How to Play the Jaw Harp

The jaw harp, also commonly referred to as the jew harp, jew’s harp, mouth harp and ozark harp, is one of the oldest instruments in the world and is a delight to play.  If you decide to get in on the fun, here are some helpful tips to get you started.How to Play the Jaw Harp

Purchase A Jaw Harp

This step is kind of obvious.  After all, you can’t play one if you do not own one!  Unlike most instruments, the jaw harp is very affordable, usually costing anywhere from five to twenty dollars.  When buying one, do not just buy the cheapest one you can find.  Read some online reviews and make sure you purchase one in a mid-range key, preferably the key of C.  Higher and lower range jaw harps can be harder to play, and should be bought only after you have learned to play with relative ease.

Getting Started

Okay, so you have purchased your brand new jaw harp.  Now what?  Well, the first thing is to learn the different parts that make up this small little instrument.  It mostly consists of two major parts:  the tongue and the frame.  The frame is the part you hold with your hand against your teeth, and the tongue is the part you pluck with the other hand.  There are more detailed parts and descriptions, but for now these two basic parts are all we need to know.

The Grip

There are two main ways jaw harps are held, and it usually has to do with the shape of the frame.  If the frame is rounded, a ‘C’ grip is used, where your thumb and index finger wrap around the enlarged part of the frame in the shape of a ‘C’.  For a frame with flat edges, a different grip is applied.  The thumb goes at the end of the enlarged part of the frame, with the index finger on one flat edge and the middle finger on the other.  Take a look at your jaw harp and decide which grip is right for you.

Mouth Placement

Before you can []play the jaw harp, you need to place it in your mouth properly.  You will never learn to play it correctly if you do not even have it in your mouth right, and you can even hurt yourself.  Using your grip, place the harp between your teeth.  Bite down firmly into the beveled edge.  If you are not biting firm enough, the jaw harp will vibrate when you play it, which can be very painful.  If you bite down too hard, the tongue will not be able to be plucked.  This part will go by feel, and you will have to find a balance with it.

Give it a Pluck

Give your instrument a pluck, pulling the tongue towards your teeth and letting go.  Be careful to keep your own tongue away from the area.  If all goes well you should hear a nice twang.  Now it’s time to experiment with different sounds by shaping the inside of your mouth in different ways.


Once you can get a sound out of your harp, you are ready to put in some practice time!  This part is hard for any musical instrument, but the reward is great for those who work hard at it.

Learn more about the proper grip, mouth placement and playing technique at Jaw Harp Guide

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