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?

  • Isn’t mouth cavity a contributing factor in sound (and pitch) for just about any wind instrument? Oct 11, 2021 at 6:07

3 Answers 3


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.


  • 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, 2018 at 20:39
  • 2
    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. Jan 21, 2018 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. Jan 21, 2018 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. Jan 21, 2018 at 13:33

The general term seems to be "mouth resonator instruments", but this is an informal rather than a taxonomic term. In addition to the Jew's harp and nose whistle, there are various mouth-resonated string bows (Britannica: Mouth Bow; SoundsOfAngkor: Mouth Resonator Fiddle))

It should be mentioned that the oral cavity is not the primary resonator for the Jew's harp. The Jew's harp is an idiophone, meaning that the entire instrument resonates and is the primary producer of the sound. Although the mouth amplifies and modifies the sound, it's the instrument itself that produces it.

The jew’s harp is one of several idiophones (instruments whose sounding parts are resonant solids) vibrated by plucking rather than by percussion. (SOURCE: Britannica.com)

idiophone: an instrument the whole of which vibrates to produce a sound when struck, shaken, or scraped, such as a bell, gong, or rattle. (SOURCE: Oxford Languages via Google Search)

More specifically, it's a lamellophone, a subset of idiophones.

A [lamellophone] may have a single tongue (such as a Jew’s harp).... (SOURCE: Wikipedia)

This makes the Jew's harp distinct from the nose whistle (and nose flute), which is an aerophone, in which vibrating air is the primary means of sound production.


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:

  • Link is dead. Was it Don Robertson's "The Happy Whistler"?
    – Aaron
    Oct 10, 2021 at 5:54

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