Konia, Turkey, circa 1900

 

The Turkish Ney F.A.Q.

 

Hi, I have put together several email correspondences I've had over the years.... If you have any QUESTION OR ANSWER about the subject, please email it to me, and I'll do my best to put it here, for the benefit of all Neyzen everywhere.

(updates and new entries are coloured in light green)

 

 

What type of ney might I begin with?

If you are a beginner, the longer the ney is, the increasingly difficult to play it will get. And for all that matters, if you're a beginner, it will be difficult, in general, to play it at all!

What a challenge.

Usually people like the profound deep sounds of the lower register, but the fact is that in the lower register, it is difficult to extract a sound which has a discreet volume. And the longer the ney is, the more difficult is to have a sound at all.

So... in brief, the shortest, the better, for beginning study.

But again, people like its deep sounds..... Usually the longest ney advisable for starting is a Kiz Ney, which is about 72cm long, and which has A (La) as it root note. Or shorter.... Bolahenk Nisfyie Ney (high D (Re) --ab.52cm) ......Supurde Ney (C (Do) -- ab. 56 cm) .... The Mansur and Shah Neys (in G and F) are for more expert players, being longer.

Add-on (Jan 2008):

Ayhan Uretmen wrote another welcome opinion:

"For a beginner in ney-playing it should not be adviced to begin with a kiz-ney or even smaller ney just because its easier to produce a sound. The old-school teachers of ney, and even most of the teaching people following the advices of the great masters of ney-playing, would advice to take the biggest possible size (only if its not a physical problem of holding the ney, for example), since it's a good basis to learn how to breath into the ney to produce deep tones. After succeeding to get the deep tones it's a lot easier to play smaller neys."

 

 

How can I learn to play the ney?

Any starting tips on how to get it to make a sound?

Ah.......it would be much easier to explain how to drive a car by email!

One thing is certain: you have to use Deep Breath technique if you want to extract a good full sound out of it. You know, have you ever done some yoga? Then, you will recall all the best yoga/pranayama lessons you ever had....... and precisely recall how to take a deep deep inbreath----- then release the air little by little, holding the amount of pressure with your diaphram muscle. Singing lessons can also help.

In order to produce a sound, well, you blow ubiquously, .... don't bother about the holes, assume the posture of the lips as in a kiss or as whistling; put the mouthpiece in contact with a side of the lips -- right or left-- as you feel more comfortable; (later, you will have the left hand up if you hold the ney towards the right, with the mouthpiece supported by the right side of the mouth. This is just like the transverse flute. Or you can play just the opposite way, right hand up, ney toward the left, mouthpiece supported by left side of mouth).

Put the mouthpiece (Turkish: "bashpare") on both lips, by one side of your kissing lips (you choose which one side); the reed goes 45 degrees oblique on one side of your body. Blow towards the other side of the mouthpiece, the edge that does not touch your lips.

 

See the pictures at http://www.bardoworks.it/neyzen.html--- it is a bit outdated.... much better, take a look at the pictures here:

 

http://www.neyzen.com/ney_metodu.htm

and the entire method following...

 

The column must hit the edge just in the middle, as 50% of air will go in and the other 50% out.

Tech info: the column of air breaks exactly in 2, while hitting the edge of the bashpare, as it does in all flutes. Every flute must have an edge. 50% goes in, other 50% goes out.

Looooong outbreath, without much forcing, while you move the ney towards every possible angle until it makes..... a sound, a noise, a whistle.... anything will tell you how far you are from the right position.

The mouth's posture is very similar to a kiss posture. A very soft kiss, and the air comes out of the small hole formed by the lips.

This is a desperate attempt to help you, knowing that nothing can substitute a good live demonstration. :)

There is no better way than to see somebody actually playing it!

 

Add-on (Jan 2008):

Well.... nowadays, with U-Tube and all those videos....... it's easy to actually SEE and HEAR someone playing; even great neyzen such as... well well, go into U-Tube and type: "ney" or "neyzen"!

 

 

What if I don't obtain any sound?

It is normal that you try for several weeks before getting the first real sound.

Somebody don't EVER get any ;-)

good luck!

 

ABOUT BASPARE

Add-on (May 2008):

D: Greetings, Is there a sound difference between horn and wood baspare? Which is easier to get a sound from? Thanks

R: In my opinion, the shape of the baspare is more important than the material. Nowadays, the standard shape seems to be like this:

 

. I actually use the derlin/hard plastic (that is: bakelite) baspares imported from Turkey. But I mostly use the hard wood (olive tree, beech, cherry tree) baspares made by myself.

I don't notice any REMARKABLE difference in sound among the three kinds --- derlin, wood, horn ---.

Thus, given the same shape, they sound more or less the same; and I think the difficulty of producing sounds is more or less the same.

It could be a question of durability as well. But I find the three materials to be equally hard and resistant. The horn baspare may be the easiest to break, if a trauma occurs.

From an aesthetic angle, the difference is between a classical black baspare (derlin and horn) and the veining color of the kind of wood (brown, light brown, reddish...).

In the end, there's no easy way to get the sound ;-) I can fit out my neys with wood or derlin baspare (price remains the same) or BOTH, for a small additional fee. Thanks for asking.

 

I can play the Shakuhaci. Does this help?

I can only tell you that you have to blow through the upper edge like in shakuhaci except that there is no V shape and the impact point on the edge of the mouthpiece is not central but it must be either by the right or the left side, and your mouth's shape will look more like a kiss posture.

 

I don't know about Deep Breathing, how is it done?

Deep belly breathing.... Freely inhale from the belly; SLOWLY exhale little by little, controlling FROM the belly muscles that the air doesn't go out too fast; i.e., when you're full of air, if you RELAX your belly muscles all at once, the air will take half second to go completely out. You want to do the opposite, that is, let it go out in not less than half minute. In order to do so, you have to keep the belly muscles TENSE, and only release tension little by little, while the air slowly goes out.

Don't do this with the ney yet; just do it without for a while.

 

Do you suggest any note (and relative finger position)for beginners?

Yes, I suggest the following fingers' position while trying to extract a sound:

close the back hole with the thumb, the second and the fifth front holes with your medium fingers (the so called fork position).

 

Do I play the ney by holding it on the left or right of my body?

You can learn to play from either one or the other of the 2 (left and right) sides. Even both, but no point wasting your time on that. But once in a while it can be interesting to blow from the "other"side, just to see how your body, lips, muscles etc. are taking up an habit, while the other side doesn't.

 

Any tips on care and maintenance of the instrument?

The reed tends to get more or less dried, depending on the atmosphere and humidity levels. It must be oiled outside and inside, 2-3 times a year, on season's changes. Then you'll wait for 2-3 days for it to absorb the oil. Find a vegetable oil which is clear and less smelly as possible. Wheat germ, almond, ..... olive oil is still too smelly. Give it abundantly everywhere, also on wooden mouthpiece, and let it absorb... You'll find that after the treatment the reed tends to become more flexible, it vibrates better.

 

 

Am I right in thinking that the placement of the tongue is essential?

I would not say so. The tongue is useful in staccato playing, but it is not essential to sound production as it is, for instance, the intake of deep breath and its controlled release.

Another good tip is: hold your throat open, as in the yawning posture. Don't try to control the volume by closing your throat, keep it open; control it from abdominal tension of the diaphram, which is, the less you keep it tense, the more quickly the air goes out; you control the slow release of the air from your lungs by keeping the tension of the diaphram (less pressure on the lungs).

 

 

How many notes (scala, octave) can you play with ney?

About 2 and a half octaves.

Do you know anyone who teaches the Ney in the Chicago or Phoenix area?

Nope. Er.... Chicago... or Phoenix? Aren't they very much apart? Anyway, I don't know anybody who plays ney in Arizona. In Chicago as well.....

You could make an internet search about..... "sufi/Turkish music groups" in your area, hoping to find a neyzen (ney player).

 

Or could you recommend a book?

The only one I know is in Turkish, the Suleyman Erguner's "NEY METOD".

Although it is in Turkish, there is a useful Fingering Chart, and several exercises and tunes in different maqams, written in Western notation.

There is another method now, by Neyzen Ahmed Kaya, also in Turkish. Useful charts and written music.

 

How can I make my volume of playing louder ? Specially when playing lower notes. Seems I have to play more gently to get them and thus get less volume.

Right.

 

How could I get a sound so rich as the one I heard with professional Neyzen (Kudsi or Suleyman Erguner, or Yansimalar's neyzen...) Is it because I'm not using "professional" quality neys ? or is it because I'm not blowing the way I should ? The tone I got is nice, really, nothing to do with a standard flute tone, but it's not as rich as the one I hear usually on CDs.

The sound you hear on CDs is the result of quality recording, amplification, reverb effects, etc. It is true that those people must be well skilled musicians, but I would say that it is more a matter of experience. Your sound on the ney does build up over the years.

I've been playing the ney for over 20 years, and (almost) no matter the quality of instrument, I could only increase the low register's volume little tiny bits at a time, in many years. But I can sound almost like those "names" if I'm playing into a microphone with effects!

Many factors concur to a better or different sound. I find deep breathing to be the most important.

 

 

What strikes me most about the ney is the gentleness of its intonation...how the slightest change in my breath or lips or posture changes (or ends!) the note.

Correct. The elasticity of lips and surrounding oral muscles must be mastered with practice and exercise. Whenever you have the chance to "make faces" without danger to offend anyone, or make others think you're nuts, stretch the mouth in all possible ways.... then relax the face, let it go limp.

You want to achieve mastery on blowing inside from all possible angles, with any possible distances (from min. to max.) from the lips to the opposite edge of the bashpare.

Also between one breath and the next, take the chance (in the milliseconds you're taking the inbreath) to relax the face as much as possible. This helps a little bit, when your muscles are tired to hold the playing posture.

"Regarding the low register - I find that fatigue sets in, and I have to back off and let my embouchure relax to play it right. The long pauses between phrases in some of this music gives one a chance to relax the embouchure. These pauses also serve to contrast silence (empty space) with notes, something you don't hear much in western music any more. But it is so dramatic" (S.B.)

 

 

I am also learning what it means to play an instrument not for pleasure but as a spiritual exercise. Still, it is tricky! I assume you have discovered a way to play it....

The first and perhaps last goal you want to achieve is to play just one note with full control over it, from beginning to end. One full note is ALL there is ;) As they say in Zen archery: "one shot, one life". We (neyzen) can say: "one breath, one life".

 

 

 

The volume for my first register is not VERY low. It is, of course, much lower than the second and third registers, but is not that much lower than a normal traverse flute. My doubt was that the sound itself (which I described as "round") is somewhat similar to a flute, while the ney recordings I have heard are much more nasal. That is why I asked if the round sound was correct or completely off track. Maybe the difference is in the tensing (or untensing) of the lower lip? The loudest (and roundest) sound I achieve by putting the lips tense (as in whistling). Maybe I should try loosening them, altough I cannot produce a sound this way, only "wind with a pitch", as my brother says.

I have learned that in order to produce notes, the lower you go, the more un-tense/loosened embochure (soft lips) you have to make. You push the lips out, like exposing the inner part of the lips to the air, and try to keep the lips themselves soft. The higher you go, the more tense lips you keep. Like in the transverse flute. And like the transverse flute, the more higher you go, the more close to the embochure edge you go with the hole formed by your lips.

And yes, the "wind with a pitch" is always present. But in my playing it is more evident in the 2nd and 3rd registers, while in the lower register I get less volume, but a more clean tone, almost free of wind noise. If I force (push more air from the diaphram) to obtain more volume, the wind effect increases. This is somehow charming anyway; to push the volume of the 1st register on the edge of shifting into the 2nd register, getting all those resonances and harmonics, wind and noises you get just before falling into the 2nd register.

And, it is very helpful to make every kind of experiments, playing with voice/humming/singing, doing staccato, using the instrument as a noise producer, playing it like a didjeridoo.... and there is also that Persian technique, which is called 'inter-dental' technique.

My first ney teacher was Rafael Garrett, a bass and clarinet player with J. Coltrane, and the co-founder of the AACM of Chicago (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians); and the teaching was:

"go beyond the instrument, use it as a tool for voyaging into the unknown, into the still undone...." also formulated as: "Play shit man"

(the more shit you play and actualize, the more beauty will be revealed from underneath).

 

 

 

Any advice on maintenance and care?

I usually give almond oil throughgly in and out of it. Out is easy. For oiling thoroughly the inner part, you could buy a brush in a weapon's shop, those they use for oiling a rifle's barrel. I recommend to choose one of the right lenght, so that it doesn't reach the narrow hole inside and you don't risk to break it. But if you introduce the brush slowly and carefully, a longer brush will slip through the narrow hole without damages.

You can choose a different oil as well. The only suggestions are that it is transparent or less coloured as possible, that it is vegetable, and that it smell as less as possible, although you might like the smell of a particular oil.

Olive oil tends to smell too much in the long run;

Hemp oil is good and clear enough but it has a smell; I suspect the brand I have has been added with some sweet aroma, but it is agreable to my nose. I have started using hemp oil only for the bashpare (mouthpiece) because I subjectiely like this light sweet aroma.

Wheat germ, sesame seed and sunflower seed oils are also suitable.

Oil gives flexibility to the reed and makes a better sound in the long run; you might give oil regularly maybe 4 times a year upon season's change.

 

Any other suggestion?

Every time you start playing, it is good to give it water "to drink". To start playing a wet ney saves you a good 15-30 minutes of making it warm and wet by blowing your own breath in it.

Just put the upper end of the ney under the faucet, and don't forget to turn it on (:b

 

 

 

In some instructions on ney playing, one is advised to play the mouthpiece between your front teeth. I am guessing this is not the case with the Turkish ney, as it seems to play best when I set it on my lips, on the right side.

Correct, this is not the case, even though you can also learn to play that way, which is called the Persian way. But it is a difficult technique as much as is the Turkish "lips" technique. No point in trying that one at this point. They are different instruments altogether to play: no bashpare (the mouthpiece you have) but a metal cylinder as "top mouthpiece".

 

 

 

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