Republic of Lebanon
Wednesday 4th - 10 - 2023



[nai, nāī, nāy, nay]

Oblique rim-blown flute of the Arab countries, Iran and Central Asia. The term derives from the old Persian for ‘reed’ or ‘bamboo’ and by extension ‘reed flute’. The instrument has been known in the Near East since antiquity; iconographic and written documents attest its use by the ancient Egyptians in the 3rd millennium bce.

Various popular forms of the instrument are known, made of wood, reed or metal and with various vernacular names, for example the Baluchi nel, Turkmen tüydük and Kurdish simsal.

The player holds the instrument obliquely, with its head in the corner of his mouth. It is now rare; once it was common, particularly as a shepherd’s instrument.

The Turkish ney is played in classical fasıl (art music) and is an important member of the ensembles that play at the ceremonies of the Mevlevi order of Sufis founded by Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī. It is similar to the Arab nāy in construction but has a wooden cap to facilitate blowing and tone-production.

The term ‘nāy’ is the generic Arabic name for several folk flutes as well as the specific term for the reed flute used in Arab art music. The classical Arab nāy consists of an open-ended segment of ‘Persian reed’ (Arundo donax) with six finger-holes in front and one thumb-hole; the edge of the tube at the top is lightly bevelled. The nāy tube varies in length from 32 to 81 cm and whatever its size it must contain eight nodes and nine antinodes. The reedpipe from which the instrument is made should be not less than three years old and the tube must be hard, smooth and compact; the distance between the nodes is taken into consideration. Several instruments can sometimes be made from one long reed stem.

Musicians often use different sizes of nāy during a concert, but a virtuoso can play the three-octave range on one instrument by altering the position of his fingers on the holes, by movements of the lips and head, and by breath control.

The nāy is an urban instrument and the only wind instrument used in Arab art music. As part of the al-takht al-sharqi (‘oriental ensemble’) found in large Arab towns, it appears alongside the ‘ūd (lute), the qānūn (box zither) and two membranophones: the daff (frame drum) and the single-headed dunbuk. As a solo instrument it is used for improvisation (taqsīm). It also accompanies religious glorifications.

The popular Arab nāy has many local names including shabbāba, blūr and madruf in the Middle East and suffāra, salāmiyya, qasaba, kawwāl, juwạk or fhal in North Africa. A popular nāy does not conform to any rigorous norms.The instrument is also played by the Karakalpak peoples of Central Asia, where it can be made of a variety of materials which are often described by a prefix, for example agach-nai (‘wooden nai’).

The nāy was introduced to the public domain by the Egyptian flute-player Amīn al-Būzarī (c1855–1935). The nāy has also been introduced into countries where it was not previously established, such as Morocco and Tunisia, where it has been very successful since 1933, thanks to the Syrian player ‘Alī Darwīsh who taught the most famous Tunisian exponent, of the instrument, Salāh al-Mahdī (b 1925), as well as his pupil Muhammad Saada (b 1938). There have been attempts to modernize the reed flute by adding keys, but they were abandoned.

Reference (with liberty): New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, (editors), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

"Nay" Teachers:

  • Antoine Soueid
  • Joseph Karam
  • Maher Mezher
  • Ralda Salem
  • Samir Seblini

Page created at: 16-04-2015

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