The jaw harp, commonly referred to as jew harp, jew’s harp or mouth harp, is one of the most interesting musical instruments around. It has a small, key-shaped frame with a tongue inside that is used to generate sound. Historically they have been constructed of everything from wood to bamboo to metal. Today however, they are almost exclusively made with metal. It is thought to be the oldest instrument in the world, and is popular on just about every corner of the globe.
A Little History Lesson
The history of the jaw harp can be traced all the way back to the 3rd century B.C. in ancient China. From this early time it began to spread along trade routes as they developed, especially westward towards the Middle East. Around the 13th century A.D., it made its way into Europe and caught on just about everywhere.
Jaw harps are not just a relic of the past, however. Since then, this unique little instrument has found a niche in several modern musical genres including rock, pop and bluegrass. Many famous bands such as The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bon Jovi, Black Sabbath and Joe Walsh have experimented with the jaw harp’s sound, and have incorporated it into their songs.
They have also found a place in modern pop culture. Snoopy of the Peanuts cartoons was frequently seen playing one for Charlie Brown and friends, and Atticus Finch of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird was said to be an avid jaw harpist. Composer Ennio Morricone used it frequently when writing musical scores for spaghetti western movies, including A Fistful of Dollars.
What Does a Jaw Harp Sound Like?
Are you curious to know what the distinctive twang sounds like? Odds are you have heard it played before in one song or another but did not realize it. There is much more to this instrument than just a little twang, and there are a lot of videos out there of people playing the jaw harp that prove this point. You would be surprised at the different sounds people can make with this tiny little musical instrument.
Like any musical instrument, playing a jew’s harp takes plenty of practice and hard work. However, it is much more affordable than most instruments, making it a very accessible instrument to get started on. A high quality mouth harp can often be purchased online for anywhere from five to twenty dollars. If you are interested in learning how to play the jaw harp, do not bother with lessons. There are plenty of resources available online, and a beginner jaw harpist can be on their way to playing tunes in no time.