How to Play on Several Jew's Harps



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By changing several jew's harps with different fundamental notes while playing, musical harmonies can be expressed. The harmony of simple melodies often requires only two or three cords. For example, melodies in C major are accompanied with the major chords C and G or C, G and F. When playing on several jew's harps, the fundamental notes play the role of the chords. E.g., the german nursery rhyme Hänschen Klein can be accompanied with C and G major. In sound example 18 (247 KB) I play it on two jew's harps tuned in  C and G.

How can you hold and rapidly change several jew's harps? Usually several jew's harps are assembled using clips. The jew's harp assemblies and clips shown in figure 1 can be purchased.

figure 1

jew's harp assembly with metal clips by
 Andreas Schlütter,
http://www.schluetter-trump.de/
wooden clip by
dan moi,
http://www.danmoi.de
jew's harp assembly with wooden clips by
Vladiswar Nadishana,
http://www.nadishana.com

Metallklemmen

Holzklemme assembly by nadishana
picture: Andreas Schlütter picture: Dan Moi picture: Vladiswar Nadishana


However, I want to suggest other ways of playing several harps, namely 1. a way of playing without clips or other aid, and 2. an assembly that is played most easily: The aura with weight. 

1. Play several jew's harps without aid

The jew's harp virtuosos Fritz Mayr from Bavaria and Albin Paulus from Austria hold one or two jew's harps in both hands. The jew's harps are plucked with a free finger of the respective opposite hand. My first suggestion follows this principle, without technical aid (figure 2). Both hands hold one or two jew's harps. The first is held between thumb and the lowest joint of the index finger.  Index finger and ring-finger are bent, pressing the second jew's harp against the ball of the thumb, so that the parallel arms of the jew's harp frame protrude between the two fingers and point away from the palm. The middle-finger remains free and plucks the jew's harps of the opposite hand (figure 2, red arrows).

figure 2
vier Maultrommeln halten

The above sound exapmle 18 (247 KB) has been played with two jew's harps held between thumbs and index fingers (figure 2, positions 1 and 2).

Disadvantage of this technique: This way of holding several harps in both hands feels unfamiliar in the beginning and needs some practice. 

Advantage: After some practice this way of playing works very well. No screwing and assembling is needed. The jew's harps remain free and can be used separately or in changing combinations without dismantling. 


2. Assembly as an aura with weight

In the year 1816 the german jew's harp enthusiast Heinrich Scheibler presented an assembly of up to five harps called aura (according to Regina Plate 1992). The aura consists of two wooden discs with a screw in the center. The jew's harps are clamped between the discs. I take a longer screw and put it through an additional section of metal tubing (figure 3, ca. 20 cm long and with a weight of about 200 g). Thus, the assembly is functioning as a balance weight and the jew's harps sound with contact to the lips only, without contact to the teeth (see  play without contact to the teeth). Like Heinrich Scheibler, I line the inner side of the discs with thin leather to prevent vibrations and rasping sounds. I do not fix the jew's harps radially but angled, because I hold the aura at the discs, not at the tube (figure 3 left). Thus, the pivot is not the screw but the wrist.

figure 3

Aura mit Gewicht

For sound example 19 (321 KB) three jew's harps are assembled, tuned A1, D and E.

Disadvantage of this technique: The assembly has a somewhat elevated weight.

Advantage: The additional weight pays off. The quick changing between the jew's harp is much easier if it is enough to put them on the lips. No exact adjusting to the teeth is required. When playing for some time, the weight spares the teeth, making the playing very comfortable.  

Finally a small piece of music, played on three jew's harps: Bougie, sound example 20 (1067 KB).

Notenblatt Write down jew's harp music? The first part of sound example 20, "Bougie", in music notation (29 KB)

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