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Title: Pulsebeat--Samaja Vara Gamana; R. Raman, morsing. Label: Inreco. Format: CD. Catalogue#: IP-5013. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The morsing is a mouth-resonated heteroglot lamellaphone idiophone (jew’s harp) from South India. It is an instrument that is used in the high art music of the concert stage in South India and Sri Lanka. The morsing plays classical tāla (temporal cycles) along with the mridangam (a double-headed handdrum) and other South Indian drums and idiophones (such as the gatham). It is the only jew's harp afforded classical music status in the Carnatic music tradition of South India. Carnatic music, and thus possibly the morsing, is also played by ensembles in temples, at weddings, and other ritual occasions, and to accompany classical dance.


The steel tongue (lamella) is pressure fitted to the round end of a cotter pin-shaped steel frame. The broad, inactive part of the tongue lies outside of the frame, while the increasingly narrow and active part runs through the middle of the frame and between the two straight extensions of the frame. The final quarter of an inch of the tongue, which extends beyond the end of the parallel frame extensions, is bent upwards at 90° and capped with a tiny beeswax ball; this arrangement serves as a lever for flexing the tongue.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The simplicity of the morsing’s appearance belies the complexity of its acoustic mechanisms, for while it acts primarily as a lamellaphone it is also to some extent an aerophone. Morsing players usually sit cross-legged on the floor or stage in Carnatic music performance. The frame of the morsing is held in the left hand and pressed against a player's teeth facing outward, using his mouth cavity as a resonating chamber. The primary source of sound is actuated as the player flexes the tip of the lamella under tension from his right thumb, quickly releasing it to vibrate freely. This produces a fixed pitch, rich in overtones. The fundamental of the morsing pictured here is approximately F3. By changing the mouth cavity’s size and shape through a movement of the tongue and larynx, a player may sound different overtones of the fundamental pitch and affect timbre. Nothing comes in contact with the lamella once it is released to vibrate. If the musician exhales during sounding, the instrument also acts as a displacement free aerophone wherein the lamella is a sharp edge displacing air to alternate flanks. This amplifies the sound and changes the instrument's timbre. In an ensemble setting, players privilege the tonic pitch of the main artist’s instrument. They do this by selecting a morsing the pitch of which matches the tonic pitch of the soloist being accompanied. Musically the morsing functions as a surrogate drum, mimicking the timbral/pitch qualities and rhythmic complexities of Carnatic drumming. The modern role of the morsing is unchanged from what has been reported about earlier Carnatic music practices.


Judging by the wide geographic distribution of jew's harps, it is assumed they have existed for a long time. This instrument type can be said to be indigenous to most of the Eurasian landmass, as well as South and South-East Asia, Indonesia, Papua and Melanesia. In India, etymological evidence suggests that the morsing diffused southward into the Indian sub-continent from the northwest. The complexity of the instrument’s acoustic workings most likely explains why instruments such as these are not universal, even though widely dispersed. As noted by Sachs, India lies at the boundary between distributions of the West Asian metal heteroglot and East Asian idioglots, however in morphology and musical context the morsing reflects West Asian sensibilities. 

Bibliographic Citations

H, Nick., "The Morsing." Accessed May 18, 2012.

Reck, David B. 2000. "Musical Instruments: Southern Area." In Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.5: 350-369, ed. Alison Arnold. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.

Wright, John. "Jew's harp." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web.21 Dec. 2012.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: South Asia

Nation: India

Formation: Dravidian

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

121.221 idiophone--lamellaphone (or plucked idiophone; lamellae, i.e. elastic plaques, fixed at one end, are flexed and then released to return to their position of rest) in the form of a frame: single heteroglot guimbarde (trump, also known as jew's harp) that depends on the player's mouth cavity for resonance; a lamella is attached to a frame

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: tongue - heteroglot

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: mouth cavity

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: flexing - direct

Sound exciting agent: fingertip/s, fingernail/s, finger-mounted pick/s

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: changing shape of mouth cavity to amplify partials of the fundamental sound


4.75 in. length (lamella) 1.5 in. diameter (frame)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson