It’s a strange instrument, this little plastic blown keyboard, with the metal reeds inside. But I have become rather fond of it over the years. First discovered when I began working as a music therapist in the year 2001, it has accompanied me on my journey and had many different forms.
The melodica was originally designed by Hohner as an educational tool in the 1950s. The instrument comes in all sorts of sizes, soprano, alto, short keyboard, long keyboard , buttons, short plastic mouth pieces, long curly mouth-pieces that look rather odd. My favourite melodica has to be the rare ‘bass’ instrument I found covered in dust in a school cupboard. It had a low, wide frequency, which was lush and rich. I coveted that melodica, but sadly had to leave it behind when I left the school. I hope someone else used it.
In music therapy there can be a real advantage to being mobile, being able to move around with your client or to easily carry your instrument. The melodica provides this, the beauty of it is you can even dance, following the movements of the child you are working with. Often it has been my instrument of choice when I have had to go out to the playground or work in a school hall way. It is an instrument which is easy to play, and easy to carry (but you have to practice not looking at the keys as you play).
However, the real useful aspect of the melodica is its reedy, harsh, strident tone quality, akin to an accordion. This makes it an excellent instrument for gaining attention, or bringing a hypo-responsive withdrawn child into a musical relationship. You can sit in front of a child, give them eye contact and play. The tone, combined with physical gestures and body movements can enable social interaction between yourself and a child. However, be warned, the tone is not for everyone. Some clients find it overwhelming, or too harsh and can’t tolerant its metal sounds. It is an instrument to be used with due care and consideration, but can be very effective.