You’ve seen it in our Retro Toys section promising an old time country twang, but what is this mysterious instrument?
The jaw harp is one of the oldest instruments in the world, with painted representations appearing as early as 4th century BC! This harp creates its country twang by using your mouth as the primary resonator. What that means is by placing the instrument between your teeth, the sound is bounced around the inside of your mouth and amplified. You’re your own personal speaker!
The body of the jaw harp is almost always made of metal. It starts as a circular frame, which you hold between your fingers, and extends out into two arms that you place gently between your teeth. Between these arms is a little reed that comes out at a sharp angle:
and when it’s plucked, it creates that familiar sproingy country sound! You can adjust the note by changing where your tongue sits in your mouth. If you flatten it low and press against your teeth, you get a deep, low note. By pulling it back toward the roof of your mouth, you can make a high note! The sound is also affected by your breathing. If you inhale and exhale after plucking, it makes the sound go in a rhythm with your breath.
Though it has a particular country twang, this instrument was actually used throughout Asia before making its way to the Western world. The jaw harp is a favorite of Asian tribes, and has been used in rituals as a droning sound to induce trances. Who knew this weird instrument had such a colorful history?
Make sure to pick up a Metal Jaw Harp from our shop under the Retro Toys section! There’s also a great video demonstrating how to play your harp. Happy plucking!