The Jew’s harp, also known as the juice harp, mouth harp, or jaw harp, is a small handheld instrument played with the finger and mouth.
The construction of this instrument is simple, including a minor metal U-shape body and one rod that is flicked with the finger to generate sound.
There is no denying that the sounds of jaw harps are unique, making them a perfect addition to your musical repertoire.
The good news is that learning how to play the jaw harp and not break your teeth is not as difficult as you might think.
So read this guide, and you can get started right now!
Nowadays, jaw harps are often associated with bluegrass music, but it has existed for thousands of years. A version of this tiny instrument has appeared in most cultures worldwide.
It is rumored that this instrument originated in China in the third century BC, but there is no clear evidence for this. It was then introduced to Europe around the 13th century.
Despite being born a long time ago, it is popular around the world to this day.
Jaw harps have been used on recordings by The Who, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many other famous rock bands.
They have also contributed to the success of many movie soundtracks, such as the soundtrack for “A Fistful of Dollars.”
Throughout the long history of the jaw harp, it has had many names. Some famous names for this instrument are Jew’s harp, juice harp, mouth harp, and Ozark harp. The name “Jew’s harp” has fallen out of favor as many people feel it is derogatory.
This instrument consists of a flexible tongue, typically made of bamboo or metal, held within one frame.
This frame should be firmly held between your teeth while you strum your tongue flexibly to generate a sound that will be amplified by your jaw and mouth. You can adjust the pitches by changing the movement of your mouth to produce a melody.
This instrument comes with very simple construction, but you need to practice a lot to get the best results and bring out its full potential.
Inexperienced people often produce large amounts of saliva while playing. So some people call it a “juice harp.”
Start by using your non-dominant hand to hold your jaw harp. Utilize your index and thumb fingers to make a “C” shape.
It will be where the harp’s frame is held. You can use this hand’s “C” shape to align the circular portion of your jaw harp.
Utilize a light grip around the harp’s frame with the index and thumb fingers.
Ensure that its trigger, which protrudes from the reed in the center, is pointing away from your face.
Open your teeth and make sure it is around 3/8 inch apart. After that, insert the harp’s arms against the teeth.
Position this instrument, so the trigger is facing away from the face and put the harp’s beveled edge firmly against the teeth. Avoid placing the teeth on top of its beveled edge.
Then press your Jew’s harp firmly against the teeth. It is essential to use firm pressure for the sake of the teeth.
Remember that putting this instrument in the wrong place can chip your teeth.
Your teeth must touch this instrument to produce a good sound. The opening should be clear for the harp’s reed to generate tones.
You will need to slightly curl the lips over the teeth and onto the frame and ensure the trigger’s pathway is clear.
Start with plucking the trigger slowly using the dominant hand. In the beginning, avoid using a solid pluck as it is when your teeth are most susceptible to chipping.
Maintaining firm pressure between your teeth and the harp is necessary to avoid harming the teeth. You can pluck its trigger outwards or inwards, relying on your preference.
It is necessary to open the throat the same way you drink a liquid to get the great amplified sound out of your jaw harp.
Try modifying your throat’s shape by imagining you are saying the following vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. Those shapes should give you some different tones. Try to do a consistent pluck while changing your mouth shape.
If you want to get higher pitches, you will need to widen your mouth. Conversely, narrowing the mouth will allow you to reach lower tones.
Your tongue also plays a significant role in altering your Jew’s harp sound. So you can experiment with the tongue in various positions.
For example, flickering the tongue to the back of the throat to gain a nice effect.
The way you breathe can also significantly affect your tone.
For example, breathing out when playing this harp will produce a buzzy and loud sound. Meanwhile, breathing in should allow you to make a softer buzzing sound. You can utilize these techniques as accents.
Keep experimenting with various combinations of the above techniques.
Then, once you’ve begun to have a comfortable feel with many different sounds, it is time to develop a melody out of the Jew’s harp.
You cannot play distinct melodies without mastering all the basics. It will take a lot of effort and time so you can play cohesive melodies on your Jew’s harp.
It is challenging to differentiate notes on purpose for both listeners and players. The particular note you generate will depend on the quality of your jaw harp.
Create notes by playing closed and open sounds. You can achieve closed sound by closing the throat or the glottis.
Meanwhile, the open sound refers to all the sounds you have produced thus far.
Creating intentional notes has always been one of the most complex parts when playing a Jew’s harp.
It is possible to find various jaw harps recordings online. Although it is usually used in old country music and folk, it is native to eastern European folk music.
You can find videos of how to play the jaw harp in a unique style on YouTube. Watch these videos with a jaw harp in hand to practice new techniques.
Youtube brings you various videos by amateurs and pros. There is no denying that watching videos of others will make you play better.
We recommend investing in quality jaw harps to increase the enjoyment of playing this instrument.
The Snoopy’s mouth harps are pretty popular because they might be easy to access and cheap, but their sound tends not to be good. You should spend about an extra ten dollars to gain a better one.
If your harp is not producing a powerful sound, the cause may not be you.
Suppose you have made a decent enough seal. But this instrument is still not working. In this case, let’s look at your harp again.
If gaps between the inner frame and the reed are so large, the sound will not be as resonant or full.
This scenario is common for the cheapest harps as their clearance is higher, making it more challenging to gain a reasonable volume when you play it.
You can attempt to slowly and gently bend the inner frame together to close that gap. Yet, the possibility of damaging your instrument is very high if you do that.
Several causes prevent your jaw harp from making a sound.
Ensure your grip does not touch the reed: This bendy part will move when plucking the striker. So if the finger touches it, the reed will not vibrate and cannot make a sound.
Ensure your jew’s harp is placed properly on the mouth: Ideally, the jaw harp covers approximately 50 to 75% of the mouth.
Ensure having an excellent seal with lips on your instrument: Suppose your lips are so far from the harp’s frame or do not have a great seal. In this case, there’s a good chance that your instrument will not make a sound either.
By now, you should know how to play the jaw harp and not break your teeth.
One of the biggest mistakes amateurs make when playing jaw harps is to bite these instruments. Although it is an easy mistake to make, the consequences can be hazardous.
If you have never played this instrument before, you have probably seen others play, and it might look like they’re biting their jaw harps. But it is not the case as biting these instruments may damage your lips and chip your teeth.
This music instrument will vibrate significantly during playing, and this rattling kind may chip something. So always remember that jaw harps do not bite, so avoid biting them!
This little instrument generates a “twangy” sound by manipulating and plucking a metal tongue and adjusting your mouth’s shape to get various tones.
Unlike the harmonica, the jaw harp might be hard to find at local music shops.
But there are various options available online. In addition, most mouth harps include one decorative case as a bonus.
The Jew’s harp is a lamellophone instrument with a flexible bamboo or metal tongue or reed attached to one frame.
They are one of the world’s oldest instruments, thought to have originated in Asia thousands of years ago. There is no information about the creator of this instrument.
The jaw harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world. Scholars date its origins to the 3rd or 4th century BC, but many believe it may be older than that.
The jaw harp was born thousands of years ago. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has many names, such as:
- Jaw harp.
- Ozark harp.
- Mouth harp.
- Berimbau de boca.
This name is significantly misleading as it has nothing to do with the Jewish people.
This instrument has been used across nearly all music genres. For example, it has been used by many rock bands, such as The Who.
Hopefully, by the end of the guide on how to play the jaw harp and not break your teeth, you will better understand the jaw harp.
This instrument looks simple in design and playability, but mastering it may be harder than imagined. If not careful, it can damage your teeth and lips.
Broken teeth when playing jaw harps are often the result of improper technique, including reed playing angle, teeth position, excessive rough playing, and improper pressure. No need to worry! Follow our guide, and you will be okay!
With its established reputation and role in popular and traditional music worldwide, this instrument will continue to be famous for many years.
Also Read: How Many Strings Does A Harp Have?