|Classification||Wind; free reed aerophone|
|Usually 2 or 3 octaves|
|accordion, harmonica, pump organ, yu|
The melodica is a handheld free-reed instrument similar to a pump organ or harmonica. It features 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. The keyboard usually covers two or three octaves. Melodicas are small, lightweight, and portable, and many are designed for children to play. They are popular in music education programs, especially in Asia. The modern form of the instrument was invented by Hohner in the late 1950s, though similar instruments have been known in Italy since the 19th century.
The mouthpiece can be a short rigid or semi-flexible plastic piece or a long flexible plastic tube (designed to allow the player to either hold the keyboard so the keys can be seen or lay the keyboard horizontally on a flat surface for two-handed playing). A foot pump can also be used as an alternative to breathing into the instrument. Melodica keyboards typically ascend from a low F note. In the 21st century, 32 and 37 note keyboards are typical, though instruments may have as few as 13 or as many as 44 keys. The melodica with the largest range is the Hammond Pro 44, which has a range of 44 notes.
As a free reed instrument, the melodica produces sound by pushing air past individual reeds corresponding to each playable note. When a key is pressed, it opens a valve blocking its corresponding reed, allowing air to pass through it. The sound of each vibrating reed reverberates in the shell of the instrument, which may be made of plastic, timber or metal. Players can control the instrument's volume with air pressure. Unlike most wind instruments, the melodica can play multiple notes simultaneously, limited only by the amount of air available. An external microphone can be used to amplify the instrument or record its sound. Hammond's Pro-44 melodion and Pro 24-B bass melodion each have built-in dynamic microphones which can be connected to a PA system or recording device via a single TRS 1/4" jack output.
Melodicas range in price from under US$20 for a simple, plastic instrument to several thousand dollars for a rare, custom-made or antique model.
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. Jamaican dub and reggae musician Augustus Pablo popularized it in the 1970s, and his son Addis Pablo continues his father's tradition as a melodica player within these genres. The American musician Jon Batiste was often seen playing a melodica on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The instrument is also associated with the Inti Raymi festival in Otavalo, Ecuador.
Parliament-Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell is also credited for playing the melodica, which is prominently featured on William "Bootsy" Collins' 1978 classic funk ballad "I'd Rather Be With You".
Melodicas are classified primarily by the range of the instrument. Melodicas with different ranges have slightly different shapes.
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), Melodyhorn (Angel), Diamonica (Bontempi), Pianetta (Guerrini), face piano, and Clavietta (Borel/Beuscher) are just some of the variants. When a recording technician unfamiliar with the melodica called it a "hooter", the band The Hooters took that as their name.