Both the nose flute and the Jew's harp use the mouth as a resonant cavity to adjust pitch, but neither uses the voice as a source of power. Is there a generic term for such instruments?

In taxonomies of musical instruments I'm familiar with they would be on very different branches, but it would make sense to be able to refer to them together. Also, are there any others?


Seems to me the jaw harp and the nose whistle (also called the "nose flute", but that can be confused with an entirely different instrument that is only ever called the "nose flute") would both be considered free reed or free aerophone (thanks Richard) instruments in Hornbostel–Sachs system. That would make them a type of aerophone where the resonating air is not contained inside the instrument. This also includes the bullroarer and the harmonica (which uses the mouth and lungs like the jaw harp).

If you're wondering where the reed is for the nose whistle, it's an air reed, like the western style flute has.


| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Beat me to it. According to my Harvard Dictionary of Music, "there are free aerophones, in which the vibrating air is not confined to a column (e.g., the accordion, the bull-roarer, mouth organ, harmonium) or in which the column serves merely as a resonator (e.g., the sheng)." – Richard Jan 20 '18 at 20:39
  • 1
    But the jew's harp is not a free reed aerophone in Hornbostel–Sachs as the reed is not driven by the flow of air, but the other way round. It's usually classed as a plucked idiophone and/or lamellophone. – Bob says reinstate Monica Jan 21 '18 at 11:42
  • As for whether the nose whistle (that is a better term for it!) is a free aerophone or not, it depends on your precise definition of "free". @Richard's definition from Harvard doesn't seem to me to include the nose whistle. In the nose whistle the air column is not free, but neither is it within the instrument, as it is constrained inside the body of the performer. – Bob says reinstate Monica Jan 21 '18 at 11:55
  • @Bob Good point on the jaw harp. Regarding the nose whistle, in the classification system, “free” mean “not in the body of the instrument”. So a harmonica is considered free reed because the resonating air is inside the body of the performer. It’s doesnt have to be free in the open air like the bull roarer. – Todd Wilcox Jan 21 '18 at 13:33

Interesting question. Not sure what the technical term is.


Are there any others?

Certainly: The lips, cheeks and mouth when used for whistling.

This was a big hit in... 1956:

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.