- Hold the jaw harp on the side opposite the trigger. You can play either right or left handed, try both sides to see which one feels most comfortable. Hold firm enough that the harp won’t shake when you pluck the trigger, but not hard enough to keep the tongue from vibrating.
- Raise the harp to your mouth, and rest it gently against your teeth (don’t bite down on it). Curl your lips slightly around the frame. See the top image for more info.
- Before you start plucking, make sure there is enough room for the tongue of the harp to go back and forth between your teeth. Gently push it in and out of your mouth using the trigger, and make sure it isn’t scraping against your teeth or hitting your lip . Adjust your harp placement and mouth position until the harp no longer hits anything. If it does hit your tooth when playing it will sound bad, it will hurt, and you could possible damage your tooth.
- Pluck the trigger back and forth to play. You can use your index finger, your thumb, or even your whole hand, whatever is most comfortable for you. Plucking away from you will create a stronger sound with more emphasis, and plucking toward you will result in a softer sound. The harder you pluck the louder the sound will be.
- Change the shape of your mouth and your tongue position to make different sounds with the harp. The key to this is experimenting until you have an intuitive sense of how to make each different sound. It’s like learning to speak a different language, and the various basic sounds are the letters which you can combine together to make sentences (songs).
- Practice mouthing vowel sounds (a e i o u). Vowel sounds are the easiest to do because you already know them by heart, and they don’t require you to close your mouth. After this you can try doing similar vowel sounds from other languages, and indeed any sounds which don’t require you to close your mouth.
- Practice variations in breath tone. Breathing out while playing makes a loud buzzy sound, breathing in makes a softer buzz. For normal play, breath in and out with your nose.
- Practice how different mouth shapes affect your sound. A more open mouth will produce a lower, darker tone, and a more closed mouth will produce a higher, brighter sound. Making the trademark bonging type sound is something many beginners want to do. To do it, just oscillate your tongue back and forth, and stretch your mouth in and out. Different speeds will produce different pitch sounds.
- Expand your repertoire of sounds. Seek out jaw harp recordings, and experiment with your mouth until you can recreate that sound. Practice until you can do it on command. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to jawharping that you could take inspiration from. I recommend the hankplow and JonnyMcBoingBoing channels.
- Practice plucking the trigger at different speeds and levels of force. Longer sounds will require more force on the trigger to keep the harp reverberating. For shorter, faster playing alternate plucking inward and outward.
- Play what’s in your heart.
When playing mouth resonated instruments (especially the steel trumps), great care should be taken to prevent injury to teeth or lips. Start slowly and become comfortable holding and plucking the instrument before trying to make strong plucks. The best volume of a trump will be achieved with air control and accurate resonance matching, not powerful plucking!
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