|Other names||jaw harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp, juice harp, murchunga, guimbarde|
(Heteroglot guimbarde (the lamella is attached to the frame))
The Jew's harp, also known as jaw harp, vargan, mouth harp, gewgaw, guimbard, khomus, Ozark harp, Galician harp, Berimbau de boca or murchunga, is a lamellophone instrument, consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame.
Jew's harps may be categorized as idioglot or heteroglot (whether or not the frame and the tine are one piece); by the shape of the frame (rod or plaque); by the number of tines, and whether the tines are plucked, joint-tapped, or string-pulled.
The frame is held firmly against the performer's parted teeth or lips (depending on the type), using the jaw and mouth as a resonator, greatly increasing the volume of the instrument. The teeth must be parted sufficiently for the reed to vibrate freely, and the fleshy parts of the mouth should not come into contact with the reed to prevent damping of the vibrations and possible pain. The note or tone thus produced is constant in pitch, though by changing the shape of the mouth, and the amount of air contained in it (and in some traditions closing the glottis), the performer can cause different overtones to sound and thus create melodies.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, "The vibrations of the steel tongue produce a compound sound composed of a fundamental and its harmonics. By using the cavity of the mouth as a resonator, each harmonic in succession can be isolated and reinforced, giving the instrument the compass shown."
"The lower harmonics of the series cannot be obtained, owing to the limited capacity of the resonating cavity. The black notes on the stave show the scale which may be produced by using two harps, one tuned a fourth above the other. The player on the Jew's harp, in order to isolate the harmonics, frames his mouth as though intending to pronounce the various vowels." See: bugle scale.
The earliest depiction of somebody playing what seems to be a Jew's harp is a Chinese drawing from the 3rd century BC, and curved bones discovered in the Shimao fortifications in Shaanxi, China are believed to be the earliest evidence of the instrument, dating back to before 1800 B.C.E. Archaeological finds of surviving examples in Europe have been claimed to be almost as old, but those dates have been challenged both on the grounds of excavation techniques, and the lack of contemporary writing or pictures mentioning the instrument.
Although this instrument is used by lackeys and people of the lower class, this does not mean it is not worthy of consideration by better minds ... The trump is grasped while its extremity is placed between the teeth in order to play it and make it sound ... Now one may strike the tongue with the index finger in two ways, i.e., by lifting it or lowering it: but it is easier to strike it by raising it, which is why the extremity, C, is slightly curved, so that the finger is not injured ... Many people play this instrument. When the tongue is made to vibrate, a buzzing is heard which imitates that of bees, wasps, and flies ... [if one uses] several Jew's harps of various sizes, a curious harmony is produced.
There are many theories for the origin of the name jew's harp. The apparent reference to Jews or to the Jewish people, which exists only in the English language name for the instrument, is especially misleading since it "has nothing to do with the Jewish people; neither does it look like a harp in its structure and appearance". This apparent error does not exist in other languages: in German, it is known as Maultrommel, which roughly translates as 'mouth drum'. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this name appears earliest in Walter Raleigh's Discouerie Guiana in 1596, spelled "Iewes Harp". The "jaw" variant is attested at least as early as 1774 and 1809, the "juice" variant appeared only in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
It has also been suggested that the name derives from the French jeu-trompe meaning 'toy trumpet'. In French, jeu, which sounds like jew with a soft "j"/"zh", means 'game'. The current French word for the instrument is guimbarde. Wedgwood, an English etymologist, wrote in 1855 that the derivation from jeu harpe opposes the French idiom, where "if two substantives are joined together, the qualifying noun is invariably the last. He refers to the jeu harpe derivation, but not to the jeu tromp derivation.
Both theories—that the name is a corruption of jaws or jeu—are described by the OED as "lacking any supporting evidence." The OED says that, "more or less satisfactory reasons may be conjectured: e.g. that the instrument was actually made, sold, or imported to England by Jews, or purported to be so; or that it was attributed to Jewish people, suggesting the trumps and harps mentioned in the Bible, and hence considered a good commercial name." The OED also states that "the association of the instrument with Jewish people occurs, so far as is known, only in English."
The angkouch (Khmer: អង្គួច) is a Cambodian Jew's harp. It is a folk instrument made of bamboo and carved into a long, flat shape with a hole in the center and the tongue across the hole. There is also a metal variety, more round or tree-leaf shaped. It may also have metal bells attached. The instrument is both a wind instrument and percussion instrument. As a wind instrument, it is placed against the mouth, which acts as a resonator and tool to alter the sound. Although mainly a folk instrument, better-made examples exist. While the instrument was thought to be the invention of children herding cattle, it is sometimes used in public performance, to accompany the Mahori music in public dancing.
The instrument, known as a morsing in South India, morchang[what language is this?] in Rajasthan, or murchunga in Nepal (where they are common), is part of the rhythmic section in a Carnatic music ensemble.
In Nepal, one type of jaw harp is named the murchunga (Nepali: मुर्चुङ्गा). It is very similar to an Indian morsing or morchang in that the tongue (or twanger) extends beyond the frame, thus giving the instrument more sustain.
The binayo (Nepali बिनायो बाजा) is a bamboo jaw harp, in the Kiranti musical tradition from Malingo. It is popular in the Eastern Himalayan region of Sikkim, Darjeeling Nepal and Bhutan. It is a wind instrument played by blowing the air without tuning the node with fingers. The binayo is six inches long and one inch in width.
The temir komuz is made of iron, usually with a length of 100–200 mm and with a width of approximately 2–7 mm. The range of the instrument varies with the size of the instrument but generally hovers around an octave span. The Kyrgyz people are exceptionally proficient on the instrument and it is quite popular among children, although some adults continue to play the instrument. A national artist from the Kyrgyz Republic performs on the instrument. Twenty Kyrgyz girls have played in a temir komuz ensemble on the stage of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Temir komuz pieces were notated by Aleksandr Zataevich in two or three parts. An octave drone is possible, or even an ostinato alternating the fifth step of a scale with an octave.
In Austria, the instrument is known as Maultrommel (the literal translation is 'jaw drum').
Early representations of Jew's harps have appeared in Western churches since the fourteenth century.
The Austrian composer Johann Albrechtsberger—chiefly known today as a teacher of Beethoven—wrote seven concerti for Jew's harp, mandora, and orchestra between 1769 and 1771. Four of them have survived, in the keys of F major, E-flat major, E major, and D major. They are based on the special use of the Jew's harp in Austrian folk music.
In the experimental period at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century there were very virtuoso instrumentalists on the mouth harp. Thus, for example, Johann Heinrich Scheibler was able to mount up to ten mouth harps on a support disc. He called the instrument "Aura". Each mouth harp was tuned to different basic tones, which made even chromatic sequences possible.— Walter Maurer, translated from German
Well known performer Franz Koch (1761–1831), discovered by Frederick the Great, could play two Jew's harps at once, while the also well known performer Karl Eulenstein (1802—1890), "invented a system of playing four at once, connecting them by silken strings in such a way that he could clasp all four with the lips, and strike all the four springs at the same time".
The Jew's harp has been used occasionally in rock and country music. For example:
... these bamboo Jew's harps are easy to hold and may be longer lasting due to being made of thicker material than many other similar instruments. Held against the lips, they are easy to play and offer the same full, percussive sound as the "Kubings."
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