Buy a Jew's harp - a cheap and unusual musical instrument
The Jew's harp is an ancient instrument
The Jew's harp is a very ancient musical instrument and is also known as a jaw harp, and Ozark harp and a trump. If you are looking to get an unusual and cheap instrument perhaps this could be what you are looking for?
I first came upon the sound of the Jew's harp whilst listening to the late great John Peel's show on BBC Radio 1 way back in 1971 when he had the two-man band Medicine Head on as guests. Peter-Hope Evans of the band played either a Jew's harp or a harmonica, whilst John Fiddler played guitar and drums and sang. I was instantly hooked by their sound.
Bard of Ely demonstrates the Jew's harp
Jew's harp photo
To play a Jew's harp
I became a fan of Medicine Head and went to see the band performing live on many occasions. I also got my first Jew's harp from a music shop in town. But then I had to learn to play it. There is a knack to doing so but it is quite easy to learn. You can hear me playing a Jew's harp here on my song Superhero.
The Jew's harp consists of a lyre-shaped metal frame made of cast iron or steel with a metallic tongue in the middle that can be vibrated or twanged. This part rests between two arms of the surrounding frame.
You hold the harp with one hand and use your other to twang the vibrating tongue once you have it positioned correctly in your mouth. You need to press the topmost of these arms firmly against your upper row of teeth but allowing space for the tongue of the instrument below and your bottom row of teeth. You are using your mouth as a resonating chamber and also to control the notes and sounds you are making.
The idea is to have the right amount of pressure of the frame on the teeth but allowing space for the metal tongue to be twanged but without hitting your teeth with it. Some people think that you hold the harp between the teeth but this is not the right way to play it, although it can be played this way. Once you have managed to get a successful twanging "boing, boing" sound out of it you will swiftly move on to find how to play it. You will have mastered the knack of how to hold it. The more you practice the better you will get at Jew's harp playing.
By moving the mouth and breathing in and out harder and softer produces variations in the sound and it can be made to be louder or quieter. You need to play around with it and be careful to hold it just right so you don't hit yourself with the tongue part.
The Jew's harp has been often played in Country and Western and Bluegrass bands as well as by acts such as Medicine Head. It's sound is unique and adds a certain flavour to any piece of music in which it is used.
How to play a Jew's harp
About the Jew's harp
Jew's harps are known to be a very ancient instrument because it can be seen being played in a Chinese drawing from the 4th Century BC. Although it is called a Jew's harp it has nothing in particular to do with followers of Judaism and its origins are believed to have been in Asia. Turkish tribal people have used the Jew's harp as a traditional instrument and they refer to it as a "temir komuz."
It has been thought that its common name of Jew's harp is a corruption of "jaw harp" or possibly of "juice harp" due to all the saliva ("juice") in the mouth of a player.
Strictly speaking a Jew's harp is a lamellophone, which is an instrument with a tongue that vibrates to produce the musical sounds.
Jew's harps come in a range of designs and sizes and you will find that some types make a much better sound than others. I have had many in my time and of the three I have now I much prefer a model made in Italy.
Jew's harps can be bought easily in music shops and online. Many models are cheap and they make a very novel instrument to purchase and play, either for your own personal fun or professionally to make music.
Medicine Head play One and One is One
© 2010 Steve Andrews
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