The Hohner Claviola uses a method of tone generation very different to most other free reed wind instruments. Western free reeds usually function as closing reeds, that is to say that their initial movement is towards the reedplate. For this reason, reeds that are meant to respond to positive pressure (blowing) are set on the inside of the reedplate and those that are meant to respond to negative pressure (drawing) are set on the outside of the reedplate. In this case, the reeds sound at a frequency very close to their natural pitch. (Actually, when sounded with an airstream, free reeds sound slightly flatter than the pitch they produce when plucked, but the difference is very small). However, under certain circumstances, they can be made to function as opening reeds, with their initial movement away from the reedplate. In this case the reeds sound at higher than their natural pitches. The most common example of this is when harmonica players employ the overblow technique to produce additional pitches from their instruments, changing the resonant frequency of their vocal tracts to control the pitch. The Claviola uses a similar method, with the reeds being attached on the "wrong" side of the reedplate and tuned pipes coupled to the reeds to substitute for the player's vocal tract. The coupling of the reed and pipe produces a tone very different to the melodica type of instrument, being much less reedy:
The pipes are the primary means for determining the pitches produced by the reeds, so small adjustable sliders provide a means for fine tuning each note by making minute adjustments to the resonant pitch of each pipe:
The player's left hand can also be used to cover the open sections of pipe near the tuning slides, in much the same way as hulusheng players partially cover the open ends of the pipes on their instruments, producing note bending and vibrato:
The Claviola uses a standard piano-accordion keyboard and covers a range of two and a half octaves, starting with the G below middle C. Sadly, for all its unique qualities, the Claviola seems to have been a commercial failure. It was only in production for a short time, I am informed that it was not popular with the factory workers who built it (apparently they used to call it the "Ravioli"!) and its retail price of about US$1400 ensured that it was never going to be found in the average melodica player's Christmas stocking.
A Brief History of Mouth Blown Free Reed Instruments
What Is A Free Reed?
Origins Of The Free Reed
Eastern Free Reed Instruments
A Selective Discography Of Asian Free Reed Instruments
Western Free Reed Instruments
Return to Main Index