Jew's harp

The Jew's harp, juice harp, jaw harp, mouth harp, Ozark harp, or marranzano pancake 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 BC Despite its common English name, and the sometimes used Jew's trump, it has no particular connection with Judaism.

The instrument is known in many different cultures by many different names. As with the parallel example "jew's ear" for the jelly fungus Auricularia auricula-judae, the common English name "jew's harp" is controversial and is avoided by many speakers, giving rise to various alternative terms. Another name used to identify the instrument, especially in scholarly literature, is the older English trump, while guimbarde, derived from the French word for the instrument, can be found in unabridged dictionaries and is featured in recent revival efforts.

The instrument is a lamellophone, which is in the category of plucked idiophones: it consists of a flexible metal or bamboo tongue or reed attached to a frame. On the other hand, the jew's harp belongs to the aerophones, together with the wind instruments and the instruments of the accordion type: In this class of instruments the sound is generated by a vibrating air column (flutes etc.) or by a stream of air stimulated to sound by a reed (harmonica, accordion, jew's harp). The tongue/reed is placed in the performer's mouth and plucked with the finger to produce a note. The frame is held against the performer's teeth or lips, using the jaw (thus "jaw harp") and mouth as a resonator, greatly increasing the volume of the instrument. The note thus produced is constant in pitch, though by changing the shape of his or her mouth and the amount of air contained in it the performer can cause different overtones to sound and thus create melodies.

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.


There are many theories for the origin of the name Jew's harp, one being that it may derive from its popularity amongst Eurasian steppe-peoples like the Khazars, perhaps being introduced to Europe from that direction. Another explanation proposed is that it is a corruption of "jaw harp", while a less likely explanation espoused by some is that its name comes from "juice harp" from the amount of saliva produced when played by amateurs. Both of these explanations lack historical backing, as both the "jaw" and the "juice" variants 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"..

The Oxford English Dictionary calls theories that the name is a corruption of "jaws" or "jeu" "baseless and inept" and goes on to say, "More or less satisfactory reasons may be conjectured: e.g. that the instrument was actually made, sold, or sent to England by Jews, or supposed to be so; or that it was attributed to them, as a good commercial name, suggesting the trumps and harps mentioned in the Bible.

Many names of the instrument, in English or other languages, refer to other musical instruments, cordophones, membranophones, or aerophones largely included.


In traditional music

The Jew's harp is an integral element in the music of Tuva. Known as the khomuz, the instrument is used to play the same overtone melodies used in the khoomei, sygyt, and kargyraa styles of overtone singing. The instrument is also a traditional part of Alpine musical styles, from Hungary to France. The earliest trouve in Europe is a bronze-harp dating 5th to 7th century.

In classical music

Around 1765, Beethoven's teacher Johann Georg Albrechtsberger composed at least seven concertos for Jew's harp, mandora, and strings (three survive in a library in Budapest). They are pleasant, well written works in the galant style, interpreting melodies of contemporary Austrian folk songs.

In Indian classical music

In South Indian Classical Music, the instrument is often used for percussion accompaniment. Satyajit Ray has used a taniyaavartanam that uses this and other percussion instruments in his movie Gopi Gayen Bhaga Bayen.

In World Music

The Jews harp is frequently to be found in the repertoire of music played by alternative or world music bands. Sandy Miller of the UK-based Brazilian samba/funk band Tempo Novo, plays a Jew's harp solo in the piece Canto de Ossanha.

In popular music

The Jew's harp has been used on occasion in rock and pop music. Its is also used quite a bit in Folk, Country and Bluegrass music.

In film

The instrument, referred to as a "mouth harp" can also be seen in the NBC show Scrubs. It is in Episode 5.15 (Prod # 515), "My Extra Mile".

Henry Fonda plays the instrument as the title character in John Ford's Young Mr. Lincoln.

The instrument can be seen in the film The Wicker Man, at the rehearsal of Mayday celebrations, on the song "Maypole," as it has long been identified with mysticism or paganism.

Gina Gershon plays the jew's harp in the Wachowski Brothers film Bound.

The Jew's harp can also be seen in The Swedish film The Virgin Spring, directed by Ingmar Bergman.

The soundtrack of Buck and the Preacher, written and performed by Brownie McGhee and directed by Sidney Poitier, features the jaw-harp.

In Disney's White Fang, a character plays it while the enemy sets fire to his cabin.

It is featured prominently in Emir Kusturica's Black Cat, White Cat.

Snoopy plays one in the animated films A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Come Home, and Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (And Don't Come Back!!). Some Jew's harps are still packaged and marketed as "Snoopy's harp".

It can also be heard as a prominent instrument in the theme song written by Ennio Morricone from the movie For a Few Dollars More, starring Clint Eastwood.

The Jew's harp is also used heavily in the score for the 2007 10 to Yuma of the film 10 to Yuma.

The Jew's harp makes a brief appearance in James Horner's score for the 1991 film The Rocketeer when the Rocketeer flies at low altitude through a cornfield to the bemusement of a number of country bumpkins (including Tiny Ron, in a brief cameo).

In the first cave scene of the film Dead Poets Society, the character Pitts can be seen playing a jaw-harp while the other boys are chanting.

Keith Carradine plays the jaw harp while riding on a train in the western The Long Riders.

In Flipper (1996), Kim is heard playing the instrument when Sandy first meets her by the dock.

In a promotional film for The Who's track Join Together, Roger Daltrey plays the instrument, rather than his traditional role of harmonica.

Names of specific Jew's harps around the world

  • Afghanistan - chang
  • Argentina - torompe
  • Austra - maultrommel
  • Bosnia - drombulja
  • Brazil - berimboca, harpa de boca, berimbau de boca
  • Bulgaria - drumboy (дръмбой or драмбой)
  • Canada - jew's harp

Québec - bombarde or trompe or guimbarde or ruine-babines

  • Chile - trompe
  • China - kǒu xián (口弦, lit. "mouth string")
  • Croatia - drombulja

Kajkavian - brunda (lit. "the grumbling one")

  • Czech Republic - brumle
  • Denmark - jødeharpe (lit. "Jew harp")
  • Esperanto - buŝharpo (lit. mouth harp)
  • Estonia - parmupill (lit. "horse-fly instrument")
  • Finland - munniharppu
  • France - guimbarde

Corsica - riberbula

  • Germany - Maultrommel (lit. "mouth drum")
  • Hawaii - ukeke
  • Hungary - doromb
  • Iceland - gyðingaharpa (kjálkaharpa)
  • India

Andhra Pradesh - morsing
Assam - gogona
Karnataka - morsing
Kerala - mukhar-shanq (lit. "mouth conch")
Rajasthan - morchang
Tamil Nadu - mugar-sing

  • Indonesia

Balinese - genggong
Butonese - ore-ore mbondu or ore Ngkale
Kailinese - yori
Munanese - karinta
Toraja - karombi

  • Iran - zanboorak (زنبورك)
  • Ireland - trumpa; tromb (Gaelic)
  • Israel - nevel pe (נבל פה, lit. "mouth harp")
  • Italy - scacciapensieri ("thought dispeller")

Sardinia - trunfa or trumba
Sicily - marranzanu

  • Japan

nihonjin - koukin (口琴, lit. "mouth harp")
ainu - mukkuri (ムックリ)

  • Kazakhstan - shang-kobuz
  • Kyrgyzstan - temir-komuz (lit. "iron komuz"), ooz-komuz (lit. "mouth komuz")
  • Laos

Hmong - rab ncas (also in Vietnam, Thailand, and China)

  • Latvia - vargāns
  • Lithuania - dambrelis
  • Mongolia - khel khuur (хэл хуур, lit. "tongue fiddle").
  • Nepal - Murchunga
  • Netherlands - mondharp (lit. "mouth harp")
  • Norway - munnharpe (lit. "mouth harp")
  • Philippines

Maguindanao - kubing
Maranao - kobing
Palawan - aroding
Tagbanua - aru-ding
Tingguian - kolibau
Yakan - kulaing

  • Poland - drumla
  • Portugal - berimbau
  • Romania - drâmbă
  • Russia - vargan (варган)

Bashkiria - kubyz (кубыз)
Tuva - khomus, homus, komus, xomus (хомус)
Yakutia (Republic of Sakha) - khomus (хомус)

  • Slovakia - drumbľa
  • Serbia - drombulje (дромбуље)
  • Slovenia - dromlja
  • South Africa

Afrikaans - trompie

  • Spain - guimbarda or birimbao or arpa de boca

Asturias - trompa
Euskal Herria (Basque country) - musugitarra (lit. "kiss guitar")

  • Sweden - mungiga (lit. "mouth fiddle")
  • Switzerland

Swiss German - muul trummle

  • Taiwan

Amis - datok or tivtiv
Atayal - lubu
Bunun - honghong

  • Thailand - jong nong (จ้องหน่อง; term used in central Thailand); or huen (หืน; term used in northeast Thailand)
  • Turkmenistan - gopuz (гопуз or гапыз)
  • United Kingdom

Scotland - tromb (Gaelic)
Wales - sturmant

  • Ukraine - drymba (дримба)
  • Uzbekistan - chankovuz or Chang-kobuz (Чанковуз or Чанг-кобуз)
  • Vietnam - đàn môi
  • Yakutia (Sakha Republic)- Khomus

See also




  • Alekseev, Ivan, and E. I. [i.e. Egor Innokent'evich] Okoneshnikov (1988). Iskusstvo igry na iakutskom khomuse. IAkutsk: Akademiia nauk SSSR, Sibirskoe otd-nie, IAkutskii filial, In-t iazyka, lit-ry i istorii.
  • Bakx, Phons (1992). De gedachtenverdrijver: de historie van de mondharp. Hadewijch wereldmuziek. Antwerpen: Hadewijch. ISBN 9052401632.
  • Boone, Hubert, and René de Maeyer (1986). De Mondtrom. Volksmuziekinstrumenten in Belgie en in Nederland. Brussel: La Renaissance du Livre.
  • Crane, Frederick (1982). "Jew's (jaw's? jeu? jeugd? gewgaw? juice?) harp." In: Vierundzwanzigsteljahrschrift der Internationalen Maultrommelvirtuosengenossenschaft, vol. 1 (1982). With: "The Jew's Harp in Colonial America," by Brian L. Mihura.
  • Crane, Frederick (2003). A History of the Trump in Pictures: Europe and America. A special supplement to Vierundzwanzigsteljahrsschrift der Internationalen Maultrommelvirtuosengenossenschaft. Mount Pleasant, Iowa: [Frederick Crane].
  • Dournon-Taurelle, Geneviève, and John Wright (1978). Les Guimbardes du Musée de l'homme. Preface by Gilbert Rouget. Published by the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle and l'Institut d'ethnologie.
  • Emsheimer, Ernst (1941). "Uber das Vorkommen und die Anwendungsart der Maultrommel in Sibirien und Zentralasien." Ethnos (Stockholm), nos 3-4 (1941).
  • Emsheimer, Ernst (1964). "Maultrommeln in Sibierien und Zentralasien." In Studia ethnomusicologica eurasiatica (Stockholm: Musikhistoriska museet, pp. 13-27).
  • Fox, Leonard (1984). The Jew's Harp: A Comprehensive Anthology. Selected, edited, and translated by Leonard Fox. Charleston, South Carolina: L. Fox.
  • Fox, Leonard (1988). The Jew's Harp: A Comprehensive Anthology. Selected, edited, and translated by Leonard Fox. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press; London: Associated University Presses. ISBN 0838751164.
  • Gallmann, Matthew S. (1977). The Jews Harp: A Select List of References With Library of Congress Call Numbers. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Archive of Folk Song.
  • Gotovtsev, Innokenty. New Technologies for Yakut Khomus. Yakutsk.
  • Kolltveit, Gjermund (2006). Jew's Harps in European Archaeology. BAR International series, 1500. Oxford, England: Archaeopress. ISBN 1841719315.
  • Plate, Regina (1992). Kulturgeschichte der Maultrommel. Orpheus-Schriftenreihe zu Grundfragen der Musik, Bd. 64. Bonn: Verlag für Systematische Musikwissenschaft. ISBN 3922626645.
  • Shishigin, S. S. (1994). Igraite na khomuse. Mezhdunarodnyi tsentr khomusnoi (vargannoi) muzyki. Pokrovsk : S.S. Shishigin/Ministerstvo kul'tury Respubliki Sakha (IAkutiia). ISBN 5851570121.
  • Shishigin, Spiridon. Kulakovsky and Khomus. Yakutia.
  • Smeck, Roy (1974). Mel Bay's Fun With the Jaws Harp.
  • Yuan, Bingchang, and Jizeng Mao (1986). Zhongguo Shao Shu Min Zu Yue Qi Zhi. Beijing : Xin Shi Jie Chu Ban She: Xin Hua Shu Dian Beijing Fa Xing Suo Fa Xing. ISBN 7800050173.

External links


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