Not quite a harmonica and not quite a piano, the Hohner HM 32 melodica combines strong accordion-like tones with the ease and accessibility of playing a keyboard.
At just one foot long by three inches wide, this melodica is smaller and lighter than nearly any electronic keyboard. Held with the left hand underneath and the right hand playing the keys, the instrument can be played like a horn, or a flexible tube can be attached to the body which facilitates normal keyboard technique. Harmonica-like reeds with air passing over them generate the melodica’s tone.
Louder than a harmonica, or many other melodicas for that matter, the HM 32 plays strong from low to high. Its 32-key range, much wider than the HM 26 or 27, allows easier solo performance or nearly any melodic or supporting role. And unlike smaller melodicas, the HM 32 lets the user grow into it, rather that out of it; players can start with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and work their way up to Bach’s cello suites.
This particular model has some playing quirks, though. The low notes, while resonant and forceful, are slow to respond if not played frequently, and require a lot of breath. In solo or small musical settings, the highest several notes can be piercing and unpleasant if sustained. While three and four note chords are feasible, they need more breath than a new player may have; arpeggios and two note double stops are both easier and provide more aural “room” for other instruments.
Overcoming these difficulties is worth the effort; more so than even the best-equipped electronic keyboard, the melodica is a deeply expressive instrument. Inflection and emotion can be instinctively worked into any performance when the melodica depends solely on the player’s breath.
As is often the case with both melodicas and harmonicas, the reeds can fall out of tune, or can develop a buzz, even before the player ever plays the instrument. The reviewer’s needed some work and, while tedious, the results are worth the effort.
For keyboardists, this melodica is a wonderfully portable and acoustic instrument, eliminating the need for batteries so many portable keyboards demand. Harmonica players will appreciate the tone, volume, and ease of play. The HM 32’s $80.00 price tag, more or less, is far lower than even a primitive electronic keyboard, and while several times the price of a harmonica, just one is all that’s needed.