The Construction of this Natural Reed Instrument
Arabic ney making is a truly special art. Not only does the artist need to know how the instrument is supposed to work, but they also need to be able to play it.
Nowadays, materials other than natural reeds are used in the process of Arabic ney construction. However, reeds offer a special timbre and overtone that you can’t replicate with plastic (or anything else for that matter).
We know you are only here to learn about the art of Arabic ney making, but let’s dive into what a ney is first.
What is An Arabic Ney?
The ney is a woodwind instrument similar to the flue. Although, you blow through the end of this (clarinet/recorder style) instead of on the side.
As you probably know, you can hear it showcased in many past and present Middle-Eastern songs. Sometimes, it will be played alongside an orchestra or by itself — regardless, it is an angelic sound.
Okay, we’ll get on with the nitty-gritty information now.
The Arabic Ney Construction
Step One: Finding the Reed
It may seem like an easy task but it’s far from it.
Generally, sourcing a random reed is fairly easy (depending on where you live) but not all of them can be used in Arabic ney construction.
The right reed will have to be the correct size (different sizes make different types of neys). Not to mention that it will have to consist of 9 segments for the perfect octave ratio to be achieved.
Step Two: Drying the Reed
Once the perfect reed has been found, it is time to dry it.
Originally, we thought that it was the sun that dried the reed — pretty logical thinking, right? However, this isn’t the case. The wind is the main force that turns the reed from green to the colour of the sun.
How long does this take, we hear you ask? Well, it isn’t quick! It will be about 1-2 years from sourcing the reed for it to have the optimal moisture content needed for Arabic ney making.
Step Three: Cutting the Reed
After the 1 to 2 long years have passed, you can get down to business. But, you will need a fair bit of time to perfect it.
Here, the reed has to be cut to the length you want your finished Arabic flute to be. However, you always have to ensure that you are keeping the 9 segments. Otherwise, your work will have been for nothing.
In all honesty, this can only truly be achieved by professionals with a boatload of experience and skill. Although, you have to start somewhere!
Step Four: Making the Mouthpiece
At this stage, a grinder is used to shape the mouthpiece on the Arabic flute. An electric one is much quicker and easier but some artists still do it the old-fashioned way.
Step Five: Tuning the Arabic Ney
Once the mouthpiece has been perfected (as far as the eye can see), it’s tuning time for the Arabic flute.
Nowadays, you can get pretty accurate tuner apps on your smartphone. Thankfully, this is the case because actual tuners can be somewhat expensive.
At this part of the Arabic ney construction process, you will need to blow into the mouthpiece and watch the tuner. If it isn’t perfect at a medium blow, you’ll need to fine-tune the design. Usually, this is achieved by going back in with the grinder.
Step Six: Drilling the Holes
After that, the next stage of Arabic ney making is to mark, then drill the holes.
It will come as no surprise that accuracy is key here! This is where a professional with lots of experience shows their worth.
Step Seven: Oiling the Arabic Ney
The final step to this intriguing procedure of crafting an Arabic flute is to oil it.
Unsurprisingly, a special type of oil needs has to be utilized here. If you have the right type of oil (trust us, check first) then you can drip some into the holes, shake, rub some on the outside and you’re finished!
Don’t be fooled by the simple design ever again — it’s a tricky but beautiful craft.