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This is an attempt to give instructions or rather suggestions on how to play the jew's harp in a virtuoso manner.
It is easy to play the jew's harp. You put the instrument against your mouth and just start playing, see quickstart for beginners.
Many sounds and effects are easily found by giving it a trial. I like playing the jew's harp very much and have learned playing by self-study - like presumably most players. May be the fact that playing the jew's harp has been invented again and again by the players is one reason for the diversity of playing techniques. A small gallery of pictures from the jew's harp festival at Leipzig, Germany in 2007 illustrates some of this diversity.
There are few instructions on how to play, and mostly they do not teach more than how to hold the instrument and pluck the reed. Well - actually more is not necessary for a start. However, if you want to play music, that is, shape sounds and tunes on the jew's harp intentionally, you need to know playing techniques and the functioning of the instrument. These instructions want to contribute to this knowledge: They describe and illustrate a variety of playing techniques and give some background informations on the instrument. For each technique a sound example is provided.
The jew's harp is a rhythm as well as a melody instrument. The instructions in the main part of this paper describe playing techniques: How can different tunes and sounds be produced, and by what means can rhythmic patterns be expressed (articulation)? How do you play melodies?
Before that, a short paragraph deals with the two main types of jew's harps and their different functioning, namely the bow-shaped and lamellate instruments.
After the section on playing techniques I added an article on the physical origin of the jew's harp sound and its tone row: Being an instrument with a natural harmonic row, each jew's harp is provided with specific tones. Which tones can be produced by a single jew's harp? This is a theoretical subject, but it is worth some thought: The natural harmonic row can be heard from your harp, and if you want to play other notes, you are going against the physics of your instrument.
Enhanced possibilities, especially regarding harmonies, are opened up by changing several jew's harps while playing.
Finally you find some pieces of music I played on different harps.
An internet search for "jew's harp" produces numerous interesting web sites on, e.g., the history and culture of the instrument as well as festival announcements. Some links:
Austrian Jew´s Harp Association: http://www.stn.at/homes/maultrommel/
American Jew's Harp Guild: http://jewsharpguild.org
Norwegian Jew's Harp Forum; edited by Einar Turtum: http://www.munnharpe.no/norsk_munnharpeforum.html
The following site by Frank Kolb shows short playing instructions, music examples and a lot of links and contacts, with an emphasis on the Asian region of Yakutia: http://www.khomus.de/
Vladimir Markov gives a
detailed introduction into the playing of melodies, with special
emphasis on open and closed tones, and other material on jew's harp
playing and jew's harp musicians at http://www.varganist.ru. Even instructions for self-construction of an instrument are included. In Russian and English.
Liability for Links: I examined the linked third-party Web sites as good as possible before linking them, but I have no influence whatsoever on the information on these Web sites. The correctness and content of such third-party sites is the exclusive responsibility of the respective owners/providers.
Comprehensive book on the jew's harp: There is a scientific book on the jew's harp in German language by Regina Plate; title: Kulturgeschichte der Maultrommel; publisher: Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft GmbH, Bonn; 1992, 235 p. ISBN 3-922626-64-5. This text is rather dry reading, but instructive and quite comprehensive.
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