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    Why do they call a blues harmonica a blues harp?

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    In many parts of the American South, the harmonica was popularly called mouth harpFrench harp or just plain harp, a term now used by blues harmonica players the world over. The term is partly inspired by the Aeolian harp, a stringed instrument that is left outdoors to be played by the wind, whose name was taken from Aeolus, the god of the wind. Early names for the harmonica were AeolinaAeolian and Mund-Aeoline, which stressed this link with the Aeolian harp. As the earliest harmonica-like instruments were little more than a few reeds attached to a reedplate that was held to the players lips, the resemblance to a harp was quite pronounced. The introduction to Instructions for the Æolina, or Mund-Harmonica, published in New York in 1830 proudly boasts:



    THE ÆOLINA from the originality of its construction and the beauty of its effects, is a decided novelty in the musical art; the expressive sweetness of its tones, the richness of the harmonies it renders, and the contrasts of its exulting swells and dying cadences, realize the poetical descriptions of the harp of Æolus and greatly surpass its practical results; while the regularity of its scale gives it advantages of the most important kind, which that instrument does not possess. From the close resemblance of its tones to those of this harp of the winds and from the analogous circumstances under which the sound is produced in both instances, the name of the Æolina has been derived.



    The word harp has been used to describe many instruments other than the stringed harp, including the Jew's Harp (also called Jaw Harp or Mouth Harp and often known in some parts of Germany by the name Mundharmonika) and the Aeols Harfe. This latter instrument was also known as Windharmonika or Aeolsharmonika and was a funnel-shaped device which was mounted on tops of houses in 19th century Germany, directed the wind though a set of free reeds tuned to produce a chord. Here is an illustration of one from a 1914 catalog of the Koch harmonica company:


     


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