From Academic Kids

see also ney (disambiguation)

The ney (also nai, nye, nay) is an end-blown flute that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music--in some of these musical traditions, it is the only wind instrument used. It is a very ancient instrument, with depictions of ney players appearing in wall paintings in the Egyptian pyramids and actual neys being found in the excavations at Ur. This indicates that the ney has been played continuously for 4,500-5,000 year, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use. It is a forerunner of the modern flute.

The ney consists of a piece of hollow cane or reed (ney is an old Persian word for reed) with five or six finger holes. More modern neys may be made of metal. Pitch differs, depending on the region and the finger arrangement. A highly skilled ney player can reach as many as three octaves, though it is more common to have several ney players in a traditional orchestra to cover different ranges.

The ney is the simplest instrument one can get. In Persian, 'ney' means actually reed, and in the Arab world, the nay is sometimes called qassaba, which also means piece of reed. The oldest form, shown on Egyptian tomb paintings dates from 3000-2500 years BC. Since then, it has been the favorite instrument of the Sufis due to the deep character of its sound.

The different neys

Neys are keyed instruments. In the Arabic system, there are 7 neys. The first is the Kerdene or labeled in the key of C (the longest) meaning that the second note from the lower register is a C (the first being a Bb). The second is the Doga in D. The third is the Boussalik in E. The fourth is the Jaharka for F. The fifth is the Nawa for G; the sixth is Husseini for A, and the seventh is the Ajam for B. In the Arab world, the nay is traditionally used in pastoral areas, showing a preference for smaller nays with higher pitches. In general, the pitch moves down in scholastic and religious environment. Certain areas in the Arab world where Sufism, or musical schools exist, one would find lower registers studied and played. The Turks use even longer neys reflecting a preference for graver sounds, an imprint of the Sufi setting in which the nay was studied.


The Arabic and Turkish ney has 7 holes (6 for the Iranian), one of which is on the back and usually closed with the thumb. Each hole has practically a one tone capacity of interval so that for example, if you play a D you can easily go to D# with the only movement of your lips and the strength of the air, and you can even go to E (depending on each hole) if you move the instrument and blow even stronger. The thumb hole has 4 notes usually used, if using the Doga nay then these notes would be A, Bb, B3/4, and B.

Playing Technique

The Arabic and the Turkish way is the same, it involves putting the mouth on the extremity of the flute and blowing in a somewhat oblique direction to the tube of the flute. The air bounces on one inner side of the flute and produces the expected sound. The Iran incorporated another method: they adopted the Turkoman inter-dental blowing system in the late 1700s. The modern Persian ney has an altered fingering pattern and is also of a different # of nodes, has a different embouchure, has only 5 fingerholes and a lower-placed thumbhole than the Arab-Turkish types. The musician puts the end of the ney between his teeth and the upper jaw and directs the air with his tongue. This method produces a quite different texture in sound. Whatever the method, it takes a while (some say a lifetime), to perfect one’s sound. Getting the right sound, knowing how to master pure air sounds, small variations in pitches, etc. can certainly take a while. The Iranian blowing method can certainly be used with Arabic (or Turkish) neys. This increases the different possibilities of sound textures.


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