Jew's Harp

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Jew’s Harp


(in Russian, vargan), self-sounding reed instrument, either a plate made of wood, bone, or metal or a metal bow with a reed in the middle. When played, it is pressed to or squeezed by the teeth; the reed is pinched by a finger, thread, or stick. The mouth serves as a moving resonator; the tones of the overtone series needed to play the melody are picked out by changing the shape and size of the mouth cavity. The quietness and small range—a fourth or fifth—of the Jew’s harp limits its repertoire to short dance melodies and traditional tunes. The Jew’s harp is found among many peoples of Middle and Southeast Asia and Oceania (plate-shaped) and also Europe, Central Asia, and Africa (bow-shaped); it has various national names. A perfected Jew’s harp, the aura, was popular in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.