Jew's Harp. Playing and Magic

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Once it happened

I bought it in Altay mountains during my Syberian trip, or should I say adventure... Metal arc and tongue - what can be more artless? Sounds of megapolis are outside, but magestic Syberian nature is on my mind the moment I take it by hands. Taste of wild berries and smell of Syberian pine. Later I found out one strange feature. Playing Jew's harp for half an hour - and the rain necessarily starts. Damn! I told to my friend about. He just shrugged his shoulders, but decided to try. He said he could bewitch a rain. Really, large drops begans to knock on the balcony cap very soon... Somebody hanged out wet washing in a flat above... You may smile, but we really had a little local rain :)

Read Russian shaman's advice.

What Jew's harp is

Jews harp, vargan in russianJew's harp is the most ancient tongued music instrument. There are many cultures all over the world that have it in some form and under different names. Most popular names are Jew's harp (jew harp, jews harp, juice harp), medieval European - maultrommel, Russian, Syberian or Oriental - vargan, khomuz, khomus, belarussian - drymba. And further:
England - Gewgaw;
Germany - Maultrommel (which means mouth drum);
Japan - Koukin;
Philippines - Kumbing and kubing;
Italy - Scacciapensieri;
Norway - munnharpa or munnharpe;
France - guimbarde;
Bali - genggong.

Russian name of Jew's harp "vargan" descends from the words:

  • "varga" - mouth, lips (Perm region)
  • "varganit" - to do something by supernatural, magical way

It is common knowledge that animals love sounds of definite frequency. One ancient Russian tale tells about bear who plucks a splinter of stump and enjoys - wow, how it sounds! Humans proved to be cleverer then bears and improved the "splinter" remarcably, but basic principles remain.

Jew's harps were made of wood or bone before humans started to use metal, but they were rather brittle. Fisrt smithies appeared and it let metal jews harps appear. But bamboo modifications still exist in some oriental cultures. The earliest documental mention of Jew's harp was discovered on an ancient Roman fresco, depicting a man who plays jews harp.

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Some music

I recorded or found these tracks in Russia.

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How to play

Me and my friend jew's harpPress the frame to your teeth leaving a chink between teeth for the instrument's tongue. Draw the tongue off by the finger. Set free the tongue... and... Crack on the teeth! Reach a position in which the tongue does not touch your teeth. Sounds arise at the expense of resonance circuit in the mouth, head bones, larynx.The instrument doesn't sound by itself. We can get different timbres by changing the volume of resonance circuit -saying some sounds, mooving tongue, cheeks and lips. A pitch of sound depends on the size of tongue and is rather constant for this reason. My Jew's harp plays note sol. There are also collections of Jew's harps of different pitches of sound. Don't try to play a melody - it impossible. But the main thing is to enjoy playing - and no other reason to play.

Some of Jew's harp sound samles


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