Ney
Instruments called ney or nai include end-blown and side-blown flutes of the Middle East, Iran and Central Asia. The term ney derives from the old Persian for ‘reed’. The end-blown ney of Turkey and Iran is made of the stem of a bamboo plant, and is played using a unique technique. The player rests the end of the instrument against his teeth at the side of his mouth and blows across the top. His teeth and tongue shape the sound. Side-blown neys are played by blowing over a hole in the side of the instrument. The ney is played with the circular breathing technique. The performer uses his cheeks to keep the air under control for a significant period of time. The ney may be made of wood, brass, or copper and has a range of two and a half octaves. It is often used to create religious music in the Islamic tradition of Sufism. The rich, airy sound has also made it a favorite instrument for folk and classical music. The instrument varies from region to region: the Turkish ney for instance differs considerably from the Persian one.

ney



Shakuhachi

The shakuhachi is a Japanese end-blowing bamboo flute originally played as a religious instrument by monks. The five finger holes are tuned to a pentatonic scale with no half-tones. The player can bend each pitch as much as a whole tone or more using techniques in which the blowing angle is adjusted to bend the pitch downward (meri) and upward (kari). Pitches may also be lowered by shading or partially covering finger holes. Since most pitches can be achieved via several different fingering or blowing techniques, much of the subtlety of playing and composing for the shakuhachi relies on the ability to vary its timber. The traditional pieces for the instrument (honkyoku) depends heavily on on tone colouring to enhance their subtlety and depth. The shakuhachi has a range of three octaves (the lower is called otsu, the upper, kan) and a partial third octave (dai-kan). The different octaves are produced using subtle variations of breath and embouchure. The standard shakuhachi is called 1.8 and has its lower note starting on D above middle C. As some honkyoku call for longer flutes, 20 different sizes of the instrument can be found.



Duduk
The Armenian duduk is one of the oldest double reed instruments in the world. Throughout the centuries, the duduk has traveled to many neighboring countries and has undergone subtle changes, such as the specific tuning and the number of holes, etc. Nowadays variants of the duduk can be found in Georgia (duduki), Azerbaijan (balaban), Turkey (mey), Persia, and the Balkans. The basic form has changed little in its long history. Originally, like many early flutes, the instrument was made of bone. Today its body is made of apricot wood. The duduk is a deceptively simple instrument. Its range is an octave and a fourth. It is untempered and diatonic, and available in a variety of keys. The duduk’s velvety, melancholy sound and wide dynamic range have made it popular for different musical genres. Traditionally it is played in small ensembles, often in duet with frame drums such as the daf, in lyric songs and dances. Today it is also played in larger professional ensembles and in urban clubs.

Gevorg Dabaghian

duduk

 

Zurna
The zurna (also surnai) is the folk oboe of the Arab world, the Near East and Asia. It is a conical wooden tube of 30 to 60 cm, played with a double reed, usually a pirouette. The zurna is an outdoor instrument, bright, powerful and brilliant in tone. It has been considered strident and unpleasant: ‘insupportable and unsatisfactory’. Everything, however, depends on the quality of the performer and his ability to master the instrument’s technique. The zurna is related to the bagpipe, except that it has no bag: the player uses his cheeks instead of the bag. The instrument has been used in military music since the Middle Ages and can still be heard in the Turkish Mehter bands. It is also played at weddings, funerals, circumcisions, animal fights and other festivities. The compass of the zurna is about one and a half octave.

 

Sheng
The sheng is a Chinese mouth organ. Its body is a bowl made of metal, wood, or a gourd. The instrument has a blowpipe and 17 to 36 bamboo or metal pipes that extend from the top of the bowl. The elegant symmetrical arrangement of the pipes represents the two folded wings of the mythical phoenix bird. Each pipe has, inside the bowl, a side hole covered by a metal tongue that interrupts the air current. The sheng produces a strikingly clear, metallic sound. Western harmonicas, reed organs, and concertinas use the same basic acoustical principles as the sheng. Mouth organs similar to the sheng are first mentioned in Chinese texts dating from the 14th to 12 th century B.C. Today the sheng is mainly used to play Chinese classical music in small and large ensembles with other instruments such as the pipa and erhu. The sheng has a relative in Japan: the sho.

Wu Wei
 

sheng

 

Sho
The sho (笙) is a Japanese free reed musical instrument that was introduced from China during the Nara period (AD 710 to 794). It is modeled on the Chinese sheng, although the sho tends to be smaller in size. It consists of 17 slender bamboo pipes, each of which is fitted in its base with a metal free reed. Two of the pipes are silent, although research suggests that they were used in some music during the Heian period. The instrument's sound is said to imitate the call of a phoenix, and it is for this reason that the two silent pipes of the sho are kept - as an aesthetic element, making two symmetrical "wings." Like the Chinese sheng, the pipes are tuned carefully with a drop of wax. As moisture collected in the sho's pipes prevents it from sounding, performers can be seen warming the instrument over a small charcoal brazier when they are not playing. The instrument produces sound when the player's breath is inhaled or exhaled, allowing long periods of uninterrupted play. The sho is one of the three primary woodwind instruments used in gagaku, Japan's imperial court music. Its traditional playing technique in gagaku involves the use of tone clusters called aitake (合竹), which move gradually from one to the other, providing accompaniment to the melody.

Naomi Sato
 

sho

 

Pipa
The pipa is a four stringed Chinese lute with a pear-shaped body. Pipa was a general term refering to those plucked-string instruments played in hand-held positions with the outward right hand fingering technique called ‘pi’ and the inward one called ‘pa’. The pipa has a history of over 2000 years spanned from the Han Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty. Its short, bent neck has 30 frets which extend onto the soundboard, offering a wide range. The frets are either made of ivory, wood, jade, or bamboo. The pipa has four strings tuned A, d, e, a. With the instrument held vertically on the lap, it is played using imitation fingernails. This allows more freedom to perform various techniques, some of which include: pitch-bends, tremoli, and a continuous strumming of the strings with four fingers. The pipa is the most expressive of the Chinese plucked string-instruments. Its music has been loved by Chinese people throughout the centuries and there is a large repertoire of pipa music handed down from generation to generation through individual artists and scholars.

Zhang Qiang

pipa

 

Setar
(Persian: سه ‌تار, from seh, meaning "three" and tār, meaning "string") is a Persian musical instrument. It is a member of the lute family. Two and a half centuries ago, a fourth string was added to the setar, which has 25 - 27 moveable frets. It originated in Persia in the 3rd century. The chest is made from thin mulberry wood and its fingerboard has twenty-five or twenty-six adjustable gut frets.

Massoud Shaari

setar

 

Tar
Belonging to the lute family, the tar is one of the ancient instruments most widely used in Caucasus and the Middle East. The tar developed its present form in 18th century and has been the choice of Persian classical masters since. The body is a double-bowl 8-shape carved of mulberry wood, with a thin membrane of stretched lamb-skin covering the top. The tar has eleven strings: three double courses, one bass string and two pairs of sympathtic strings that lend the instrument its specific ‘ringing’ sound. The long fingerboard has twenty-five to twenty-eight adjustable gut frets which devide the octave into 17 microtonal intervals. The frets can be adjusted for the various microtonal modes - makams - used in Middle Eastern music. The range of the tar is about two and a half octaves and it is played with a small plectrum. In Azerbaijan and Iran the tar together with a singer and the kamancha forms the classical Mugam Trio.

tar

 

Ud
The ud is the most important musical instrument in Middle Eastern music: it is called the ‘sultan of the instruments’. Its name derives from the Arabic for ‘wood’, and this refers to the strips of wood used to make its rounded body. The neck of the ud, which is short in comparison to the body, has no frets and this contributes to its unique sound. This also enables the musician to play the microtones (in between the half-steps of a 12-note chromatic scale) necessary for most Arabic and Turkish music. The most common string combination is five pairs of strings tuned in unison and a single bass string. The strings are generally made of nylon or gut, and are plucked with a plectrum known as a risha or mizrap. Another distinctive feature of the ud is its head, with the tuning pegs bent back at an angle to the neck. The ud used in the Arab world is slightly different to that found in Turkey and Armenia. Different tunings are used and the Turkish ud has a brighter tone than its Arab counterpart. The ud is the ancestor of the Chinese pipa, the Japanese biwa, the European lute (‘al ‘ud’ became ‘lute’), and ultimately of the guitar as well.

ud

 

Qanun
The qanun is a plucked zither with a flat trapezoid-shaped body. It has 75 strings arranged in such a way that three strings are plucked at the same time to produce one pitch (similar to the piano). The player uses both hands to pluck the strings with plectra. The left hand also manipulates a set of switches that pull the strings to change the pitch. With these switches (mandal in Turkish) micro intervals can be obtained with great precision, which allows for the great variety of non-tempered tunings that are used in the music of the Near East. Qanun players also use the switches to create beautifully ornamented melodies that mimic the sound of the human voice. The qanun is a classical instrument of the Arab world, widely described in both oral and written traditions. Like other instruments of the Islamic world, including the ney and daira, it is played in the improvisatory musical tradition known as maqam or makam.

qanun

 

Zheng
The zheng is an ancient Chinese zither. It has been developed from a small instrument made from bamboo, originally used by herdsman. It was very popular during ancient times, as early as the Warring States Period and the Qin Dynasty (225 to 206 BC and earlier). The zheng has an arched surface and is elongated-trapezoidal with 13 to 25 strings stretched over individual bridges. Although metal strings are common today, the strings were of silk in ancient times. The zheng rests on two pedestals and is played using imitation fingernails. On the right side of the bridges, both hands pluck the strings and on the left side, the left fingers bend the strings to change pitch or to provide embellishment. Its playing range spans three to four octaves. The zheng has unique, rich expressiveness and is played with finesse. The kayagum and the koto are the Korean and Japanese relatives of the zheng.

zheng

 

Koto
The koto is an ancient Chinese zither. It has been developed from a small instrument made from bamboo, originally used by herdsman. It was very popular during ancient times, as early as the Warring States Period and the Qin Dynasty (225 to 206 BC and earlier). The zheng has an arched surface and is elongated-trapezoidal with 13 to 25 strings stretched over individual bridges. Although metal strings are common today, the strings were of silk in ancient times. The zheng rests on two pedestals and is played using imitation fingernails. On the right side of the bridges, both hands pluck the strings and on the left side, the left fingers bend the strings to change pitch or to provide embellishment. Its playing range spans three to four octaves. The zheng has unique, rich expressiveness and is played with finesse. The kayagum and the koto are the Korean and Japanese relatives of the zheng.

koto - extract from 'Nocturne' by Toshio Hosokawa

 

Santur
The santur is a three-octave struck zither, also known as a hammer dulcimer. It has a flat trapezoid-shaped body with seventy-two strings arranged so that three strings are struck at the same time to make each pitch. The number of strings vary between sixty-three and eighty four. The santur can be made of various kinds of wood (walnut, rosewood, betel palm, etc.) depending on the desired sound quality. The front and the back of the instrument are connected by soundposts whose positions play an important role in the sound quality of the instrument. The player strikes the strings with two delicate felt-covered hammers called mezrab. The virtuoso santur player produces light, glistening tones by striking the instrument with blinding speed and precision. The earliest predecessors of the modern santur may date back to 1600 B.C. and it is one of the main instruments of Iranian music. It is played solo and in ensembles in the improvisatory musical tradition of maqam.

santur

 

Erhu
The erhu is a spike fiddle with two strings. It has a long neck and a round hexagonal, octagonal or tubular body made of wood. The face of the body is usually covered by the skin of a python or other snake. The bow used to play the erhu is made of horsehair on a stick of bamboo. In performance, the erhu is supported on the left thigh of the player and held with the left hand while the right hand moves the bow. The fine, lyrically expressive sound of the erhu has lead to its use as a solo instrument in small folk and classical ensembles and in Chinese orchestras. The erhu is part of a group of Chinese bowed instruments known as huqin, which translates to mean ‘foreign string instrument’, suggesting that these types of instruments were introduced to China. Instruments similar to the erhu have been prevalent in Chinese music since the 12th century C.E.

erhu

 

Zhonghu
The zhonghu is the term for alto erhu. It was developed in the 1930s in an attempt to build Chinese instruments in families. The structure of the zhonghu is the same as the erhu, but it is larger in size with a long neck and bigger body. The string technique is similar. The zhonghu functions as a viola and is used as a solo instrument as well as in the Chinese orchestra.

 

Sarangi
The sarangi is popularly known as 'the instrument of a hundred colours, moods or shades' (from sau rangi) and it was probably brought to India from Afghanistan. This short-necked bowed lute owes its rich and vocal tone to the resonance of sympathetic strings. It is the most important bowed instrument in North Indian or Hindustani concert music, being performed solo as well as in accompaniment to vocal music. Although it has been used for centuries primarily for accompanying singers (shadowing the vocalist's improvisations), due to the efforts of several musicians the sarangi enjoys nowadays the status of a solo classical instrument. Carved from a single block of wood, the sound box is covered in skin and is held vertically and placed on the lap. Three or four main strings made of gut are bowed with a heavy horsehair bow and 'stopped' with the cuticles of the middle three fingers of the left hand, allowing for a great range of ornamentation and virtuosity. Twenty up to forty sympathetic strings of steel (tarabs) pass beneath the main strings divided into 4 different 'choirs', giving the deep and sonorous voice characteristic of the instrument.

sarangi

 

Kamancha
The kamancha is a spike fiddle of Iran and the Caucasus also known in Turkey and Egypt as rabab. It has a small spherical walnut or mulberry wooden body with a spike protruding from the base. The bridge rests on a circular sound table which is made of animal membrane, bladder or fish-skin. Its neck is cylindrical and it has four strings tuned a-e’-a’-e”. It is assumed that the fourth string was added in the early twentieth century as the result of the introduction of the western violin to Iran. During performance the player rests the instrument vertically on the knee, and truns the it on the spike to meet the bow. The kamancha is played in the tradition of improvised music known as maqam. The elegant, warm sound calls to mind the sound of a human voice. Therefore it lends itself to virtuoso solo or ensemble playing. The first known written reference to the kamancha dates from the 12th century B.C. For centuries it has been revered as an exceptional instrument for use in courtly, folk, religious and secular settings. The kamancha is ancestor to most modern European and Asian bowed instruments.

kamancha

 

Kemençe
The kemençe is a small bowed string instrument from Turkey widely used in Anatolia and the Black Sea Region. The shape and the name of the kemençe changed in many regions until it reached its final form in Anatolia. Until the end of 19th century the instrument was used in Rumeli Folk music which is called kaba saz. In kaba saz, it is accompanied by lavta and percussion. By the end of 19th century the kemençe becomes popular and is used in ince saz, which is Turkish Art music. The kemençe has three strings and a pear-shaped body which is made of mulberry, plum and juniper wood. The wooden part of the bow is generally rose wood or box wood. The instrument has a neck without fingerboard. The strings are stopped sideways by pressure of the fingernails. The kemençe is held vertically, resting on the player’s knee. The tuning is: d (neva), g (rast), d (yegah).

kemence