Jew's harp

Last update: December 5, 2023

During our investigations in Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, we could not find a player of bamboo Jew's harp whereas this instrument was common a few decades ago. In order to illustrate this emblematic instrument in the history of Cambodian music, we publish the research that we have carried out among the Êdê of Vietnam and the Oy of Laos. These two ethnic groups share the same general culture as the Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, namely the playing of gong ensembles and bamboo instruments.

The bamboo Jew's harp is probably one of the oldest instruments in Cambodia if we take into account its distribution area which goes from the confines of Southeast Asia to the Pacific.

The gôč is the bamboo Jew's harp of the Edê, an ethnic group established on the highlands of central Vietnam. The vibrating tongue is surmounted by a small wax charge in order to modify its speed of vibration, thus the pitch of the note. It is used to "sing covered words". Grasped with the left hand, it is placed in front of the mouth while the right hand vibrates the movable tongue. The musician varies the volume of the mouth cavity in order to simulate the words of the song. This confidential narration is perfectly suited to the love court and young men do not fail to use it to court young girls. Songs of a bucolic nature are also performed. It was also played in the past when the roof ridge was completed during the construction of a house, in order to address the spirits.


This video offers all the details of the making of a bamboo Jew's harp (also known as mouth harp). The material is carved from large bamboo growing in clumps, the thickness of the walls of the culms is about 1 to 3 cm or more depending on its age. We note the use of a limited number of tools: a traditional Khmer knife with a long handle (kambet bantoh - កាំបិតបន្ទោះ) held under the armpit, two chisel of different sizes and a knocker, in this case an axe whose head Mr Krak Chi uses as a hammer. The fibrous structure of the bamboo is also noteworthy, allowing for this precision work to be done to a thickness of fiber.