A Brief History of the Ney and its Impact in Anatolia


The origins of the Ney can be traced back almost 5000 years in the old Arab world. Originating from Egypt, it is said to be as old as the pyramids there and is still in use. The Turkish variation of this ancient instrument was invented in the Ottoman Empire and since then it has been a staple instrument in not just Turkish music, but also Arabic and even Persian who have their own variant of the instrument. The Ney is made of reed and has a long body with holes on it that are meant to be covered with fingers to create different sounds, resembling a flute.

Illustration of a Sufi, playing the Ney

Differences Between Turkish, Arabic and Persian Neys

Turkish and Arabic Neys are much more similar to each other when compared to the Persian variant. While essentially the instrument is the same, with a tube open at both ends that is blown into to create sound, the Turkish and Arabic Neys have 6 or 7 holes that can be covered with fingers to create different sounds, whereas the Persian Ney only has 5 or 6 holes.

A Turkish Ney Master’s Performance

Turkish and Arabic Neys are even played the same way, with the only main difference between the two instruments is that the Turkish Ney has a mouthpiece that is able to create different type of sound which the Arabic Ney does not possess.

The Persian Ney is also played differently and use a different blowing system to create unique sounds. The technique of directing the air with the tongue is unique to Persian Neys. The most distinguishing element of the Persian style of Ney playing is the capability to perform clean articulations and heavy attacks, both of which are absent in the ‘shepherd’ style of Ney playing that is present with the Arabic and Turkish Neys. Secondly, the positioning of the top lip over the edge of the instrument allows the control of pitch inflections, and with expansion or contraction of the upper lip, the pitch can be bent, flattened, or sharpened.

A Persian Ney

Anatolian Mysticism

During the time of the Ottoman Empire existed a form of mysticism, or Sufism as it was called by the Ottomans, with the belief that there was a path that one could travel to become a perfect human being or saint and, in many cases, achieve union with the divine truth or God. The ney has a deep connection to this belief as there is a belief that the instrument’s soft and peaceful sound helps people in their journey to find union with the divine truth, forming its own music genre called Sufi music. It is said that the sound of ney represents the longing and dense love felt for God that the human soul, combined with the human body, craves for the love of God. The ney became a vital part in these Sufi rituals with the different sects of Sufi Islam and has cemented itself as one of the most influential instruments in Anatolian culture.

Legacy and Impact

Since its invention, the Ney has carried its reputation and relevance when it comes to folk music of the regions its used in, with thousands of folk songs using this instrument as the centrepiece. What can be often forgotten when talking about instruments such as the Ney is their psychological impact and how it can be used to treat psychiatric patients. The Ney has been documented to have been used in Turkish history and it is said to have a positive influence on decreasing anxiety and cognitive process. Influential Turkish scholars such as Farabi say that Turkish folk music including the Ney gives a feeling of pleasure, serenity, sense of confidence, calmness, courage, and modesty. Furthermore, music has been used for the treatment of mental disorders in hospitals during the time of the Ottoman Empire.

Overall, it is clear to see the impact and uses that has come from the invention of the Ney in the Anatolian and Middle Eastern folk culture, as well as its usefulness in the medical field. The mystical sounds of this great instrument have stood the test of time and carried its relevance to this day, proving its worth as one of the great instruments of the region.


Sezer, F., 2012. The psychological impact of Ney music. The Arts in psychotherapy39(5), pp.423-427.

Movahed, A., 1993. The Persian ney: A study of the instrument and its musical style. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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