What sounds can be produced by the jew's harp and is there any possibility to play melodies by it? How are they correlate with the tone rows accepted in modern music? These questions arise at every jew's harp player's mind sooner or later. Let's study it more detailed.
The jew's harp sound is produced thanks to vibration of its reed towards the frame. Vibrations of all the reed length produce the fundamental tone of the jew's harp. It is the lowest sound which can be produced by it. This sound can be heard only on the instrument not pressed to teeth. However the reed vibrates not only entirely, all its parts vibrate: a half of it, one third, one fourth, one fifth, and so on. Each of these parts produces a sound of its own certain frequency. All together they sound like a polyphonic accord. These extra higher sounds are called overtones (originated from the German word Oberton what means a "treble tone"). They are noted by numerals, telling what reed parts vibrate: 1- the basic tone, 2- 1/2 of the reed sounds, 3-1/3 of the reed sounds, etc. While playing the jew's harp we place it to our opened mouth. Changing the oral cavity of our mouth we can choose the position where air resonance appears on one of the overtones. Thus its sounding increases. It becomes loud, it is heard very well. Other overtones are revealed also by this way. We can play melodies by a jew's harp using the sound of overtones different pitch level.
Overtones create a tone row called a "natural" one. It was first described by an ancient scientist Pythagoras, while his experiments on a monochord. It is an instrument with one string. Let's imagine that the basic tone of the jew's harp corresponds to the note С of the second octave. It means that the sound vibrates with frequency 65.41Hz. The second overtone causes increase of vibration frequency twofold 2*65.41=130,82 Hz. It corresponds to the note С of the third octave absolutely. The pitch level of the third one is measured the same way: 3*65.41=196,23 Hz. This sound is very close to G of the third octave. Continuing this way we can reveal the pitch level of all overtones and level of their deviation from the accepted tempering tone row. If to play the jew's harp all overtones beginning from the eighth one, we get a scale very close to a major scale used in modern music. Deviation from a major scale which is played for example on the piano are shown in the table. C-magor scale is taken for instance.
As we can see some stages of the overtone row differ by their pitch from the tempering one a lot. It can bother to use the jew's harp in a full measure as a melodic instrument together with instruments which have a fixed row. However melodies played solo or together with other overtone instruments should be listened to harmonically. Also you can play the melody with the use of several jew's harps patterned to different tones of jew's harps using them one for another. Computer measured overtones of temir-komuz by Bolotbek Batirkanov can be seen on the picture. In the table you can find deviations real overtones from theoretical. Theoretical overtone table used from site 
||degrees of major scale
||Theoretical deviation from major scale %
||real deviation from major scale %
The list of references.:
1 Robert Vandre "Scale of the Jew's Harp: The Natural Harmonic Row"
2 Шевцова Т. А. Два лада, три строя или теория и практика интонирования при игре на инструментах с частично фиксированным строем
© Vladimir Markov 2009, this article translated by Natalia Ivanitsa