Woman playing the Ney in a painting from the Hasht Behesht Palace in Isfahan, Iran, 1669.
The ney (Persian: نی/نای; Turkish: ney; Azerbaijani: ney; Arabic: ناي; also nai, nye, nay, gagri tuiduk, or karghy tuiduk, Kurdish: Shimshal) is an end-blown flute originating from Iran that figures prominently in Middle Eastern music. In some of these musical traditions, it is the only wind instrument used. The ney has been played continuously for 4,500–5,000 years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use.
"The Persian ney consists of a hollow cylinder with finger-holes. Sometimes a brass or plastic mouthpiece is placed at the top to protect the wood from damage, but this plays no role in the sound production." The ney consists of a piece of hollow cane or reed with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole. Modern neys may be made instead of metal or plastic tubing. The pitch of the ney varies depending on the region and the finger arrangement. A highly-skilled ney player can reach more than three octaves, though it is more common to have several "helper" neys to cover different pitch ranges or to facilitate playing technically difficult passages in other dastgahs or maqams.
Turkish and Arab neys normally have 7 holes, 6 in front and one thumb-hole in the back. The typical Persian ney has 6 holes, one of which is on the back.
The interval between the holes is a semitone, although microtones (and broader pitch inflections) are achieved via partial hole-covering, changes of embouchure, or positioning the angle of the instrument. Microtonal inflection is common and crucial to various traditions of taqsim (improvisation).
Neys are constructed in various keys. In the Arab system, there are 7 common ranges: the longest and lowest-pitched is the Rast which is roughly equivalent to C in the Western equal temperament system, followed by the Dukah in D, the Busalik in E, the Jaharka in F, the Nawa in G, the Hussayni in A, and the Ajam in B (or Bb). Advanced players will typically own a set of several neys in various keys, although it is possible (albeit difficult) to play fully chromatically on any instrument. A slight exception to this rule is found in the extreme lowest range of the instrument, where the fingering becomes quite complex and the transition from the first octave (fundamental pitches) to the second is rather awkward.
In the Arab world the ney is traditionally used in pastoral areas, showing a preference for smaller, higher-pitched neys. In general, lower-pitched instruments are used in scholastic and religious environments, including the Sufi tradition.
The Turks use even longer neys reflecting a preference for graver sounds, an imprint of the Sufi setting in which the ney was studied.
Gargy-tuyduk (Karghy tuiduk) this is a long reed flute whose origin, according to legend, is connected with Alexander of Macedonia, and a similar instrument existed in ancient Egypt. Kargı in Turkish means reed (Arundo donax, also known as Giant Cane). The sound of the gargy-tuyduk has much in common with the two-voiced kargyra. During the playing of the gargy-tuyduk the melody is clearly heard, while the lower droning sound is barely audible. The allay epic songs have been accurately described by the Turkologist N. Baskakov who divides them into three main types:
- a) Kutilep kayla, in which the second sound is a light drone.
- b) Sygyrtzip kayla, with a second whistling sound like the sound of a flute.
- c) Kargyrlap kayla, in which the second sound can be defined as hissing. The sound of the Turkmen gargy-tuyduk is most like the Altay Kargyrkip kayla. The garg-tuyduk can have six finger holes and a length of 780 mm or five finger holes and a length of 550 mm. The range of the garg-tuyduk includes three registers:
- 1) The lowest register - "non-working" - is not used during the playing of a melody.
- 2) The same as on the "non-working" register but an octave higher.
- 3) High register from mi of the second octave to ti.
The Tsuur, also known as choor, is an end-blown flute that is found in western Mongolia. It is mainly used by the Altai-Uriangkhai people, although other yastans like the Kazakhs and the Tuvans are known to play them or have played them.
There are only three holes to finger. The blowing technique utilises the teeth, tongue and lips in the same way as Ney in Classical Persian music. The Tsuur is usually immersed in water before playing in order to seal any leaks in the wood. The melodies that are played on the Tsuur are usually imitations of the sound of water, animal cries and birdsongs as heard by shepherds whilst on the steppes or the mountain slopes of the Altai. One of the melodies, “The flow of the River Eev” as was said before is the river where the sound of khöömii was mythically supposed to have originated. The Uriangkhai called the Tsuur the “Father of Music”. A three-holed pipe was in use in Mongolia in the 18th century and was believed to possess the magical properties of bringing Lamb’s bones back to life. In the Jangar epic of the 14th century the Tsuur is said to have had a voice like a swan. This reference may also be indirectly a very early reference to khöömii as the singing style sung with the Tsuur is Khailakh.
Traditional Mongolian Tsuur music was added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2009.
The Pamiri Nay
The Pamiri nay is a transverse flute made of wood or, in Eastern Badakhshan, eagle bone. Although the name is similar to the Arabic end-blown nay, it might well be that this side-blown flute is more related to Chinese flutes such as the dizi, perhaps through a Mongol link. It is used for solo melodies as well as with orchestras and for vocal accompaniment. One of the main uses of the nay is for the most original form of the traditional performance ‘falaki’. These are brief melodic sessions which can express complaints against destiny, the injustice of heaven or exile to distant places, and sentiments such as the sorrow of a mother separated from her daughter, the sorrow of a lover torn from her/his beloved, etc.
- Ney (Turkish)
- Kawala, a similar instrument used in Arabic music
- Kaval, a similar instrument in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Macedonia and Bulgaria
- Persian traditional music
- Arabic Music
- Music of Iran
- Music of Turkey
- Dilli Ney
- Karghy tuiduk, a similar instrument in Turkmenistan
- nai in Dicţionarul explicativ al limbii române, Academia Română, Institutul de Lingvistică "Iorgu Iordan", Editura Univers Enciclopedic, 1998.
- N. Baskakov, Altay folklore and literature Gorno-Altaysk, 1948, p.II
- Effat, Mahmoud (2005). Beginner's Guide to the Nay. Translated by Jon Friesen; originally published in Arabic in 1968. Pitchphork Music. ISBN 0-9770192-0-9.
- Marwan Hassan (2010). Kawala & Nay: Die Ur-Flöten der Menschheit: Bauen, stimmen, pflegen und spielen. [German: explaining how to build and play the Kawala, Saluang, or Ghab and Ney-Flute]
- Sounds of the Ney
- Turkish Ney
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nay". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- About Persian Ney