International Jews Harp Society


Frequently asked questions: information about Jews harps.

What is a Jews Harp ?

The jews harp is thought to be an ancient musical instrument and is found
on virtually every continent of the planet. They are small instruments that have a
flexible tongue attached to, or part of, a frame. The flexible tongue or tang is set
in motion by a plucking or pulling motion so as to cause it to vibrate to and fro
within the frame. The instruments produce virtually no sound on their own
– the harp is played against the teeth, or against the lips, and the mouth
acts as a resonator to increase the volume. The player then employs mouth,
lips, teeth, jaw, throat, tongue, lungs and diaphragm in subtle and complex ways
that allow the production of a huge range of wonderful sounds.

How to play a Jews Harp?

There are many different types with different ways to play.

For most Western style instruments - hold the instrument as shown in the photo.

The harp MUST rest against the teeth. Do not apply pressure with the lips.

Have the teeth slightly apart to allow the reed to pass to and fro.

Use fingers or thumb to GENTLY pluck the free end TOWARDS from the face.

The sound will resonate in the mouth - moving your tongue or using your breath
will change the sound.

Dry the instrument after use and place in a case to prevent damage.

What's in a name?

Up to the beginning of the 20th century, the Jew’s harp was undoubtedly one of the most popular musical instruments around. Manufacturer evidence shows that literally hundreds of thousands were made each year in the UK and Europe, and literary references consistently note that every child had one. ‘Jeu trumpe’ and‘Jeu Harpes’ are the oldest name found so far for the musical instrument, which became known as the ‘trump’ in Scotland and Ireland, and jaws or juice harp in more recent times.