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Buy a Harmonium, Not a Headache

How to Buy a Harmonium, Not a Headache

The only thing more amazing than chanting is getting behind a harmonium for your own personal chant practice. Whether you long to chant at home, add Kirtan to yoga classes or share Kirtan in your community, you will need a great harmonium. Here are important things to know so you can buy a harmonium, and not a headache!

Why a Harmonium?  

  1. The harmonium is an incredibly user-friendly instrument. It's one of the few instruments that sounds great from day one, which is fantastic. You don’t have to endure endless hours of squeaking and squawking like a beginning clarinetist or violinist.
  2. No matter your height, weight or strength, you can purchase a harmonium that is highly portable. This means you don’t have to lug around heavy gear as you would with a drum set, string bass, or tuba.
  3. The harmonium is the perfect instrument for chanting as it creates a beautiful sound that feels like a choir is singing with you. For hundreds of years it has been THE instrument for sacred chant. 

WARNING: Junker harmoniums are a headache
Unfortunately, not all harmoniums are created equal. The vast majority of harmoniums are “junker” instruments. 

Trying to chant on a bad/broken harmonium is like trying to ride a bike with a flat tire—so frustrating. If you have a “junker” you will unfortunately spend time, energy, and attention fighting the instrument, making it challenging to learn and difficult to enjoy your chanting practice. Not good. 

My intention is to help you get a great harmonium so you can easily dive into this amazing practice. Decades of experience with harmoniums have taught me the following important lessons:

Six Mistakes To Avoid When Purchasing a Harmonium

  1. Never buy a harmonium direct from India. Your instrument will inevitably be low-quality and in need of repair and tuning. Here is a video that demonstrates the downside of buying direct from India.
  2. Never buy a used instrument. Your instrument will likely be in need of significant repairs and tuning, and likely will be a “junker.”
  3. Never buy an instrument that is not portable, i.e., too big to fit in an airplane overhead or too bulky/heavy for you to lug around. Unless your harmonium is going to have a permanent home you want to have something that is easy to transport around town.
  4. Never buy an instrument that is too small. A really good harmonium ought to sustain a 2-note chord for 4-7 seconds if you do the following "Sustain Test." Any less than 4 seconds and you'll have to pump constantly, which is a distraction To do the sustain test, first, check to make sure the hooks on the sides of your instrument are hooked. If not, the instrument will leak air, which will decrease your sustain. Second, engage the notes Middle C and Middle G on your keyboard. Be sure to play the notes in the middle of the harmonium, not at the top or bottom of your keyboard. Third, pump vigorously three or four times (just once won't do). Finally, stop pumping, continue holding the notes, and count the number of seconds your instrument sustains those two notes. Anything smaller than a Bhava Mini from Old Delhi Music will likely have significantly diminished volume and sustainability power.
  5. Never buy a scale changer harmonium. Unless you plan to do Indian Classical Music, rather than Kirtan, you don't need a scale changer. It will be big, bulky, easy to break and expensive. 
  6. Don't buy on price - buy on quality. Trying to save a few dollars on your instrument will VERY likely to lead you to end up with a headache. 

Our recommended harmonium distributor is Old Delhi Music. Interested students can CLICK HERE to learn about exclusive offers and access discount & promo codes. 

Old Delhi Music is a North American shop offering unique handcrafted Indian instruments that begin in the hands of India’s best builders and end with careful, meticulous refinement at their location Urbana, IL. When it comes to harmoniums, they are the best in the business. They know their builders personally and their products even more intimately.

Their Bhava harmoniums are my favorite. They are without question the highest quality, and most consistently great Kirtan harmoniums I have ever played. The extra care Old Delhi puts into carefully sourcing and refining each instrument is obvious. This ensures that what you get from them will not be something you struggle against, but rather, an instrument you can enjoy now and for years to come.

Three Keys to Purchasing a Great Harmonium

  1. Buy a brand new instrument through a reputable dealer who will make sure the instrument is in tip-top shape prior to shipping it to you and will guarantee their work.
  2. Get one that is sized to fit your needs.
  3. Make sure your harmonium is tuned to A-440 so you can play with other musicians.

The Goldilocks Harmonium

My favorite instrument is the bestselling Bhava Mini. I play a Bhava Mini on the road and in the recording studio. I strongly recommend you consider purchasing one as well.

The Bhava Mini looks great, is easy to transport, and has a surprisingly big/rich sound and long sustain for such a small instrument. At just 16 pounds the Bhava Mini is highly portable and easily fits into an airplane overhead. For most people this instrument is “just right.”

 Who Uses a Bhava Mini?

I play a Bhava Mini, as do most of my students and many touring/recording Kirtan musicians. The Mini is so high quality that my Kirtan music producer Ben Leinbach (Jai Uttal, Deva Premal, etc.) keeps one in his recording studio.

Tips for Ordering the Right Instrument

  • I suggest you choose to have your instrument tuned to A-440 (highly recommended!).
  • If you want a premium option, go for the Bhava Classic. This 3.5 octave instrument is larger (and heavier) than the Bhava Mini.
  • Know that all Old Delhi Music instruments come with free shipping within the continental US. Reach out to ODM for shipping rates outside of the continental US. 

Get Yourself a Great Harmonium
A great harmonium sounds fantastic the moment you take it out of the box. A great harmonium will facilitate your learning and offer years or decades of enjoyment. If for some reason you decide to sell your instrument, a great harmonium will retain its value.

I hope this guide helps you purchase a top-notch harmonium that supports you in bringing Kirtan into your home and perhaps event sharing this exquisite practice with others.

Have questions or comments? Interested in receiving information about exclusive offers and discounts? Please click here and we will get back to you soon.

And, feel free to reach out to Nic and Jacob at Old Delhi Music. They are kind, decent and caring folks and will be happy to answer all of your questions.

Want to learn more?

  • Click HERE to learn about the harmonium "taste test" I conducted in late 2019. 
  • Click HERE  for a brief history of the harmonium. 
  • Is the harmonium easy to learn? Click HERE to find out.
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