Indian Harmonium Resources

Standard and Deluxe Portable Harmoniums

The harmonium, a type of musical instrument also known as baja, or vaja, is an integral part of the Sikh worship service and may be found in every gurdwara, and often in the private homes of many devout Sikhs. The harmonium is a type of portable, hand-operated pump organ popular for playing shabads, or the divine hymns of Gurbani Kirtan, in sing along style. The harmonium is played by classically trained Ragi musicians, or self taught kirtanis, usually accompanied by a tabla, and hand held kartal shakers.

The harmonium introduced to India during the 1800's when imported by the British, quickly caught on with the native population because of its versatility. Harmonium styles have gone through various stages of modification over the centuries which make them suitable for worship services conducted while sitting cross-legged on the floor, or stage.

Every standard harmonium has a body, bellows, a reed system and black and white keys. One hand operates the bellows pump to push air through metal reeds, while the other hand plays the keys to produce mellow musical notes. Bellows may open to be pumped by hand from the front on either right, or left side, the top, and even both front and back of the harmonium. Various deluxe harmoniums may also have a combinations of features which may, or may not, include knobs for stops, drones, a coupler, or a scale changer. Harmoniums are have either a fixed body and bellows system, or fold to collapse when stored or transported. The harmonium generally has 12 - 17 black minor keys, and 21 - 25 white major keys, and may weigh anywhere between 19 - 52 lbs.

Standard Fixed Upright Harmonium

Standard Upright Harmonium
Standard Upright Harmonium. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber]

The standard, or fixed, upright harmonium has a removable protective top which slides over the reeds, and may or may not, fold to cover keys when not in use. The protective cover may have a fixed panel of glass, or may have a sliding wooden panel to allow greater air flow through round holes, or a cut out design, which may, or may not, contain a layer of fabric. The standard body has an integral bellows system which does not fold, but is fixed in place at all times. The standard harmonium may have no stops at all, or may have between 3 to 11 pull out knobs, referred to as stops, which may include both drones and stops. The various drone knobs each access a different tone that is sounded continuously during play. A standard harmonium may, or may not, feature a pressure spring wire on keys which can be repositioned to create a drone sound.

Harmonium With Coupler

Harmonium With Coupler
Harmonium With Coupler. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber]

The harmonium coupler is a feature included on many deluxe harmoniums, which allows the simultaneous playing of double octaves. The coupler is small sliding knob usually positioned on, or adjacent to, the top, at the extreme right of the keyboard. The coupler generally originates with a middle key, causing the same note to play either one octave higher, or one octave lower, depending on the design of the harmonium.

Folding Harmonium

Deluxe Folding Harmonium With Latching Case
Deluxe Folding Harmonium With Latching Case. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber]

A folding harmonium collapses when not in use. There are two types. One type has a lid which contains a bellow system which latches in place when in use, and folds over the keys for storage or transportation. The other type of folding harmonium has a body which is held in place by springs with the bellows fixed to the harmonium and collapses in one unit with a cover which latches to create a complete storage unit.

Harmonium With Scale Changer

Deluxe Harmonium With Scale Changer
Deluxe Harmonium With Scale Changer. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber]

The scale changer is the most costly feature of a deluxe harmonium. The scale changer is very delicate as it causes the key board to lift and slide over either up or down to change scale higher or lower. The scale changer generally has 7-8 positions to shift the major scale but may have a s many as 13 positions to include the minor scale.

Harmoniums, Accessories and Shipping

Standard No Stops Harmonium With Double Bellows
Standard No Stops Harmonium With Double Bellows. Photo © [Courtesy Pricegrabber]

Accessories include spare parts and books for learning to play the harmonium. Bina is one of several well established reputable makers of harmoniums which some less reputable manufacturers have been known to misleadingly label as their own. Great care must be taken when packaging for shipment to prevent displacement of keys. It is a good idea to insure any type of harmonium when shipping. International Custom's inspections have been known to include over turning the harmonium, or removal of harmonium keys while conducting an inspection search.

Learn to Play the Harmonium With Bhai Manmohan Singh

The Learn Gurbani Kirtan Punjabi with English subtitles kit created by Bhai Manmohan Singh contains a booklet, CD, and DVD. The kit teaches any age, or ability, student to easily learn words of shabads, and play kirtan tunes on the harmonium.

Harmonium and Tabla

Tabla. Photo © [Khalsa Panth]

The harmonium and tabla, along with the hand held cymbal kartal, are the most common instruments played together for kirtan programs held in both the gurdwara, and private homes.

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