Hi Stuart et al.,
The following is all bull that I believe, wrong or right. Let’s call this an editorial.
When Hohner started building the HM-926, HM-927, and button melodicas in the early 60s (I know Alan will correct me if I am wrong), they were building high quality instruments that sounded really nice.
These instruments, so the story goes, were for children, and the goal was ease of use. There was really no other reason to build a melodica except “ease of use” as we already had the much more expressive harmonica (but the harmonica takes years to master). We also had the accordion (but accordions are expensive and big and much more difficult to master than a melodica). So Hohner built a “harmonica” that was easy to learn and play, called it a melodica, and opened up a whole new market in education.
In making the melodica easy to learn and play, the expressiveness of the foundational instrument, the harmonica, was lost.
The tremendous expressiveness, simplicity, and portability of the harmonica is the reason why millions of harmonicas have been manufactured EVERY YEAR since the 1800s. Millions. The harmonica is found in jazz, folk, Americana, blues, roots, rock, popular music, world music (I imagine), and some “pops” symphony orchestras and serious composers have use it. Again, Alan please feel to correct me if I throw too much bull here.
In my opinion, the lack of expressiveness of the melodica is why it remains in obscurity, with about 1 in 10 adults even feigning they know what a melodica is (based on my experience).
The melodica has not become mainstream because it is not sufficiently expressive. It is, as Stuart says, “limited to the sound of free reeds” but without the expressiveness of the harp. Professional musicians have better choices.
We should note that in the hands of an expert player, the melodica can at least approach the expressiveness of the accordion and produce beautiful music.
Alan, is my bull factor still acceptable?
Quetscher and I and others are working towards extracting expressiveness from the instrument, and that could bring it to a new level of popularity. When you listen to Quetscher’s Godfather Theme, the last verse with note bending just comes alive compared to the previous verses; and immediately everyone wanted to know how he was bending notes on his Vibrandoneon.
My first priority in a dream melodica? Expressiveness above all else.
If Daren can combine the beautiful tone of the high-end melodicas and the expressive capability of my two-bit Hohners (said with great affection), then that is a melodica that could change the history of the melodica.