Playing A Harmonium
Bhava Mini Harmonium
The typical harmonium used in kirtans have two sets of reeds, a low octave of bass reeds and a higher set of male reeds. The larger stop knobs are pulled out to activate the main reeds. The smaller knobs (on the right in the picture above) each control a single drone reed. These typically correspond to black keys, which are more appropriate for Indian classical music.
The term 'stop' comes from organ terminology. A stop controls the air flow to the pipes or reeds. Typically, the large knob or knobs on the left side of the keyboard control the bass (low octave) reeds and the knobs on the right control the male (octave higher) reeds. Calcutta harmoniums can have three banks of reeds with the third bank called the female reeds which are two octaves above the bass reeds.
Experiment with the knobs one by one on your harmonium to find what reeds they control.
Release the latch holding the bellows (either on the top or on the side) and pull out the large stop knobs and gently begin pumping the bellows to get the air flowing (stop squeezing if you feel strong resistance) and press the keys. Keep pumping to maintain a smooth sound and with practice, you'll maintain a smooth, even sound and be able to control the volume by varying the bellows pressure.
Harmonium with Multiple Stops
Some harmoniums have multiple stops for each reed bank. On the harmonium pictured above, the first and last knobs control the male reeds while the third and fifth knobs control the bass reeds. There are four drone stops and seventh knob is a tremolo stop which really doesn't sound good! To get the tremolo effect, it has to be the only stop open.