Do you know of any rare musical instrument that is

  • Portable enough to carry around all day.
  • Keyboard or similar, so that some of my piano skills do transfer.
  • Not completely electronic(not a synthesizer).
  • Is not powered by breath.

I am a beginner piano player. I love playing the keys, but I also want to have the ability to play on the go, at my friend's home or in the park. I want it synergise with my piano training, otherwise I could just grab a guitar. The instruments I already considered are:

  • Accordion and its relatives, but I do not really like the sound of the reeds.
  • Glockenspiel - good but limiting. My favorite tune spans 3 octaves.
  • Xylopone and etc. - compact versions are not loud enough to play on street, total lack of sustain...
  • Hurdy-Gurdy is promising, but expensive and hard to obtain. I have yet to see it live.
  • A pedal-powered melodica that I am constructing myself, but it has problems with volume control that I am not sure I can solve.

So, may be, someone could suggest an instrument I don't know about?

  • I think this is off-topic but I'm not sure. I think a pedal powered melodica is basically a harmonium, so you can just buy one of those - no need to build it. – Todd Wilcox Aug 8 '18 at 13:14
  • Harmoniums are huge, I think. Google shows up "portable" versions the size of a small fridge, but no. – Barafu Albino Aug 8 '18 at 13:18
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    Maybe this is a regional thing. The first harmonium for sale that came up in my google search is 22" x 13" x 10", weighs 17 lbs, and comes with a padded carrying bag. That's smaller and lighter than any of the electronic synthesizers I own. – Todd Wilcox Aug 8 '18 at 13:25
  • I shall investigate more. Thanks. The thing I am building is a factory-made melodica, connected by the hose with a shoebox with two pedals. Hard to beat that in size category. – Barafu Albino Aug 8 '18 at 13:33
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    possibly interesting: cmuse.org/best-portable-keyboard-piano – Carl Witthoft Aug 8 '18 at 14:42

Do you just want to play melodies, or be musically complete? You'll be much more USE on accordion, if you can get over your dislike of reed tone. Melodica is reed tone as well. Concertina is a castrated accordion, though nice and portable (and still reeds). Hurdy-gurdy might be considered an even more annoying sound than reeds! Bellows-operated bagpipes? (still reeds, and very limited range).


Heck, get over your accordion phobia. It does what you're asking for.

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It's probably worth mentioning since you "dont like the sounds of the reeds" of an accordion that high quality reeds are a pulse noise source (similar to reed and brass instruments and the human voice box) that can be shaped in a number of ways in a "vocal tract" in order to get different characteristics. The Russian "Timbre" group uses instruments (bar one, often playing lead because its sound is a lot more cutting) where this kind of resonance carving has been put to an extreme.

But a similar flute-like quality in differing degrees is achieved by "cassotto", a resonance chamber or canal coming in a large variety of executions and sounds that contribute a lot to the different characteristics of high-end instruments.

The usual sound quality associated with accordions is that of a 2- or 3-reed "tremolo" achieved by a sort of chorus effect between several reed sets tuned slightly to awfully different. Accordions built to accommodate classical music usually don't use tremolo at all, cf this rendition of the Goldbach variations by Lena Rist-Larsen. Most high quality accordions featuring a "converter" on the left hand (rather than just the default bass+chord layout called "Stradella bass" and suitable for accompanying music with reasonably simple harmonic framework) do have cassotto and little to no tremolo.

If you want to play keyboard music, somewhat counterintuitively it makes sense to use a "chromatic button accordion" rather than one with a piano keyboard on the right side. The left hand has to use a CBA-like layout in free bass mode (one note per button) anyway and the larger hand range and overall range of a CBA is rather useful for keyboard music since passing voices between hands is not feasible in a manner similarly innocuous as on the single manual of a piano.

The downside, of course, is that this is a full polyphonic instrument in its own right, and the playing technique, articulation and sound production is significantly different from a piano and more similar to that of a reed organ. And the good instruments don't come cheap either.

But, well, if you cannot find anything better, there are a few interesting variants not really fitting the standard clich├ęs.

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I don't know how wide your disliking 'the sound of the reeds' is, so I'll risk it and say, what about concertina? There are three concertina systems, each of which have their own advantages, disadvantages, and zealous aficionados, so discussion of which type of concertina can go elsewhere.

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