Category Archives: Shawms



Name: Sahanai.
Type: Aerophones > Shawms > Reeds.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Nepal.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The Sahanai is a shawm that is found in Nepal. It is used by the Damāi tailor–musicians as the melody instrument of the pañcai bājā ensemble. The sahanai common in the Gorkha district of central Nepal has seven equidistant finger-holes plus a vent and no thumbhole.

Instruments in other areas have seven finger-holes and a thumbhole. Sahanai are used in matching pairs, one shawm taking the melodic line [rāgī sahanai] while the other sounds a drone [surai sahanai]; they are played with circular breathing.

Construction: The size varies considerably with a body about 31 cm long plus a bell, originally of brass, about 10 cm long. The brass staple and the reed are about 6.5 cm long. The curved wooden body, with conical bore, is made in two longitudinal halves, later rejoined and secured with plaited cane rings. The compound double reed is made from palmyra palm leaf [Borassus flabellifer; tār-patra in Nepali].

Citations: Bibliography: Mireille Helffer, revised by Gert-Matthias Wegner and Simonne Bailey ; Websites: Grove Music Online / Sahanai Article ;


Name: Gyaling.
Type: Aerophones > Reeds > Shawms.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Tibet.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The gyaling [in Tibetan: རྒྱ་གླི་, Wylie: rgya gli, English: also spelled gya ling, gya-ling, jahlin, jah-lin, jahling, jah-ling, rgya-gling etc]. Gyaling literally meaning “Indian trumpet” is a traditional woodwind instrument used in Tibet. Specifically, it is a double reed horn much like the sorna used mainly in Tibetan monasteries during puja [chanting and prayer] and is associated with peaceful deities and the idea of devotion.

Usage in Ritual: A typical Tibetan Buddhist ritual orchestra consists of a gyaling, dungchen, kangling, dungkar [conch shells], drillbu [handbells], silnyen [vertical cymbals] and most importantly, chanting. Together, the music creates a state of mind to invite or summon deities.

Playing Technique: To play a gyaling one would require a technique called circular breathing. In which the instrument will constantly be emitting a linear sound, even while the musician inhales. The reed is fully submerged in the player’s mouth but does not touch it; the lips are pressed against the flat metal channel below the reed.

Often, the style of performance is similar to that of a bagpipe, with many short and fast neighbour tones. A gyaling player tunes the instrument with the breath. The way of playing a gyaling varies depending on the lineage and ritual.

Construction: The gyaling is oboe-like in appearance with a long hardwood body and copper brass bell. The instrument is generally covered with ornate embellishments of coloured glass. The double reed, which is made from a single stem of marsh grass, is placed upon a small metal channel that protrudes out of the top. There are eight finger-holes on a standard gyaling.

Citations: Bibliography: Mireille Helffer ; Grove Music Online / Rgya-ling ;

Mauri Dizau

Name: Mauri Dizau.
Type: Aerophones > Shawms > Reeds.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Nagaland, India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The Mauri dizau Oboe of the Dimacha Kachari people of Nagaland, northeast India. It has an externally conical wooden pipe, a large flaring bell, and a lip disc on the staple. It is played for folk dances together with the cylindrical drum kharan dizau.

Citations: Bibliography: Alastair Dick ; Websites: Oxford Music Online / Grove Music Online ;


Name: Nadaswaram.
Type: Aerophones > Reeds > Shawms.
Family: Mangala vadyam.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.

Description: The nadaswaram, nagaswaram or nathaswaram is a double reed wind instrument from Tamilnadu. It is used as a traditional classical instrument in Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. Considered among the worlds loudest non-brass wind instruments.

Usage: In Tamil culture, the nadaswaram is considered to be very auspicious. The nadaswaram is a key musical instrument played in almost all Hindu weddings and temples of the South Indian tradition. It is part of the family of instruments known as mangala vadyam. lit. mangala [auspicious], vadya [instrument]. The instrument is usually played in pairs and accompanied by the thavil. The nadaswaram is often accompanied with the ottu.

Construction: It is a wind instrument similar to the North Indian shehnai but much longer, with a hardwood body and a large flaring bell made of wood or metal. The nadaswaram contains three parts namely, kuzhal, thimiru and anasu. It is a double reed instrument with a conical bore which gradually enlarges toward the lower end. The top portion has a metal staple [mel anaichu] into which is inserted a small metallic cylinder [kendai] which carries the mouthpiece made of reed.

Accessories for the nadaswaram are often packaged with this instrument. They include spare reeds, a small ivory or horn needle is attached to the instrument, and used to clear the reed of saliva and other debris and allows free passage of air. A metallic bell [keezh anaichu] forms the bottom end of the instrument.

Traditionally the body of the nadaswaram is made out of a tree called aacha [hardwickia] in Tamil ஆச்சா; Hindi अंजन. Although nowadays bamboo, sandalwood, copper, brass, ebony and ivory are also used. For wooden instruments, old wood is considered the best, and sometimes wood salvaged from demolished old houses is used.

The nadaswaram has seven finger-holes, and five additional holes drilled at the bottom which can be stopped with wax to modify the tone. The nadaswaram has a range of two and a half octaves, similar to the Indian bansuri flute, which also has a similar fingering. Unlike the flute where semi and quarter tones are produced by the partial opening and closing of the finger holes. In playing the nadaswaram  the notes are produced by adjusting the pressure and strength of the air-flow into the pipe. Due to its intense volume and strength it is largely an outdoor instrument and much more suited for open spaces than for indoor concerts.

Citations: Bibliography: O. Gosvami, 1 January 1961 – The story of Indian music: its growth and synthesis. Scholarly Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-403-01567-2 ; Retrieved 25 December 2012. Andankoil AV Selvarathnam Pillai ; B. Kolappan 2010-12-15 ; “Arts / Music – An art that’s still awaiting its due”. The Hindu – Retrieved 2012-01-09. Sampath, Revathi 16 March 2008 ;


Name: Mizmar.
Type: Aerophones > Reeds > Shawms.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Many.
Region: Middle East & North Africa.

Description: In Arabic music, a mizmār [Arabic: مزمار‎; plural مَزَامِير mazāmīr] is any single or double reed wind instrument. In Egypt, the term mizmar usually refers to the conical shawm that is called zurna in Turkey. 

Mizmar is also a term used for a group of musicians, usually a duo or trio, that play a mizmar instrument along with an accompaniment of one or two double-sided bass drums, known in Arabic as tabl baladi or simply tabl.

Mizmars are usually played in Egypt at either weddings or as an accompaniment to belly dancers. In Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Syria. The mizmar is influenced by the Turkish zurna, a higher-pitched version of the mizmar, and may also be known in those countries as a zamr [زمر] or zamour, as well as mizmar.

In North Africa from Libya Algeria to Morocco a similar instrument is called ghaita or rhaita [غيطة]. Along with belly dancing, the mizmar may accompany the dabke, a folkloric line dance done in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Iraq.

Citations: Bibliography: Berger, Shlomo; Brocke, Michael; Zwiep, Irene 2003; Zutot 2002, Dordrecht Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 133. ISBN 1402013248 ;


Name: Suona.
Type: Aerophones > Reeds > Shawm.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Bayin: 竹 Zhú; Bamboo.
Country: China.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: Suona 嗩吶 [in traditional: Chinese 唢呐] the suona, also called laba [in Chinese: 喇叭] or haidi. It is a Chinese conical double reed musical instrument. It has a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound, and is used frequently in Chinese traditional music ensembles, particularly those that perform outdoors. It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China. Particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan.

In Northern China the suona is a very important musical instrument. Particularly in the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where has long been used for festival and military purposes. Often in accompaniment with other instruments, sheng, gongs, drums and occasionally with other instruments. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui.

Stephen Jones has written extensively on its use in ritual music of Shanxi province. It is also common in the ritual music of Southeast China. In Taiwan, it forms an essential element of ritual music that accompanies Daoist performances of both auspicious and inauspicious rites, i.e., those for both the living and the dead.

It is an important instrument in the folk music of northern China, particularly the provinces of Shandong and Henan, where it has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui.

The suona has long been used for festival and military purposes. It is still used, in combination with sheng mouth organs, gongs, drums, and sometimes other instruments, in wedding and funeral processions. Such wind and percussion ensembles are called chuida or guchui.

Suona Family: The instrument is made in several sizes. Since the mid-20th century, “modernized” versions of the suona have been developed in China; incorporating mechanical keys similar to those of the European oboe, to allow for the playing of chromatic notes and equal tempered tuning both of which are difficult to execute on the traditional suona.

The Suona Family
Names [in Chinese] Names [In English] Pitch
Haidi Piccolo G and F
Xiao Sopranino D and C
Gaoyin Soprano A and G
Zhongyin Alto D
Cizhongyin Tenor G
Bass *

Citations: Bibliography: Wang, Min 2001 – The Musical and Cultural Meanings of Shandong Guchuiyue from the People’s Republic of China. Ph.D. dissertation. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University ;
New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell London, 2001 ; Jones, Stephen 2007 Ritual and Music of North China: Shawm Bands in Shanxi Province ; SOAS Musicology Series. Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing ;


Name: Srnaj.
Type: Aerophones > Reeds > Shawms.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Southern, Iraq, Gulf States.
Region: Middle East & North Africa.

Description: The srnaj is an oboe with a conical bore, belonging to the shawm category of reed musical instruments. It is used by black musicians in Southern Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain and the gulf states. The srnaj is the only aerophone used in the musical ceremonies of the black population. It appears only in the Al Haywa [or leiwa] ensembles where it is accompanied by two msondo, a path [tanaka] and pipa.

In Some gulf states the tanaka is replaced by a barrel drum. The bright tone of the srnaj is suited for out-door gatherings. In the Al Haywa The srnaj is played in pairs, accompanied by a choir of singers. The melodies of the srnaj are often cyclic and quite long in repertoire, circular breathing is often used during performance.

Construction: The body is assembled in three sections, two of the sections are made of walnut [Juglans regia] or a similar hardwood. A large bell [hawān; or judges cap] between 7 cm to 16 cm in length, and about 10 cm wide and a middle section [mtāko], about 25 cm in length with six large finger holes one of which is often closed in Iraq and a thumb hole. The third section [manāra; minaret] is of metal and it is 20 cm in length. The reed of the srnaj is fitted with a broad reed of coconut stem, palm or tamarind, held in place by a pirouette of metal or coconut shell.

Citations: Bibliography: P. Rovsing, Olsen: ‘La Music africain dans le Golfe persique’, JIFMC, xix 1967, 28; A. A. Sarrai; Tubal al-Haywa [the drums of haywa] Baghdad, 1975 ; S. Qassim Hassan Les instruments de musique en Irak et lleur róle dans la société traditionnelle Paris, 1980 Scheherazade Qassam Hassan ; Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary Of Music, Book P to Z, Page 442 ;


Name: Shenai.
Type: Aerophones > Shawm > Reeds.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Vadya: Mangal Vadya.
Specimens: 2 in collection.
Country: India.
Region: South Asia.
Acquisition Source: Ian MacKenzie, trip to Rajasthan, India.

Description: The shehnai, shenoy, sanai, shahnai, shenai, shanai or mangal vadya or sahanai [in Hindi: शहनाई, Bengali: শানাই, Marathi: सनई, Odia: ଶାହାନାଇ, Kannada: ಸನಾದಿ] is a member of the conical double reed family. The shenai is common to North India and over all South Asia.

The variant names of this instrument including Sahanai [Nepal] are virtually the same type of instrument they may differ in tuning due to over all size and length. The shenai is used in religious events but in recent times it became an instrument of virtuosity. The introduction of the shenai to western audiences was by George Harrison’s “Wonderwall” album. Furthering a passion for Indian Classical Music in the west since the 1960s.

Techniques: In the hands of a great player the shenai creates a fluid tone rich in subtleties and expression. The shenai is played with the pads of the second joint of the finger rather than the fingertips to enable the fingers to be slowly rocked off the holes to produce a flawless unbroken portamento of up to almost a full octave. The shenai is usually played with another shenai [sur] holding a drone.

Construction: The shenai has a reed that is folded multiple times, this allows for the embodiment of four or six reeds. The reeds are made from folding a leaf and cutting it in shape, so that when its bound to the mouthpiece, the reed spreads with equal amount of tongues on both-sides. Usually the shenai has a small piece of wool around the reed so that when tightened it can play the reed further.

Citations: Bibliography: Ranade, Ashok Damodar 2006 ; Music contexts: a concise dictionary of Hindustani Music. Bibliophile South Asia – ISBN 81-85002-63-0 ; Hoiberg, Dale – Indu Ramchandani 2000 Students’ Britannica India. Popular Prakashan ; Websites:


Name: Sharnai.
Type: Aerophones > Shawms > Reeds.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Sindh, Pakistan.
Region: South Asia.

Description: A small oboe of Sindh, Pakistan. The body of the instrument of very old “kiraar” wood. The Sharnai belongs to the Northern Sindh and Multan [lower Punjab areas]. There are two other sizes are found in the region; the ghazi about 15 cm in length it is used for mourning tunes [osara] during the shiite lamentation of Muharram; the mutta is 25 cm in length. The sharnai often accompanies the dhul a double barrel drum.

Construction: The sharnai has eight finger holes and a thumb hole and a canonical bell. The mouthpiece consists of a double reed of kangor cane tied with thread to a brass staple which carries a round lip disc of shell and it is inserted into the pipe.

Citations: Bibliography: N. A. Baloch, Musical Instruments Of The Lower Indus Valley of Sindh, Hyderabad India, 1966 Alastair Dick, Stanley Sadie ~ New Grove Dictionary of Music, Vol 3, Book P to Z, Page 364 ;


Name: Sarunai.
Type: Aerophones > Shawms > Reeds.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 422.112
Country: Bengkulu, Sumatra, Indonesia.
Region: Far East Asia.

Description: The Sarunai is a shawm, belonging to the multiple reed group of reed aerophones. It is primarily played in Sumatra Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia. It is related to the Arabic zurna in it basic design.

Varieties: In Minangkabau, West Sumatra, the sarunai consists of a double reed of palm leaf lamellae inserted into a metal ring. The reed assembly is then fitted into the top of the instrument. The bell is made of water buffalo [Bubalus bubalis] horn attached to the front end of the instrument. Two conically bored pipes are fitted with a wooden or metal ring. Alternatively a piece of rice stalk is fitted into an open piece of bamboo about 23 cm in length. A “U” shaped slit is cut into the top of a stalk t serve as a reed. Four finger holes are cut into the bamboo tube.

Citations: Bibliography: New Grove Dictionary of Music by Stanley Sadie Volume 3, P to Z pages 301 / 302 Sarunai ; A.D. Jansen: Gonrang Music: Its Structure and Functions in Simalungun Batak Society in Sumatra, diss. University of Washington, 1980 ; Margaret J. Kartomi ; Dualism in Unity: the Ceremonial Music of the Mandailing Raja Tradition, Asian Music, xii/2, 1981 ; Lyn Moore with Jack Percival Baker Dobbs ;