Robert Vandré

  • The acoustics of the jaw harp: Robert Vandré and the fascination of jaw harp physics

    Where is the connection between playing the jaw harp and speaking? Robert Vandré says one learns a lot about the jaw harp when dealing with the physiological and psychological speaking processes. There are similar patterns at work that generate the sound while speaking or playing the jaw harp, e.g. the movement of the tongue or the various resonant spaces in the area of the head. Robert Vandré is a hobby musician and for over 20 years a jaw harp acoustics specialist. Vandré is author of a jaw harp school and an authority for meticulous jaw harp acousticians as he examined and measured the instrument very thoroughly. Currently, there are only a few studies about acoustic parameters of the jaw harp. His website that is online since 2002 is one of the few sources that comprehensively analyse the sound properties of the jaw harp based on substantiated figures. That is why it is a treasure for instrument researchers and acousticians, but at the same time for jaw harp players that are seeking a better understanding about the functionality of the instrument. Helen from DAN MOI met Robert in 2017 at the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha, near Leipzig.


    The mouth harp as natural scientific object

    I’ve been always very interested in the acoustic conditions of the mouth harp. I am a natural scientist, ecologist and am working as a soil scientist and a botanist. Music is my hobby. So I have a completely different approach to those instruments, if compared to other jaw harp players. Of course I am alsointerested in the feel and how jaw harp music is influencing the soul, butI alsolook closely at the different factors and want to know how the instruments work on a physical level. I am rather a technician who says: that is rhythm, that melody, that happens via the diaphragm, those are the fingers, that comes from breathing, that is articulation.

    Robert Vandré acoustically examined and measured the jaw harp and evaluated the data. He recorded the tones of a jaw harp and by support of a computer software he measured the frequency range of those tones. The range displays the overtones that resonate in a jaw harp tone (photo frequency). Since the year 2002 Robert Vandré is having a website called, where he documents and provides public access to this research. The graphs show what overtones are present in a sound to what degree, which helps to understand how a sound is physically built. The outcome of the research was astonishing, says Robert Vandré, “I was very surprised how regularly the pattern of the sound the tongue generates is”. Due to his measurements one can comprehend how the jaw harp works: each jaw harp has a basic tone and all other tones of the mouth harp are overtones of the basic tone that can be generated by specific movements of the mouth and throat area.

    "I discovered the jaw harp many years ago at a festival. There were jaw harps from Schwarz, Austria. So I bought one and played a little on it. At first I was thinking of Snoopy from the Peanuts. He is playing the jaw harp, for instance in the bus. So I tried around a bit and came to the point, where I could play melodies that others in my surroundings were able to guess. Then the instrument was lying around for years and I forgot about it until I went to the music fair in Frankfurt. That also was many years ago. There was a booth with Hungarian jaw harps from Szilágyi. I bought one and on the train ride back home it totally got me: It was really cool to play a good jaw harp and to try out things on it. And that really triggered my curiosity: how does a jaw harp work, what is the physical background? I started to try around, to think about it and read things, for example from linguistic scientists who describe how a tone is generated and formed in the vocal tract."

    Play the Jew's Harp Like a Virtuoso by Robert Vandré


    How choose your jaw harp

    The acoustic curiosity is not limited to a theoretical level. Robert Vandré developed his own technique on how he improves mouth harps that do not sound as well. “I love to play the jaw harps of Josef Jofen who unfortunately does not make any more as he retired. I also like to play on Schlütter’s and Szilágyi’s jaw harps as they both are very good. If one does not sound so well I take pincers and shorten the end of the tongue that one strikes with the fingers. The tone pitch isn’t right anymore, but I don’t care. These are my best jaw harps today.

    To find a good instrument is for beginners already very important. But how does one find a good beginner’s instrument? “If there is the opportunity at a jaw harp booth it is a definitely a good idea to try out a couple of them.”, Robert suggests. “It is important to choose an instrument with a soft tongue, so that the tongue of the instrument does not vibrate with too much energy at the teeth. The jaw harp still should have a good sound.” For Robert the secret of a well-sounding and well-playable jaw harp lies in the length of the bended part of the tongue. As described above, it should be short, so the counteracting vibration is not too strong. Then the instrument can produce a beautiful sound.


    To play with body control

    Like most jaw harp players, Robert is an autodidact, but eventually he has passed on his knowledge to others. To give beginners a better start he compiled his knowledge in a course that is also published as a book. Every now and then, Robert Vandré also conducts workshops for jaw harp beginners and advanced players.

    What keeps me going with the jaw harp is that the sound reaches the inside and it really gives pleasure. It’s just so nice to play. I also enjoy playing the jaw harp in body control, i.e. controlling my breath as Aron Szilágyi demonstrates in a beautiful manner. Controlled rhythms, controlled pieces, chorales, folk songs, so really playing music on the jaw harp and not only sounds. That is what I am interested in. I’d like to make some proper music with it. As I discovered the jaw harp for myself it was virtually non-present in public space as far as I remember. Merely the sound of the coil spring as a sound effect showed up here and there.

    Apart from that there was the jingle of the German kid’s programme “Sesamstraße”, but there the jaw harp plays only 2 tones in the rhythm. The jaw harp as a melodic instrument did not seem to be present at all. As far as I see it, there is almost no living jaw harp tradition in Germany, apart perhaps towards the Alpine area, around Molln in Austria. There, playing the jaw harp was completely re-invented. Here in Germany, the world music scene has brought the jaw harp back to life, more precisely the people dealing with spirituality, who gain access to the jaw harp via the feeling.

    In 2007 he has seen really good jaw harp players for the first time at the Ancient Trance Festival that back then was hosted in Leipzig, says Robert Vandré. “To watch the good players live was my motivation to keep on dealing with jaw harps.

    Robert Vandré playing "Abendspaziergang":


  • Where can I find good online workshops to learn to play the Jew's harp?

    Advanced Jew's harp players face the same problem as newcomers to the art. How can one learn various playing techniques if one does't have the opportunity of attending a workshop or access to a teacher? A possible alternative is to buy a classical Jew's harp training course with book and CD. Often it is a help when learning to play an instrument if the learner can watch and thus learn by watching. In this category we keep you up to date with useful online workshops and videos which demonstrate how to play the Jew's harp and explain how to do it.

    Jonathan Cope - Play the Jews Harp on Udemy

    Jonathan Cope on

    Jonathan Cope, the British multi instrumentalist has just released a Jew's harp course on line. Newcomers to the Jew's harp can find a thorough video guideline in English on the platform. Jonathan Cope is an author of a Jew's harp tutor, "How to play the Jews Harp - The comprehensive guide" (available at DAN MOI), and guarantees the quality of the course with a money back guarantee. In the 35 lessons, Cope introduces the instrument step by step. First of all, the basic skills concerning the Jew's harp and making music are established. Johnny Cope demonstrates how the teeth and lips Jew's harps are played, that is how one plays a classical Jew's harp such as a Khomus and how one plays a Dan Moi. He describes the physiological conditions by which sounds are formed and demonstrates various different playing techniques. In further steps, different rhythmic patterns and the use of the tongue when playing are explained. In the final stage of the workshop Cope demonstrates special effects which go beyond basic level skills and give a perspective of what a possible advanced level looks like. To participate in the course, one has to register at

    Franz Harrecker on YouTube

    Franz Harrecker demonstrates how to play a bamboo Jew's harp. Franz makes bamboo Jew's harps himself and shows some easy exercises to create a pure clear sound in a 10-minute German-language video. He explains how one can increase the volume of a Jew's harp, how one creates different pitch levels and in what way breathing can be effectively used.


    Aron Szilagyi - Doromb Tutorial

    Aron Szilagyi on

    A Jew's harp workshop in many lessons by Aron Szilagyi can be understood by all even if Aron explains some aspects in Hungarian. The Jew´s harp tutorials are primarily helpful because they demonstrate exactly which body movements Aron executes in order to achieve a particular sound on the Jew's harp. Aron plays the doromb, a hungarian Jew's harp. Besides the basics, one can learn how to play the tremolo and different intonation techniques from Aron. With a little bit of luck, one may also meet Aron Szilagyi face to face at one of his workshops. He receives invitations to meetings all over Europe as a Jew's harp trainer and musician.

    Hans Smeekes YouTube video showing how to play the Balinese Genggong performed by I Kekut Wirtawan

    Anyone wishing to play the pluck Jew's harp can find encouragement to play the Bali instrument, the genggong, on a video made by Dutchman, Hans Smeekes Smeekes met various genggong players on Bali and and asked them to present the instruments to him and to explain some playing techniques. One has to search for, and select, the relevant video sections.

    For anyone who prefers a printed course, the Jew's harp training courses by Wolf Janscha (in German only) and Robert Vandré are to be recommended. Clemens Voigt of DAN MOI contributed to Robert Vandrés current school.

    Furthermore, there is the possibility of attending a real workshop at one of the various meetings of Jew's harp players such as the Ancient Trance Festival in Taucha (Germany), the Norwegian Jew's harp festival in Gjövik or one can visit a Jew's harp teacher in Austria.

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