Also:       kulaing      

Title: Utom: Summoning the Spirit--Lute; Arturo Bulang, mouth harp. Format: CD. Label: Smithsonian Folkways Archive. Catalogue #: HRT 15017. Track: 17.

Contextual Associations

The kubing is a mouth-resonated idioglot lamellaphone idiophone (jew’s harp) of the Philippines. This instrument is from the Southern Philippines where it is used in Muslim communities on the island of Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago. Some of the Mindanao groups who use it are the Maguindanao, the Maranao, and the Yakan. Its primary use is as an instrument of courtship and recreation by boys and girls. The instrument masks the poetry being mouthed by the player. Santos and Cabalza (1998) mention that one contemporary Filipino band of the 1980's incorporated the kubing, along with other traditional instruments, into their commercial folk-ballad style. The kubing pictured here includes some light, non-figural relief carving on its handle, appropriate for an instrument used in Muslim communities. For another example of a Southeast Asian bamboo idioglot jew’s harp see the entry for the northeast Thailand hun; metal heteroglot jew’s harps are described in the jew’s harp and morsing entries.


In contradistinction to the metal jew's harps in the collection, this one is an idioglot instrument--the tongue (lamella) is incised out of the piece of bamboo that constitutes the frame of the instrument. The 4.5 in. long incised tongue has two sections: a wider one, 2.8 in. long, that is connected to the frame; and a narrower one, 1.7 in. long, that is the actual vibrating component of the instrument. It is this latter section that is positioned in front of the player's mouth. The frame around much of the wider section of the tongue is thinly shaven and therefore somewhat flexible, so part of the action of setting the tongue into vibration involves a flexing of the frame when the player plucks the delicately sculpted finial at the right end of the instrument.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The simplicity of the kubing’s appearance belies the complexity of its acoustic mechanisms, for while it acts primarily as a lamellaphone is also to some extent an aerophone. The frame of the kubing is held in the left hand and pressed against a player's lips facing outward, using his mouth cavity as a resonating chamber. The primary source of sound is actuated as the player flexes and releases the tip of the frame with his or her right thumb or index finger. This produces a fixed pitch, rich in overtones. The fundamental of the kubing pictured here is approximately E-flat3. By changing the mouth cavity’s size and shape through 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, this amplifies the sound and changes the instrument's timbre. Spoken words and phrases can be simulated with this instrument.


No Philippines-specific information on the origins of this or other Filipino jew's harps was found. Mouth-resonated idioglot jew's harps on which the tongue/lamella is incised into the material (usually bamboo or wood, also bone or metal) that constitutes its stiff but elastic frame are found widely distributed throughout North, East and Southeast Asia and Oceania and go by several hundred local names (see “Nomenclature”). The vast majority of these Asian/Oceanic jew’s harps differ from their European heteroglot counterparts in that their frames, rather than their lamellae, are plucked, and the tips of their lamellae are inward facing (towards the handle end of the frame) rather than outward pointing (away from the handle end of their frames). It is impossible to state when and where the idioglot jew’s harp came into existence, and in all likelihood it had multiple points of origin throughout its vast region of distribution. Because of the perishable nature of the materials from which most idioglot jew’s harps are made, they seldom last long and are not found at archeological sites. It is known that, starting in the 18th century, European metal heteroglot jew’s harps were introduced to the bamboo idioglot jew’s harp region by Europeans as items of trade. As a consequence of this introduction, traditionally made idioglot jew’s harps have come to be replaced in many parts of Asia and Oceania by their European counterpart. 

Bibliographic Citations

Maceda, José. 1984. "Kubing." NGDMI v.2: 476-477.

Missin, Pat. Guimbardes, accessed online 8/6/2015: http://www.patmissin.com/history/guimbardes.html

“Nomenclature.” Foundation Anthropodium website, accessed online 8/6/2015: http://www.antropodium.nl/Duizend%20Namen%20Mhp%20NOMENCLATUUR.htm

Santos, Ramon. 1998. "Islamic Communities of the Southern Philippines." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 4. Southeast Asia. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 889-912.

________, with Arnold Cabalza. 1998. "Popular Music in the Philippines." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 4. Southeast Asia. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 883-888.

Wright, John, and Mervyn McLean. 1984. "Jew’s [jaw’s] harp [trump]." NGDMI v.2: 326-328.

Wright, John. "Jew’s [jaw’s] harp [gewgaw, gumbard, jew’s trump, trump]." In Groves Music Online, accessed 8/6/2015:

Wright, Michael. “Search for the Origins of the Jew’s Harp.” The Silkroad Foundation Newsletter, accessed online 8/6/2015: http://www.silkroadfoundation.org/newsletter/vol2num2/Harp.htm


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Philippines

Formation: Maguindanao

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

121.21 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: idioglot guimbarde (trump, also known as jew's harps) that depends on the player's mouth cavity for resonance; the lamella is carved in the frame itself, its base remaining joined to the frame

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: plucking

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

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


11.6 in. length 4.5 in. length of lamella 1 in. width of handle

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter