Learning to Play Music, Take 2

Learning a musical instrument again has been in the back of my mind for decades. Figured I’d do it when I retired. Piano was and is the first choice, one of the three instruments got past rank beginner stage when I was a boy and the one I liked the most.

I could afford a Yamaha electronic keyboard but don’t want to buy one until I’ve settled. Cheap, crappy ones are available here but for now I’d rather have a decent instrument than a crappy electronic keyboard.

Tried a blues harmonica in 2010. Gave it up after 3 months mostly because of chapped lips.

Looked for an instrument that was portable, inexpensive, easy to learn while self-taught, fit in an overnight bag, able to play softly so as to not distrub the neighbors, sheet music readily available and finally, something that wouldn’t make me look like a doofus while playing it.

On Monday I bought a Suzuki Melodion, AKA melodica, pianica, mouth piano, key flute. It fails the doofus criteria but meets all the rest. Hohner, the German harmonica company, created the modern  melodica explicitly as a easy to learn first instrument. Why Hohner? Melodicas produce sound through a free reed, same as a harmonica. It is (was?) a common first instrument in Asian music schools.

Here are a few musicians showing what can be done with one:

A Bach suite written for the cello

A show tune that became a jazz standard and has been played on just about everything

Dick Dale played this on an electric guitar

Found melodicas for sale in Vietnam but all were either Chinese crap or Suzuki models intended for small children. My fingers are slender, but not that slender. Same story in Hua Hin.

The crappy ones were not crappy because they were made in China. Their crapitude was because they had an out of tune reed or 2 while new in the box. Adjusting the reed requires a file, patience and access to replacement parts if you screw it up. One I looked at had a key that was always in the down position while one had a key that went up and down without having any effect on the sound.

So I went shopping in Bangkok. The Nakhon Kasem Market area of Chinatown has musical instrument stores concentrated on two streets. Most sell little more than guitars, drums and related kit.

A few sell most of the brass, woodwinds and strings one would need to start an orchestra.

One sold only traditional Thai instruments. Found melodicas in four stores but there were Chinese crap or Suzuki models for small children. Then I hit the mother load.

The short 24 key ones are bass, the 32 and 37 key versions are alto. All are by Suzuki. Liked the tone on the 3 octave model (37 key) much better than the 32 key ones that cost half as much, so I bought one (2200 THB, ~72 USD).

Since then I’ve been working on relearning how to read music, playing scales while trying to press only one key at a time, remembering to breathe and learning to play a simple version of Ode to Joy.


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