A musical playing the harmonica, a rectangular instrument also known as the mouth organ, produces sound by blowing and sucking air past free needs mounted in air channels. The harmonica's origins can be traced as far back as 1100 ac to the sheng of southern China. In its nature from, the sheng consists of a beautifully lacquered wooden bowl with a protuding mouthpiece and slender symmetrical cane pipes inserted vertically in the base; the base contains thin metal reeds that sound when the finger holes above are closed.
Eventually spreading throughout Eastern civilization, the sheng reached the West perhaps by the mid 17th century. The mouth organ, invented in Berlin in 1821, spread rapidly wherever Western civilization reached; it was used as a toy and was easily adaptable to folk music. In the 20th century, Larry Adler attained fame as a harmonica virtuoso, inspiring Darius Milhaud to write a suite that Adler performed with the Philadelpia Orchestra in 1945. The harmonica is popular today in folk music and blues.