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Port Hastings Museum and Archives

Harp, Jaw


Accession number: 1985.470
Date: before 1985
Materials: metal
Measurements: 12 cm L x 8.5 cm W
Narrative: The Jew's harp, jaw harp, mouth harp, or Ozark harp, trump and juice harp, is thought to be one of the oldest musical instruments in the world;[1] a musician apparently playing it can be seen in a Chinese drawing from the 4th century BC The instrument is known in many different cultures by many different names. The common English name "Jew's Harp" may be considered controversial or potentially misleading, and thus avoided by some speakers. 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. The tongue/reed is placed in the performer's mouth and plucked with the finger to produce a note. The frame is held firmly against the performer's parted front teeth, using the jaw (thus "jaw harp") 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. 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 (and in some traditions closing the glottis) the performer can cause different overtones to sound and thus create melodies. The volume of the note can be varied by breathing in and out.
Description: Mounted on piece of circular wood (dark brown)