A blog about the Jaw harp.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Meet the Jaw harp

This is a blog about the Jaw harp, an ancient instrument called by many names all over the world. Called Guimbarde in France, Scacciapensieri in Italy, Maultrommel in Germany and Austria, Trump 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. Doromb can be found in Hungary, with Drymba in Ukraine and Drombulja in Croatia. 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. The Jaw harp is an international instrument that is likely to have originated in Asia and travelled to Europe, arriving sometime around the 13th century. Here's an excerpt from an article from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Jew's harp, jaw harp, or mouth harp is thought to be one of the oldest musical instruments in the world; a musician apparently playing it can be seen in a Chinese drawing from the 3rd century BCE . It is also sometimes called a Jew's trump or juice harp, among other names, and has no particular connection with Judaism.

The instrument is a lamellaphone, which is in the category of plucked idiophones and consists 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.

Since trances are facilitated by droning sounds, the Jew's harp has been associated with magic and has been a common instrument in shamanic rituals.

A few adepts still play the instrument and it is used in various genres. Here's an example of Primitive Techno:

Here's some hard rocking Blues-Rock:

Some down home Country-Folk:

And some more traditional style of playing:

Here's a gem of classic folk music from Mike Seeger.
Listen to this wonderful song called Did You Ever See the Devil, Uncle Joe?

And of course, Jack Elliot of Birtley, UK.

Listen to a short clip from Genticorum, a trio from Québéc that incorporates the dynamism of today's North American and European folk cultures in their music.

This is an interesting beatboxing piece from Danibal who lives in the Netherlands. In France, Jeanjean is doing something in the same genre.

Check out an interesting use of the Jaw harp on a song called Morning Wonder by The Earlies, a UK band.

In a different vein, Jacob Max Nasim's Psychedelic Jew's Harp project is a trippy venture into totally live, electro-acoustic, psychedelic grooves.

Here's a funny, Borat-sounding clip by George Andriyanov of Bugotak which explains how to play a Jaw harp. I assume the birdie at the beginning is a Siberian form of greeting:

He also does some interesting throat singing along with his harp playing. Here's his take on Come together by the Beatles.

Here, Norwegian musical director and composer Terje Isungset demonstrates some of the melodies and rhythms he plays with his Jaw harp.

Daddy Dirk demonstrates how to play the Ozark Jaw harp:

This is Hank Plow, a poet and musician cowboy from Gila Bend, AZ giving an introduction to the Jaw harp:

The Asian harps sound slightly different than the ones more familiar to us. Here's a clip demonstrating playing a bamboo harp:

Here's a performance on a Chinese Hoho by
Vladiswar Nadishana:

Another performance on a Taiwanese Lubu, a multi-reed harp:

Here's an interesting video showing the fabrication of a harp by a Hmong Monk from beginning to end:

This is probably good enough to start. I invite all of you interested in this neat instrument to join and participate to the new group I started.

Happy boinging!


karen w said...

Hi. I'm interested in trying out the jaw harp. Can you recommend a good one to start with for, say, under $25? The Snoopy one sounds like it's not durable enough.

Hillbilly Wally said...

Ooooops! Sorry, I missed your comment... Everything i've heard about the Snoopy is not that good. Check out mouthmusic.com and talk to Mark. He's very knowledgeable, will play different harps for you over the phone and has many j-harps for under $25. You may want to buy a Khomus from him. They're beautiful, well crafted, easy to play and pack a punch for the size. They're over your budget but well worth it. Otherwise, you can try the $12 Cambodian bamboo harps. Those can be played agsinst the lips, not the teeth which might be an easy way to start.
Try to join the companion Yahoo group to this blog at http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/jawharp/
You'll be able to ask questions if you have any trouble.

Contact me at wally [at] hillbillywally.com if you have any questions.


Gabriel said...

Nice music. Where did you get it?