The ney (Persian: نی / نای), is an end-blown flute that figures prominently inMiddle Eastern music. In some of these musical traditions, it is the only wind instrument used. The ney has been played continuously for 4,500–5,000 years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments still in use.
“The Persian ney consists of a hollow cylinder with finger-holes. Sometimes a brass or plastic mouthpiece is placed at the top to protect the wood from damage, but this plays no role in the sound production. The ney consists of a piece of hollow cane or reed with five or six finger holes and one thumb hole. Modern neys may be made instead of metal or plastic tubing. The pitch of the ney varies depending on the region and the finger arrangement. A highly skilled ney player, called neyzen, can reach more than three octaves, though it is more common to have several “helper” neys to cover different pitch ranges or to facilitate playing technically difficult passages in other dastgahs or maqams.
In Romanian, the word nai is also applied to a curved Pan flute.
The typical Persian ney has 6 holes, one of which is on the back. Arab neys normally have 7 holes, 6 in front and one thumb-hole in the back.
The interval between the holes is a semitone, although microtones (and broader pitch inflections) are achieved via partial hole-covering, changes of embouchure, or positioning the angle of the instrument. Microtonal inflection is common and crucial to various traditions of taqsim (improvisation).
Neys are constructed in various keys. In the Arab system, there are 7 common ranges: the longest and lowest-pitched is the Rast which is roughly equivalent to C in the Western equal temperament system, followed by the Dukah in D, the Busalik in E, the Jaharka in F, the Nawa in G, the Hussayni in A, and the Ajam in B (or B♭). Advanced players will typically own a set of several neys in various keys, although it is possible (albeit difficult) to play fully chromatically on any instrument. A slight exception to this rule is found in the extreme lowest range of the instrument, where the fingering becomes quite complex and the transition from the first octave (fundamental pitches) to the second is rather awkward.
In the Arab world the ney is traditionally used in pastoral areas, showing a preference for smaller, higher-pitched neys. In general, lower-pitched instruments are used in scholastic and religious environments, including the Sufi tradition.