Construction of the Turkish Ney

from Turkish Music Quarterly
Vol. 5, no. 4/Vol. 6, no. 1 Winter 1993

The aim of this article is to enable the reader to construct a ney, the reed flute of Turkish classical music. My approach to the subject is practical rather than scholarly. My construction methods are pragmatic in that I employ modem tools where they save time and do a good job. This article is not a historical treatise on the ney, but simply a construction guide for those who have fallen in love with the sound of the instrument and want to build one for themselves.

I want to acknowledge two people who have taught me what I know about the instrument Nazim Özel, my ney teacher and friend, whose teacher in turn was Akagündüz Kutbay, and with whom I have spent much time in the U.S. and Turkey selecting cane and making neys; and Fuat Türkelman, my ney teacher in Turkey. To these two individuals I owe the joy I have experienced playing the ney.

The Turkish classical ney is an end-blown flute. Related folk flutes include the various kavals and šupeljkas of Bulgaria, Romania, and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, and the Greek θλογέρα (floyéra) and τζαμάρα (djamára). The instrument is rim-blown in that the mouthpiece is essentially a tapering of the flute tube to a sharp edge. Other rim-blown flutes such as the Japanese shakuhachi and Andean quena are blown against an edge formed by an oblique cut into the tube.

The modern ney has Turkish, Arabic, and Persian variants, which differ mainly in the geometry of the mouthpiece, although some Arab neys have one less fingerhole. Only the Turkish ney is a tube which by means of a mouthpiece creates a bowl-shaped cavity. All three types of ney are made from reed cane, while other end-blown flutes are made either from hardwood, woods with pithy centers such as elderberry, or bamboo. Reed cane is a fairly delicate material, and splits easily when tapered to a sharp edge. Therefore a separate mouthpiece is constructed; ivory, horn, or boxwood is employed for the Turkish variety. The mouthpiece and cane tube thus comprise the two parts of the Turkish ney.

The Reed Cane Tube