Let Your Lips Do the Playing

I’ve always loved the thought that if you can dream it, it’s probably out there…and if it isn’t out there, you can find a group to help it become a reality. On my day off, I decided to try to find a few unusual music groups that require your lungs and lips to operate. I decided to start with- the Jug, the Ocarina, and the Jews Harp. Who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired to join or form your own group.

Nice Jugs


Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas- A Jim Henson Creation!

I did not expect to find a Jug group in California, The California Jug Band Association. It makes sense if southerners traveled west during the gold rush. I knew that banjos definitely traveled west but I didn’t think about jugs. I found this banjo site in case you wanna brush up on your get-rich-quick songs of the mid-late 1800’s. If a jug was already traveling as a container, why not use it for music-making when its became empty?

What’s my favorite musical appearance of a jug? So glad you asked. It’s definitely “You’re Gonna Miss Me” by the 13th Floor Elevators. Another that I like is Memphis Minnie singing with the Memphis Jug Band. Hambone Lewis is on Jug.

Breathe Easy 

OcarinaI think the Ocarina is very intriguing as an instrument because it shows up in many cultures that are geographically far from each other: Peru, England, Italy…You can find ocarina festivals all over the world here.

An Ocarina is a Hemholtz Resonator, which in a few words is a cavity where air resonates. I had an ocarina as a child because it was easy to play and it was my first introduction to a wind instrument. Mine was plastic but I do remember receiving one as a gift, it was made from clay and of South American origin. If I have a girl someday, maybe her middle name will be Zelda and I’ll teach her to play the “Ocarina of Time.” (wink to my 80’s children) You never know who plays the ocarina, even Pink Floyd fans. Check out this cover. Learn to make one on Makezine.com here.

Something to Harp On

Jews HarpMy first memory of the Jews Harp was of my great grandfather in Oklahoma. Born in 1897, he loved to play the Jews Harp, the Squeeze box, and spoons. The first time I heard the boing of a Jews Harp, I thought of how cartoons sounded. The first time I played one, I think I injured my tongue! This instrument has many names: kumbing and kubing, gewgaw, genggong, munnharpa, guimbarde. The International Jews Harp Guild has an active Facebook page and it links to other groups such as the World Mouth Harp Festival of India.

What’s the strangest use of this instrument? I’d say it is the controversial 1969 LP by Harvey Matusow.  A more wholesome educational use of Jews Harp?  Watch this sweet little TEDx video. This video definitely explains why I associated the Jews Harp sound with cartoons. It also briefly explains its relation to the harmonica and accordion.

Put your money where your mouth is and try out one of these instruments.
You might be pleasantly surprised with the challenge of playing them or just really dig the portability.