A rim-blown, oblique flute made of reed, the Turkish ney has six finger-holes on the front and a high-set thumb-hole on the back. A feature that distinguishes it from similar instruments of other cultures is the flared mouthpiece or lip-rest, called a bashpare, traditionally made of water buffalo horn, ivory, or ebony, but in modern times many are plastic or similar durable material. Like most rim-blown flutes, the Turkish ney is played by blowing a narrow airstream at an angle against the interior edge. Besides the finger holes, the pitch is altered by adjusting the embouchure, angle and force of the breath, with more forceful producing the higher pitches. Compared to most fipple flutes and reed instruments, the ney is very difficult to play at first, often taking several weeks of practice to produce a proper sound at all, and even more to produce the full range of pitches. A skilled ney player can sound a two-and-a-half octave range or more.
Ney come in many lengths, each producing a different key. Professional players usually possess a range of ney in different keys so they match to other instruments in an ensemble. In some Turkish musical circles, the "pitch" (akord) of a ney is determined differently. For example some refer to the note generated with all holes closed, meaning Davud would be in E, Bolahenk nısfiye would be in D, and Ṣah would be in F. In others, the pitch is determined using the note (perde) which matches A=440 Hz (diyapazon). This pitch is one note higher, e.g., Mansur being A/La rather than G/Sol. The lengths below are approximate, as it can vary somewhat due to the natural characteristics of the wood.
One refers to a Turkish ney player using the verb üflemek (blow) although for all other instrumentalists one uses the verb çalmak (play). One might speculate that the ney's close identification with the Mevlevi Sufis might be the origin of this usage.
The classical Turkish ney's closest relatives in other countries, the Arab nay and the Persian ney, do not use a mouthpiece, but rather blow against the sharpened edge of the tube. In Turkish folk music, one type of ney (dilli kaval) has a fipple; the other type (dilsiz) is a rim-blown oblique flute, as is the Turkish classical ney. The Bulgarian kaval, a folk instrument, resembles the Turkish dilsiz folk ney. The Romanian nai is a panpipe rather than a flute, but may be related etymologically and morphologically.