The Ney shows very early on human history. In caves in Egypt, neys paintings have been found and are dated to over 5000 years. Along with the early lutes, the ney has a special place in our history as human beings.
The structure of the Persian ney
The Persian ney, is an ancient flute that is built from of a local reed, with 5 holes on the front + 1 back hole for the thumb. The Persian ney doesn’t have a mouthpiece as in clarinet or other western instruments. It is played solely by changing the air stream and the embouchure. The differing point between Arabic, Turkish & Persian ney is the blowing technique that uses both the lips and the tongue. We will get that later.
The reed that the Persian ney is made of, is collected traditionally in dry and hot climate places. Such as Kashan, Qom or Esfahan.
In a big field, out of hundreds of reeds, only a few are suitable for a ney. The ney has 7 segments that are divided by 6 dividers. The reed has a slight cone shape, so it’s basically getting slimmer with every segment. This shape has a dramatic effect on the know and famous sound of the ney.
Right after cutting the reeds, the leaves are being cut and sanded. The walls inside the neys are broken and sanded as well, in order to allow the air to flow easily and smoothly inside. The natural sound of the ney to be is much affected by the quality of the sanding.
On top of the ney there is a plastic or copper extension. The idea behind is to give extra strength to the reed, and also to ease the play-ability. Another extension is installed on the bottom of the ney for the same reason.
Playing the Persian Ney
The special technique of playing the Persian ney, is what gives it it’s a special character and famous mystic sound. The top of the ney is placed between the two from teethes, inside the mouth. A small stream of air is directed with the tongue while the upper lip surrounds the top part of the extension. Moving the lips and tongues changes the pitch, as much as 1 tone up or down. The technique considered to be rather hard but once you get it, the Persian ney is a highly expressive instrument. Where you can produce an endless range of sounds. Professional musicians can control the inner turbulence and create a variety of sounds, from very sharp and clean to dirty and colorful sound.
The Persian ney arrives at all lengths. Short ney has high sound (treble) and long ney has low (bass) sound
Although the Muslim ban of music, in Sufi orders, the music was and is an actual tool to connect to God and to the divine. The Dik’hr and the same ceremonies were accompanied by Daf, Ney, and kopuz. Among the different orders, the Alawi order stands out thanks to the famous Sufi swirl. In the Sufi dance, one hand points to the ground and the other – up. This is a symbol of the holy connection between materialism and spiritualism. The order was founded by the greatest mystical poet, Jalal A din Romi. His students spread his way that combines the music with the tradition.
Hearing the ney, it is easy to understand how listening to it, brings the listener to god. The deep mysterious sound attracts the listener to the mysteries of the spirit. A sound that reminds you of the rhythm of breathing itself.
Recommended Persian Ney players and musicians
It is common to think that Hassn Kassai that was born in Esfahan 1928 and died in 2012, is the world’s best ney player.
Technical information about the common length of Persian ney:
A 51,5 +/- 1 cm
B 44,5 +/- 1 cm
Bb 48 +/- 1 cm
C 41 +/- 1 cm
C# 81 +/- 1 cm
D 77 +/- 1 cm
E 69 +/- 1 cm
Eb 74 +/- 1 cm
F 65 +/- 1 cm
G 57,5 +/- 1 cm
G# 56 +/- 1 cm