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Elbphilharmonie explains: The nay

Mohamad Fityan of the ensemble Sarband explains his instrument, the Arab nay.

The nay is found through the Arab peninsula and Central Asia, albeit with small local variations. Thus in addition to the Arab nay presented here there is also a Persian nay and a Turkish version. In some of these musical traditions the nay or ney is the only wind instrument used. Records show that the nay has been played for some 4,500 to 5,000 years, which makes it as old as the pyramids, and indeed one of the world's oldest musical instrument still in use.

Special point: Many nay players carry a whole suitcase of nays in different lengths around with them. Why? The instrument needs to be tuned specially, depending on which Oriental system of notes is to be played (Maqam or Dastgah), so it is made in different lengths: this enables the pitch and the intervals to be varied.

Short and snappy: A profile of the nay

Name: Arab nay

Material: Bamboo cane or reed

Origin: Arab peninsula, Central Asia, Turkey

Family of instruments: Wind instrument

Playing technique: The mouth is placed directly against the edge of the instrument without an intervening mouthpiece. In this way, only three-quarters of the air flows into the nay, creating its characteristic sound. The nay consists of nine sections, and usually has seven holes – six in the front and one at the back. To alter the pitch, the holes are covered not with the fingertips, but with the inside of the fingers.

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