In case you don’t happen to know what a mouth bow is, it’s a bow, looks like a bow from a bow and arrow, that you hold against your mouth. You then pluck or often strike the string, and change the shape of your mouth to obtain different notes. It is in essence similar to a trump/khomus/jew’s harp. They’re found all over Africa and in America, and possibly in some other places. Often they are used to accompany song. This led me to investigate a point, which I’ll get too at the end of this post. For now, have some youtube links with the mouth bow.
A demonstration of a couple American style mouth bows.
Home made mouth bow, probably American. American mouth bows tend to be more flexible allowing pitch bends.
Somebody does some passable throat singing while playing a mouth bow, really nice sustain on the mouth bow.
Nice song with mouth bow!
Some truly awesome African style mouth bow! If you don’t check any other link out, check this one! Singing with mouth bow, and use of at least two different pitch centers for overtones. This brings us very close to my investigation, so listen carefully. Finally, let’s hit something that I actually own, the ghost catcher. This is a little bit more like a guitar or such than a proper mouth bow, but it’s still pretty awesome. OK, so I said there was an investigation here. After listening to a CD of African mouth bow music from various parts of Africa and comparing it with some examples from America and New Guinea, as well as the ghost catcher, I’ve come to a tentative conclusion. The jew’s harp and the mouth bow function differently. among the Yakut people a distinction is made between two sorts of khomus playing, singing khomus and talking khomus. The Norwegians seem to refer to these as open and closed playing. In talking khomus, the larynx is used, that is you are essentially whispering some sort of actual speech sound through the instrument. In singing khomus however, the larynx is not used, though breath is passed through the instrument. This is essentially impossible on the mouth bow, since there is no space between a frame and a reed for air to pass between. So, you may have noticed, particularly on the ghost catcher and African style mouth bow, the larynx was used a lot. The African style bow had a sound most people would probably associate with robots on TV shows, or possibly speech synthesizers on a computer. This my conclusion, the mouth bow primarily uses the larynx, what we might call talking mouth bow, as opposed to the jew’s harp which can function in both modes. Stunning, isn’t it? But so far as I know, I’ve never come across anybody else pointing this out. So now you know, unless I’m wrong of course.