Is Melodica the latest contender in the classroom now?


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May 13, 2015
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Wiltshire, UK
I was ambivalent about it until band leader Jon Batiste kept trying to make it happen on The Late Show With Stephan Colbert. He made me hate it in all but the very sparest of instances. My earplugs would stay on.
Melodica - a companion instrument for the ukulele? Is it like a harmonica with keys?

I've never heard or played an acoustic one of these, but it seems like a reasonable idea. An "electric" melodica? No.
Once I had a buddy who would sit and play his melodica as we hung out. I just bought my first one 3 weeks ago. A Horner 32. I’m having a great time using it to do solos over ukulele and a hand shaker on a little recorder. I play either a tenor or bari ukulele to get the track going, and sing, add some simple percussion, and finish with the melodica. I notice too Donald Fagen of Steely Dan plays one on tour. They are really a lot of fun, and for the price, unbeatable to me.
I like the melodica. It sounds nice to me, and it's playable anywhere. This is my current melodica, a 2 1/2 octave Yamaha, in baby blue. The Hohner melodicas are nice too.

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R-Man, you have such a wealth of wonderful instruments! You must have a lot of fun making music!

I might dig mine out of a dusty corner of the cupboard, especially now that I'm learning to play a keyboard.
And if you overdo it, and stress out your hand joints and muscles (or get cramps in your lips!), you can get out the Meloxicam.
A couple of questions for the Melodica players out there.

1. How does Jon Batiste get that exquisite vibrato? Is it done with the throat/mouth/lips, or … ?

2. No way to put this delicately. What happens to the spit?
Hi Patty,

Vibrato is achieved by breath control.

There's a valve on the melodica that's used to clear the windpipe. You can see the button for it on the extreme right side of the picture I posted earlier. It's like the valve on a cornet, for example.
I have three of these I got at a thrift shop for $3 apiece. All in great shape and still in very good tune. I'm missing one of the short mouthpieces, but have all of the long tube ones. All of the simple instructions. These "Artist Ltd Pianica 25" were actually made by Tokai Gakki for Yamaha, for the U.S. market in the Sixties. The original price was about $25. I used to have a Hohner Melodica 32, I feel these are better except for the shorter range, which is F3 to F5. Middle C is the fifth white key.

Some info and even shows one partially disassembled :

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One point the article does not mention is that the keys on the melodica have the same pattern as the keys on a piano. Melodica is a lot cheaper and more portable than a piano. The musical system used in the western world uses this pattern (musical notation, whole/half/flat/sharp notes, scales, musical keys, etc) so kids who learn the piano or melodica can apply this basic music theory to be way ahead of beginners to any other musical instrument.
There was a girl in college that played one of these among many other instruments, it was really cool, she could play anything on it. I have a vivid memory of playing guitar with her playing melodica on the Beatles For No one on a balcony on a cold winter night in Germany.
Patty brings up a point that sideways made me think of this. My first exposure to music proper was marching band in Jr High. I played trumpet, and we would clear the “saliva”, or spit via the little port on the first tube. We would just open the valve and clear it, and of course it would fall to the floor. SO, I wonder if that is still allowed, or in todays ultra germ aware world, must the kids use a cloth or some kind of cup for the spit?
YouTube's Doctor Mix recently had a consignment of Suzuki melodions sent to him by Suzuki Hammond, who produce everything from educational instruments, to the 44-key Suzuki Hammond electric melodion, if they would like to send me some free samples too. And they even come in different pitches and handy sizes, too, like ukuleles ;-)

It's very interesting how the sound sort of mellows out when plugged in - actually I think that "degrades" the aesthetic of the instrument's voice. I kind of find that with ukes plugged in, too. I love Sam Muir's stuff, but I always find listening to her videos on her Patreon kind of weird because her instruments are plugged in, and the sound just isn't quite right (to me).

Back to the spit problem... We teach recorders as well where I work... but we don't SHARE them!

I guess this would mean a different melodica for every student as well, right?

We have a classroom set of ukuleles. Everyone uses hand sanitizer before use. Four classes share the 30 or so ukuleles we have.

I see melodicas are a bit cheaper than ukuleles, about half... so to get one for every student would cost about twice as much as buying a set of Kala ka-15s, which is what we have...

Might be doable from a cost perspective. Here is California we are not allowed to request that the parents buy or pay for anything, so whatever we decide to do must be budgeted along with everything else.

BTW: I taught recorder for years, and there is nothing quite as trying on the ears as hearing 24 recorders in the hands of 10 year olds skwanking away as we learn to control our breath and tone and become more musical with them...

Lots to thinks about!
BTW: I taught recorder for years, and there is nothing quite as trying on the ears as hearing 24 recorders in the hands of 10 year olds skwanking away as we learn to control our breath and tone and become more musical with them...
You are a saint - I don't know how people teach kids these things without perpetual migraines. Skwanking strings (kids learning violin) is equally distressing.
We used to teach violin, but couldn't find a teacher anymore.

Schools with successful violin programs (more or less) require parents to purchase outside lessons. In the schools where the parents are well off, they don't balk at this (even thought it is probably against the law to ask for this). The school across town have a really fine orchestra program, but the whole program rides on outside lessons and enforced practice outside of school.

My school is in a more working class neighborhood, and lots of the parents are working two jobs to make ends meet. Paying for and getting kids to lessons isn't practical.

But we have been pretty successful with the ukulele. It's easier to play, which is the result of having frets and not needing to handle the bow. In a way, violin is like playing two instruments at once since both the bow and the fretboard are both their own things, each of which requires a lot of skill building.

And: We sing while playing ukulele... try doing that while playing a violin! And our voices are an instrument we practice daily already, so the kids are generally good at singing by the time we start with the ukuleles.

No looking back here!
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