The Mey is a cylindrical double-reed aerophone used in Turkish folk music. Cylindrical in shape and made of wood, it has 7 finger holes on its front side, and one finger hole at the back. A double reed (kamish) is used that obtains the characteristic sound of the instrument. A tuning-bridle called "kiskach" serves to tune the Mey and to prevent alterations in pitch of the sound. A wooden piece smilar to "kiskach" which is called "agizlik" covers the part of the reed's mouth, when the mey is not used in order to preserve it. The size and nature of the reed is dependent on the size and nature of the instrument.

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Photo: courtesy of Oliver Seeler / Nova Albion Research

94. Auloi (a pair of Aulos) (Greece,4th centuryB.C.); 95. Kuan (China); 96. Guan (Mongolia); 97. Ana Mey(Turkey); 98. Nerme Nay (Iran); 99. Duduk (Armenia)




There are many instruments similar to the Mey in Asia. These are called "Balaban", in Azerbaijan, Iran and Uzbekistan; "Yasti Balaban" in Dagestan; "Duduki" in Georgia; "Duduk" in Armenia; "Hichiriki" in Japan; "Hyanpiri" in Korea; "Guanzi" in China; and "Kamis Sirnay " in Kyrgyzstan.

Musicologists like Farmer (1936: 316) and Picken (1975: 480) have suggested that ancient Mait, Monaulos, and Auloi present major resemblances with the Mey and the other similar instruments. In Hellenistic Egypt, there was an instrument called "Mait" or "Monaulos" which was similar to the Mey and there was another one in Anatolia which was called "Auloi" and its picture was found on a vase.

In the written history of Turkish music, the oldest Turkish source regarding the Mey is a work that dates back to the late 14th or early 15th century titled "Makasidül-Elhan" written by Maragali Abdülkadir (ABD AL-QaDIR [ibn Ghaybi al-maraghi]) (1350?-1435) who was a composer, performer and theorist and traditionally considered to be the founder of Turkish music research. In this work, the instrument referred to as "Nayçe-i Balaban" is likened to the "surnay" which is another name of the "Zurna" and its soft and wistful sound (Bardakçi1986: 107).


Evliya Çelebi (1611-1683), who lived two centuries after Abdülkadir, has described this instrument in the following manner. He said, "The Belban (or balaban, reed pipe of the Turkmens) was invented in Shiraz. It had no "kalak" (the enlarging mouth of the instrument) resembling that of zurna which is double reed Shawm. It was used mostly by Turks and there were about a hundred players in Istanbul" (Çelebi 1314: 61). At the end of the eighteenth century, among the instruments used in Egypt, which was then located within the borders of Ottoman Empire, there was a detailed drawing of an instrument, closely resembling the Mey and called "irakiyye", in Aksoy's book "Music in Ottoman Empire" (Aksoy 1994:282).

The actual names "Mey" and "Balaban" are the modified forms of the term's "nay-i balaban" or "nayçe-i balaban" which were altered through time. The suffix "-çe" is the diminutive suffix and "nay" means reed in old Persian and so, "nayçe" means "small reed". In some collections, we also encounter the term Mey used alternately with the term Nay. Laurence Picken also gives it the name "mey or nay" when he introduces this instrument in the "Folk Musical Instruments of Turkey". He writes that "...the mey bodies which are manufactured for the Erzurum market are called nay" (Picken 1975: 475-477). As a matter of fact, another name for "duduk" which is used in Armenia, is Nay. (Haygayan Sovedagan Sosyalistagan Hanrakidaran.1977.Volume 3:459).





The word Nay, when modified according to the phonetics of Turkish, becomes ney, not to be confused with the reed flute "Ney" of Turkish classical music. Therefore, most probably, the name mey is given to this instrument in order to distinguish these two instruments.

Cevri Altintas used the Mey for the first time in 1950, during, a broadcast on Turkish State Radio. Later, it was included in Turkish folk musical groups and is in wide use today. Currently, because of the effects of mass communication, the increase in the number of institutions where music education takes place, and particularly due to the realization of the meaning and importance of professional performance, the Mey has become widely used in almost all parts of the country.

S. Y. Ataman
with C. Altintas's Mey

This popularity has certainly caused some changes. In the 1950s, the Mey was used in just a few folk music compositions, because players used an instrument with a range of only one octave. During the first years when the Mey was played on Turkish State Radio, a folk song followed a solo mey performance. The performer only had a single mey in hand and thus tuning was impossible. Later, this problem was solved with various sizes of mey(1) . Ataman, the folk music researcher, (1906-1994) confirmed this situation and exhibited Cevri Altintas's mey which was in his collection.

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Meys in different sizes

In initial studies, according to the information and drawings in their books, the composer and musicologist Saygun (1937: 50), and musicologists Ülgen (1944: 36) and, Gazimihal (1975: 74) mentioned that before the modification process, the mey had a total of 9 finger holes, 8 on the front and one at the back, but later studies did not verify this information. It is, however, interesting that similar instruments played in neighboring countries have 9 finger holes. According to my own findings and those in the literature, the size of the mey is approximately 30 cm.

After the modification process in 1961, according to the information obtained from Binali Selman, a famous mey player, three sizes of mey were being played: ana (the largest size), orta (middle), and cura (the smallest) (Picken, 1975:476) This classification has been valid for many years. Until the 1990s, these three sizes of mey have been used and by means of the reed and bogaz "adaptor," one tries to solve the problem of tuning the mey with other instruments. In the resulting heavy demand, Ayhan Kahraman, the manufacturer of the instruments, produces 8 separate sizes of mey each corresponding to a diatonic sound. A Tonic in the Instrument corresponds to each sound of the piano. In this Turkish folk instrument in which the possibility of transposition is limited, it is necessary to change the mey whenever the key changes.

The mey is found widely in the eastern region of Turkey (2). Here, this instrument, however, it is no longer used in some provinces and in same cases is played in other provinces (3).

The structure of the mey is most suitable for the character of the music of the East Anatolia. It has a non-strident sound, and for this reason, it is preferred for indoor use. Most of the Mey players in Turkey can also play the Zurna. They usually have a lower social status and most of them are wedding musicians. The social status of the players, however, has been somewhat improved.

The role played by the Zurna in outdoor is carried out by the Mey indoor. The "Def" or sometimes a second Mey generally accompanies it. While one of the Meys plays the tune "ezgi", the other sustains a drone called "dem". It takes the place of an accompanying instrument when played by groups; and used to play before the tunes, "taksim" improvisation which is also called "yol gösterme", "gezinti", or "açis". Its mellow and wistful sound is consistent with these forms. It has also been used as a minstrel's instrument, or "ashik sazi". We can observe a typical example of this in Aga Keskin who is a mey player (4). The artist first plays the mey, and then sings the song while the mey is silent; he then takes the mey again to continue the tune.

Because the range of the instrument is limited to one octave in order to play a scale, sounds are produced by means of the fingers and lips and only certain modes (makams) may be played (5).

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When playing the mey, the left hand should be above and right hand below the instrument. The little finger of the left hand and the thumb of the right hand are not used. Continuous vibrato is heard when playing due to the use of a big reed. When the player wants more vibrato, however, he either vibrates his jaw with rapid intervals or shakes the instrument with both hands. One of the most important things a mey player should achieve is to play the tune continuously, which necessitates circular breathing.


The body of a mey is generally made of plum wood. Although the preferred wood is from the plum tree, other trees such as walnut, mulberry, beech, apricot, acacia, olive, and rose are also used. Recently, wood imported from Africa is also used.

The top opening of the mey where the reed is inserted, is twice the size of the bottom. The diameter of this opening is between 10 and 20 mm. in the largest size of the mey. It is from 10 to 18 mm. in the smallest mey. A large reed is used for a large sized mey, and small reed is for the small sized mey. If the drone is not sustained, a disturbance occurs in the sound. The finger holes are in equal distance from each other and their diameter is 6 mm. in all sizes of meys.

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Mey body production

When we inquire about the master craftsmen who make their meys themselves in Anatolia. Even if some masters manufacture their instruments, very few of them earn their livelihood in this way. Among these masters (usta), the oldest and best-known was Dikran Nisan of Diyarbakir who was called Niso Usta (6). The other masters, who used to make meys in Anatolia, were Master Tosun in Pasinler and Master Hakki in the Erzurum province. These two masters managed to be manufacturers of meys besides being carpenters. (Isikli, 1992). The mey player who is called Cabbar, in the province of Artvin, manufactures it with a manual-lathe similar to the master craftsmen mentioned above.

Today, primarily in Istanbul, the manufacture of the meys and zurnas has become a thriving business. There are 4 manufacturers who produce the instruments These include the master craftsmen Hasan An in Tahtakale, Aydin Konuk in Edirnekapi, Ali Riza Acar in Esenler, and Ayhan Kahraman in Ümraniye. They all use electric lathes, but the only one among them who exhibits quality work is Ayhan Kahraman who has produced instruments since 1980, and plays the mey and the zurna quite well. He continuously improves manufacturing techniques for his instrument and uses good quality materials (7).

Ali Zeynel

Reed (kamish) production

The mey reed are made from fresh water reeds, their length varying approximately between 80 mm. to 150 mm., the mouth of the reed between 20 mm. and 40 mm. The sound characteristic of the mey is obtained by its long and large reed. One end of the reed, which is cut through its joint (knot), is flattened to fit into the players' mouth. The other end is left round as is the original shape of the reed. This end is inserted into the head - part of the mey which is enlarged for the reed. The reed is left thick in the part to be inserted into the mey, or it is made airtight with waxed threads. Some modifications appear in mey bodies as well as in the reed structure. In the reed structure, in the past, the reeds were used by making a knot with threads in a place near the lower region (Isikli,1992). The reed manufacturer Sehamettin Tekin has confirmed this (Tekin 1992). The researcher Cemil Demirsipahi has drawn pictures of mey reeds with tuning - bridle (Kiskaç) and with thread (Demirsipahi 1975 194). Another interesting finding is that the aulos and monaulos reeds belonging to the Hellenistic period of Egypt were with joints (knots).

The tuning - bridle (kiskaç) which is mounted on the mey reed is made of a wood piece, and is bound on both sides. It not only makes the playing of the mey comfortable but also is used for the adjustment of the sound tone and tuning. Until recently, their players made their own reeds, as well as their instruments. With changing living conditions and the increase in the number of players, some of them have turned to the manufacture of reeds. The oldest known reed manufacturer is Sehamettin Tekin who is now too old to produce reeds. Tekin has stated that he learned how to make reeds from Aga Tastan, and that the reed shapes in use nowadays owe their popularity to his school of reed production. (Tekin 1992). Currently, Mehmet Simsek and Dursun Kement in Istanbul and Ali Zeynel Çiftçi in the Hatay are making reeds.



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As a graduate of the Turkish State Conservatory of Music in Istanbul, I was schooled in both Western and Turkish traditional musical systems. As a result of this bimusical background, I play Western flute as well as the mey. The familiarity with the flute performance practice inspired me to explore the possibilities of modifying the mey in order to overcome its technical limitations which have led to problems in executing specific intervals, transposition, and modulation.

I sought to achieve these goals by working with an instrument maker in Istanbul who was open to experimenting with methods of extending the range of the instrument and changing the nature of the large double reed. Attempts to accommodate more scales by manipulating the reed proved to be unsuccessful as the unique mellow sound of the instrument would be altered significantly.

Despite this success in producing a new and evolved mey, and the ability of instrument to perform a full range of folk music repertoire, there has been some resistance from traditional folk musicians.

There have been no significant changes in the physical structure of the mey. Only its present state has been adjusted to current conditions. I tried to improve the structure of the mey, and while realizing this, I tried not to spoil its unique sound. My aim was to improve the sound and the range of the mey. First, I tried to obtain an octave or five tones from the same sound hole, similar to over-blowing a flute or clarinet. Because the reed, however, is double-sided and large, this was not possible. It was necessary to change the structure of the reed, and this would spoil the original sound of the instrument. Second, I tried to obtain a larger range by drilling holes in the reed, to extend the fingering but this was not possible. Later, by placing keys on the body of the instrument it was possible to increase the range by an octave and a forth and to produce semitones and microtonal pitches.