Arabic Musical Instruments     




 Woman playing the ney in a painting from the Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan Iran, 1669
Woman playing the Ney in a painting from the
 Hasht-Behesht Palace in Isfahan Iran, 1669

The Ney (Persian: نی; Arabic: ناي; also nai, nye, nay, gagri tuiduk, or karghy tuiduk ) is an end-blown flute that figures prominently in Persian, Turkmen and West Asian 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 years, 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 with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole. Ney is an old Persian word for reed from the Arundo donax plant. However, modern Neys may be made of metal or plastic tubing instead. The pitch of the Ney varies 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 "helper" Neys to cover different pitch ranges or to facilitate playing technical passages in other Maqamat.

In Romanian, the word nai[1] is also applied to a curved Pan flute.


•             1 Typology
•             2 Kargı Düdük
•             3 Tsuur

•             4 References
•             5 Bibliography


  A Turkish Kız ("Girl") Ney - A/La Register

A Turkish Kız ("Girl") Ney - A/La Register

The typical Persian ney is held by two hands and has 6 holes, one of which is on the back. The Arab and Turkish Ney have 7 holes. 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# solely through changes of the embouchure. It is possible to even go to E (depending on each hole) by changing the angle of the instrument in relation to the lips and by blowing stronger. The thumb hole has 4 notes usually used, if using the Doga ney then these notes would be A, Bb, B3/4, and B.

Neys are constructed in various keys. In the Arab system, there are 7 Neys. The first is the Rast (roughly equivalent to 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 Dukah in D. The third is the Busalik in E. The fourth is the Jaharka for F. The fifth is the Nawa for G; the sixth is Hussayni for A, and the seventh is the Ajam for B.

In the Arab world, the ney is traditionally used in pastoral areas, showing a preference for smaller Neys with higher pitches. In general, the pitch moves down in scholastic and religious environment. Though in the Sufi Arab tradition lower registers are studied and played.

The Turks use even longer neys reflecting a preference for graver sounds, an imprint of the Sufi setting in which the Ney was studied.

Kargı Düdük

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 Eygpt. Kargı in Turkish means reed (Arundo donax). There is also said to be a connection with Kargyra and Kharkhira, the style of guttural singing for two voices of the northern Turkic-speaking peoples (Khakass, Yakuts and Tuva peoples). 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. [2] 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 is an end blown flute that is found in western Mongolia. It is mainly used by the Altai-Uriangkhai people, although other yastan like the Kazakhs and the Tuvans are known to play them or have played them. In 1993 I met two Tsuur players in Khovd town, Khovd province. Both Sengedorje and Battarjoe learnt from Narantsogt a Uriangkhai from Duut district in Khovd. There seems to be a connection with khöömii and the Tsuur by that fact that there are stories regarding the river Eev that link the two and in the way in which the Tsuur is played. A vocal drone in the throaty Khailakh style of the epic and khöömii singers is sung by the tsuur player at the same time as he plays the flute. Very few people can master this instrument today. Apparently a new one is to be made each year and during the communist times (1924 to 1990) they were hid in the woods not to be found. 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 and 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. It is not surprising that Sengedorj is both a Tsuur player and a very accomplished khöömii singer.


1.            ^ nai in Dicţionarul explicativ al limbii române, Academia Română, Institutul de Lingvistică "Iorgu Iordan", Editura Univers Enciclopedic, 1998.

2.            ^ 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 0977019209.