Mouth organ

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Mouth organ is a group of reed wind instruments in China and Southeast Asia, where in an air chamber, which often consist of a gourd , different lengths consists pipes from bamboo are used. Air is blown or sucked in via a mouthpiece that is attached to the side of the air chamber. This stimulates the penetrating tongues embedded in the pipes to vibrate. If a hole in a single pipe is covered with a finger, it can sound.

Origin and Distribution

The oldest mouth organs are in the Chinese text collection Book of Songs from the 10th / 9th centuries. Century BC Mentioned several times in BC, in one verse they appear together with jew's harps . From their likely region of origin, they have spread to western Asia over a long period of time. In Taq-e Bostan , Iran , mouth organs can be seen on a Sassanid rock relief from the end of the 6th / beginning of the 7th century AD, as well as on a silver bowl from this period. They were called mustak in Middle Persian and later in Persian muschtaq sīnī ("Chinese muschtaq ").

The most famous representative is the Chinese mouth organ sheng . They are available in versions with mostly 17 or 21 pipes. The mouth organ is called saeng in Korea . The Japanese mouth organ shō essentially only differs in its slightly larger vocal range. Both mouth organs have one end of the pipes in the wind chamber. In another type of mouth organ, the pipes protrude from the wind chamber with the lower, closed end. These include the khaen blown in the middle of their bamboo pipes , which is known in Laos and the Isan region in northeastern Thailand, and the qeej of the Hmong . The smaller Chinese hulusi has a bottle gourd and three sound tubes as an air chamber, of which the middle one has finger holes. The rasem in the northeast Indian state of Tripura owns seven bamboo tubes . The Chinese bawu is not a mouth organ, but it still has a penetrating tongue, resembles a flute and is blown from the side.


In most oral organs, the resounding tongues vibrate both when exhaling and when inhaling, since the air you breathe is not blown in via the reeds. The reed does not have a bend - (it is symmetrical) and is attached as a passive resonator elsewhere on the tubes. A reed that is blown directly or indirectly via a wind chest has a curvature and thus becomes asymmetrical like more modern western reeds. These instruments only sound when you exhale. The material for the reeds is almost exclusively a brass alloy. The tongues are almost always made from one piece of sheet metal. The frame thickness of such reed plates is therefore almost as thick as the tongue.

What they all have in common is that the pitch depends primarily on the vibrating column of air (flute length). In contrast to western instruments with reeds, the reed is the passive transducer and thus contributes to a greatly changed sound formation. There is also a certain similarity to reed instruments. The reeds in reed instruments, however, are much more involved in the formation of the sound and only function roughly like penetrating reeds.

The mouth organ is not to be confused with the jaw harp. Both are often considered to be the forerunners of the accordion and the harmonica , as research into these instruments has made a significant contribution to the development of the penetrating tongue in the western style.

Web links

Wiktionary: mouth organ  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Laurence Picken : Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey. Oxford University Press, London 1975, p. 585