The Jew’s Harp

Origin of The Jew’s Harp:

The Jew’s harp is a subtle musical instrument with an extraordinary variety of shapes, sizes and methods of playing. They are made extensively throughout the world from Polynesia, Asia, and Eastern Russia to Europe and the United States. They are known in the Middle East and Africa, though these were exported from Europe or introduced as barter by early colonists and do not appear to be native to those countries.

A Jew’s harp is a single reed instrument of two types: idioglot, where the vibrating reed or tongue of the instrument is cut from a single piece of wood, bamboo, bone or thin flat metal, such as brass, and hetroglot, where there is a cast or bent metal frame to which is fixed a separate, flexible metal reed.1

To play the Jew’s harp requires three component parts – the instrument, the player’s mouth and a means of activation. The mouth acts as a sound-box and,

Though the Jew’s harp itself has no musical quality other than the fundamental note that the reed produces as it passes between the frame, other notes can be produced by a player by altering the shape of his mouth, mainly by using his own tongue to make the ‘sound-box’ larger or smaller. To produce a low note the player’s tongue is placed at the bottom of the mouth, and to produce a high note the player’s tongue is placed at the top. See video here.

The name

Worldwide around 1000 different names for the instrument have been noted, and the list is expanding. European languages mainly use mouth and sometimes lips or teeth linked with trump and harpTrump in various forms and spellings is used today in Europe, such as Mondtrom in Dutch and Tromp in Flemish. Harp is used in Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, Munnharpa, Denmark, Mundharpe and Finland, Huuliharpu. As we go further east we have variations on Komys, Kupus, and Khomus in northern and eastern Asia, while Morchang, Morsing, Dan Moi and Gengong can be found in India, Vietnam and Indonesia. As a general point, in Asia the instrument has a name relating to the material from which it is made, along with animal or insect terms and sounds, whereas in Europe it has more human connections and names of other musical instruments.

English is the only language where there is an association with a particular race. We have no idea why it became known as the Jew’s harp, only that it remains the earliest name found to date. The instrument has nothing to do with the musical culture of the Jewish race, though the name confuses the issue of where it comes from as there is a natural, but erroneous, belief that the origins are Middle Eastern. The prefix Jew’s is used only in English and in a small part of Germany and first definitely identifies the instrument in a document dated 1481 as Jue harpes and Jue trumpes.

Way of playing:
The mouth harp is played by holding the metal frame with your left hand so that the narrowest can grasping between the teeth or lips of the performer, while the index of the right hand click on the tab. Be careful not to touch the tongue with the lips, teeth or tongue. The sound is varied and changing the shape of the oral cavity, thereby strengthening the various formants acoustic sound that will make different notes within the series of natural harmonics of the tongue.

A larger size of the cavity has a more serious sound, and vice versa. With a little practice you can draw a mouth harp third harmonics (fifth perfect connection to the fundamental), fifth (third highest in the reference above), seventh (seventh child in a lower pitch to the note equivalent of the Western tuning system), eighth (key note, two octaves above), ninth (second highest) and Tenth (repetition of the fifth, eighth most acute). There are even those who reach the 13th (sixth largest) or 15th (seventh largest). Sometimes speech sounds are added to alter the timbre, in addition to advanced techniques to produce the language stacatos and vibrato effects, as well as variations in the breath and inspiration. The interpreter and constructor of mouth harp exercised Wayland Harman suggests putting the mouth in different ways of pronouncing vowels and some consonants like D, G, K, L and T. Recommended to use the diaphragm to apply different pressures affecting the exhalation tone, and the inhalation or the alternation between the two. The vocal cords can be used simultaneously to produce another sound, while the main task of the language is to alter the height, the mission for which it also uses the throat. To alter the fundamental pitch of the tab sliding tabs used in Romania, while other parts are used small ball of wax on the tip of the tongue to alter their musical height. In South India, musicians pronounce syllables of carn�ticos sophisticated rhythmic solfege (konnakol) while playing the morsing, mouth harp that appears in the local instrumental percussion interludes known as avartanam thani.

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