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A morsing is an instrument similar to the Jew’s harp, mainly used in Rajasthan, in the Carnatic music of South India, and in Sindh, Pakistan. It can be categorized under lamellophones, which is in the category of plucked idiophones. It consists of a metal ring in the shape of a horseshoe with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. The metal tongue is bent at the free end in a plane perpendicular to the circular ring so that it can be struck and is made to vibrate. This bent part is called the trigger.
Morsing (Jaw Harp)
An instrument with a history of 1500 years, its exact origin in India is not well documented. In the tradition of the Indian gurukul system of teaching, thus folk tales are a secondary source of its history. In India, it is found mainly in South India, Rajasthan, and also in some parts of Assam. It is also sometimes used while playing Rabindrasangeet in Bengal and in Assamese folk songs. In South India, it features Carnatic concerts and percussion ensembles. It is said to be the precursor to subsequent instruments such as the harmonica and the harmonium.
In Rajasthan, it is called morchang and is used as a percussion instrument in lok geet (folk music). It was often used in Hindi cinema by music directors like R.D. Burman and S.D.Burman, and has resurfaced in the twentieth century, with street performers like Varun Zinje playing it in a renewed style.
The morsing is placed on the front teeth, with slightly pouted lips, and held firmly in the hand. It is struck using the index finger of the other hand to produce sound. Movement of the player’s tongue while making nasal sounds is used to change the pitch. This can be achieved when the syllable ‘Nga’ or a variant thereof, is sounded through the nose while air is pushed out or pulled in through the mouth. This aids the meditation process and thus some players use it as a form of practicing pranayama. Others speak into the instruments while playing, thus giving it the effect of a light haunting echo.
The morsing is firmly held in the hand, the frame, or the ring between the palm and the fingers usually in the left hand. Care should be taken to see that the middle part of the metal tongue is not being touched when held idle. Then the upper of the two parallel forks is firmly pressed against the front upper teeth; the lower fork, against the front lower teeth with the lips helping to keep the contact so that the metal tongue will not contact the teeth when it moves. The trigger is plucked with the tip of the index finger. Sound is produced due to the vibration of the metal tongue that is transferred through the teeth and sounds in the mouth and nasal cavity. The movement of the player’s tongue with constant plucking can produce very fast patterns of sound. By constricting the space in the mouth the nostrils can produce sounds in different phases, similar to phasers in electronic music.
While traditionally made of iron, variants can be made from brass, wood, bone, and even plastic and credit cards.
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