One of the oldest forms of flute is
the ney, the endblown flute played in slightly varying forms from
Morocco to Pakistan. The word is Farsi for reed, and indeed the nay is
made in its traditional form from the Arundo Donax plant. The differing
internodal pattern of the Arundo Donax is used in a specific fashion to
make ney. Some modern makers have experimented with some success with
replacing the reed by a metal pipe or a PVC pipe; however good-sounding,
though, the finest sound comes from a well made natural cane ney.The name
"ney" is used by Turks and Persians; many Arabs pronounce the word as
Nai; thus we can distinguish between the Turkish, Arab and Persian forms
of the instruments.
The oldest form,
shown on Egyptian tomb paintings as early as 3000-2500 years BC, is
of a nine-segment section of reed, the first node at the wider
mouthpiece end opened with a part of the node left making a small hole,
and the other nodes fully opened, with an outside bevel around the embouchure.
Six fingerhholes plus a thumbhole make for fully chromatic and quarter-tone
Around 1200AD the
Turks began using turned wood, bone, horn and now even plastic mouthpieces,
really lip-rests, but otherwise kept the same fingering and lip technique.
This embouchure is called bi-labial blowing, as both upper and
lower lip are used to partially close the end of the tube; this is not
the same as blowing a shakuhachi, quena, flute, or even a bottle, but
a unique method of its own. Both
Arab nai and Turkish ney are played with the pads of the fingers,
not the tips, rather like a bagpiper's grip. They also come in different
lengths, each one being tuned to a specific pitch, so that like a pennywhistle,
if you know a melody in one key, switching to the appropriate ney or
nai will then let you play the same melody but transposed to another
The Arabic ney/nai are
pitched by the name of the note made with the 1st fingerhole open.
Turkish neys are marked by the name of the note with all holes closed.
Thus, with Turkish neys, we have, for instance, Mansur Ney, which
is in G and which has G as its bottom note.
In Arabic fashion, we would call it an A ney. The Arabic standard
(Rast=C) nai is one at D. This means that all the holes closed render
a C; the 1st hole open, D, then respectively Eb, E1/2b, F, F#, G. This
is for the lowest octave and for the 1st register, differing by an octave;
the 2nd register overblows a fifth higher, the same sequence
of holes rendering the notes A, Bb, B 1/2b, C, C#, D; the 3rd register
plays an octave above the 1st register, C, D, etc. Other notes
are made by partially opening a tonehole, changing the blowing angle
or a combination of the above. Also note that the G note in the 1st
register is the same pitch as the all-holes-closed note in the 2nd,
as is the C in the 2nd reg. and the closed C of the 3rd (Arabic ney);
these alternate fingerings are used for musical purposes and to check
internal tuning (in Turkish "akord").
Arabic style of playing
is generally more rhythmic, and reflective of the shepherd association,
as the nai is commonly a pastoral instrument. The classical nai is usually
longer, the folk models shorter.
style is more smooth and flowing, betraying the Dervish association.
In Turkey, the Mevlevi (Whirling Dervishes) long ago adopted the ney
as their main instrument in the sema, the spiritual
service that includes the trance dancing spinning.
The pastoral association
is weaker in Turkey, the ney being a learned, urban Classical instrument;
various types of kaval, smaller flutes of end and fipple blown types
fill in the folk world.
the Turkoman inter-dental blowing method and altered the fingering
pattern in the late 1700's, corresponding to a change in their musical
style, and thus the modern Persian ney is of a different # of nodes,
has a different embouchure, and has only 5 fingerholes and a lower-placed
thumbhole than the Arab-Turkish types. The interdental blowing method
is also very difficult to learn but gives a much louder, reedier tone
color ; in the lower range where the Arab/Turk flute is at its softest,
the Persian ney produces a full, rich tone.