica can be applied to other instruments. Starting a musical journey with the instrument can make things easier for anyone.

Asides from music student, there are people who appreciate the melodica. Ardent music lovers and enthusiastic instrumentalists play the instrument. Actually, most multi-instrumentalists play the melodica and many use it to sharpen such skills as breathe control and finger patterns.

Types of Melodicas?

Like other musical instruments, melodicas come in several different varieties. It is important that you have an idea of the different types if you are interested in learning the instrument. They differ in terms of materials, sizes and octaves, and voice ranges. Due to space, we will only mention these different types briefly. In terms of materials, melodicas can be classified as wooden of plastic. While most are made of plastic, a good number of melodicas are made from wood.

In terms of sizes and octaves, melodicas are mostly available in two or three octaves. Few have two and a half octaves. If you want to learn the instrument, you can start with the one that has 2 octaves. In terms of voice range, melodica types include soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. While the soprano melodicas have the highest range and are the commonest type, the bass melodicas are lowest in range and far less common than the others.

What is Best for a Beginner?

Are you entirely new to the melodica? The best instrument to consider should be a simple, two-octave melodica. Such a simple instrument will allow you to learn the mechanics of the instrument without any fuss. Soprano or alto melodicas are also better for a beginner. It is also preferable to buy plastic melodicas since they are less expensive. You should also consider counting the number of keys in the instrument. Ideally, a professional melodica has 37 keys but there are compact options with 32 keys and they are also great.

Learning the Melodica

As stated earlier, the melodica is a simple instrument that is easy to learn. There is no prerequisite to learning the instrument as a novice can pick up the required skills easily. This, however, does not mean you will start playing great tunes a week after picking the instrument. Actually, you can start playing well at that time if you are diligent. Learning the instrument is a process and you have to give your time and serious effort. Here are the techniques you will have to learn in your earliest days with the melodica:

Holding the Instrument

You have to start by learning to hold the instrument the right way. Most beginner-friendly melodica models have flexi-tube mouthpieces that allow the learner to place the instrument in his/her laps or flat surface and play comfortably with two free hands. If this is not the case with your instrument, learn to hold it properly with your hand and press the keys with your right hand.

Breathe Technique 

Playing the melodica involves blowing air into the instrument, which means you need to learn breath control as soon as possible. This can take a little time but regular practice will make things easier.

Keyboard Technique

You will get the sound you want from the melodica by pressing the right keys while blowing air through the mouthpiece. You will learn finger placements and patterns with time and constant practice.


The melodica is an excellent instrument for learning music. We have discussed what the instrument is and how you can start learning as soon as possible. You will also need tutor books and/or experienced tutors to make your musical journey with the instrument faster. It is important to state here that though it is not necessarily required, piano skills will make learning the melodica a lot easier. To get started today, grab your complete beginner’s kit and enjoy the experience.

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