How to Play the Jaw Harp

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The jaw harp has been popular throughout history. There are over 800 names for this instrument, which has most commonly been called the Jew's Harp since the 1500s. Jaw harps were a staple on peddler's carts throughout Europe. Digs throughout the colonial regions of the United States reveal that jaw harps were extremely common and popular.

Things You'll Need

  • Jaw Harps
  • American Folk Songs CDs
  • Find a harp that is in one of the middle octaves, preferably C. As your skills improve, you can experiment with high- and low-octave jaw harps, which are more difficult to master.

  • Pick up the jaw harp with your fingers while you avoid touching the tongue of the harp.

  • Put the harp in your mouth touching the front of your teeth and hold it firmly with your teeth. If it rattles, you need to bite down harder.

  • Close your lips around the harp with its tongue sticking out.

  • Pluck the tongue of the harp gently with your middle or index finger. Either raise your elbow and pluck with your finger parallel to the tongue, or hold your hand perpendicular to the tongue and move your wrist while plucking with your finger. Pluck to the beat of the music.

  • Create vowel sounds in your mouth without actually saying the sounds. This changes the formation of the space in your mouth, which changes the sound that is created.

  • Move your tongue while inhaling or exhaling to change the space inside your mouth.

  • Experiment creating hard consonant sounds such as a "k" or "t."

  • Match your voice sound to the sound of the harp for tranquil, peaceful music. Contrast your voice pitch from the sound of the harp to create more jarring music.

  • Join the Jew's Harp Guild, an organization whose main purpose is to "educate." Look on its Web site - jewsharpguild.org - for information on its annual festival.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make sure to remove your finger from the tongue of the jaw harp after plucking it, or it will mute the sound.
  • Drooling is extremely common when learning the jaw harp. Don't be alarmed. As you become more familiar with the jaw harp, this will stop.

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