How to Play the Jaw Harp
First of all, congratulations on your interest in the jaw harp! This musical instrument is great fun for all, and rich in tradition all over the world. Be the latest to join in the fun by following these steps for a beginner.
Purchase the Right Jaw Harp - We recommend a buying a mid-range harp to start off with, preferably one in the key of C. Lower and higher range harps can be harder to control, making them a bad idea for beginners.
Get to know your instrument - The jaw harp consists of two main parts: the frame and the tongue. You hold the frame with your hand, while the tongue (also called the lamella) is the vibrating part that makes the sound. For the more detailed parts, see the diagram below:
The Grip - There are two main ways to hold a jaw harp, mostly dependent on it's shape. The first way is used with jaw harps that have two flat edges on the rounded end of the frame, almost shaped like a half-circle. These types should be gripped between the thumb, index and middle fingers, as shown below:
If your jaw harp's frame is more rounded with no flat edges on the frame, make a 'C' shape with your thumb and index finger and wrap your hand around it as seen below:
Whatever grip you choose, it is important for the trigger to be pointing away from you. If it is pointing towards you, you will not be able to pluck it once it is in your mouth. Also, be sure that your hand is not touching the tongue at any point.
Mouth Placement - The next step is to place the jaw harp correctly in your mouth. Place the harp between your front teeth, biting down on the beveled edge. Be sure that your teeth are firmly gripping the harp. If you are too loose with your bite, the instrument will vibrate when you pluck and it will be quite uncomfortable. Do not bite so hard that the tongue cannot be plucked. Keep your lips away from the instrument for now. Eventually when you get better at playing, you can rest your lips gently on the frame of the jaw harp, although it could dampen the sound. Once again, nothing should be touching the tongue of the instrument. Your thumb should be near your chin, and your index finger under your nose.
Let's Play! - Finally, it is time to give your instrument a pluck. Keep your tongue far away from the instrument for now, pull the harp's tongue straight towards your face and let it snap outward. Plucking this any other way could hit your teeth or tongue and be painful. If everything is done correctly, you should hear a nice twang sound. Do not be embarassed if you find yourself drooling as you play for the first time - this is common among beginners. Play around with different sounds by breathing in and out, making consonant sounds like 'k' or 't', shaping your mouth to vowel sounds (without actually saying them) and moving your tongue around. A good excercise for beginners is to mouth the words 'ear of corn'. This helps you practice your different vowel shapes and tones. You are now ready (with a little practice of course) to play any song you like!
Be sure to check out some more advanced players on our jaw harp videos page.
Return to Jaw Harp Guide from How to Play a Jaw Harp