Origins and brief history of the Shehnai
The Shehnai is also called the oboe of northern India. It may have evolved
from the Persian Nai. There are depictions of the Nai on Egyptian tombs
dating to 3000 B.C. Historically, in India, the Shehnai was one of the
nine instruments associated with the ensembles of royal courts. It is
called Mangal Vadya, which translates to “auspicious instrument.”
The auspicious sound of the Shehnai is the reason it is associated with
the religious ceremonies. Today, the Shehnai is still played in temples.
This status has made it a necessary instrument in north Indian weddings
Description of the Shehnai
The Shehnai offered by DulcimerShofar has a hand carved rosewood body. The
bell is nickel covered brass; the nickel is engraved to show the brass
underneath. The Shehnai has eight playing holes, and one external double
reed is included.
How to play the Shehnai
The reed mounts in the mouth piece, the upper end, on the outside. This
instrument has a sealed air chamber. Do not try to remove the bell from
the shaft. When playing, your lips are placed on the upper end, this places
the reed inside your mouth. Your mouth is now part of the instrument and
acts as an air chamber. Prior to playing the reed must be soaked to soften
it. You may soak the reed for up to 5 minutes. Test the reed occasionally
to see if it has the sound you like, there is no need to over soak it.
The fingers of the right hand cover the four bottom holes. The fingers
of the left hand play the upper four holes. Blow steady but do not blast
the air through the instrument. Some players adjust the instrument’s
sound by partially or completely filling some holes with wax. As you play
the reed will be kept damp by your breath. You may find that it becomes
too damp and you will need to dry it out. It can be left to dry naturally,
never put it in sunlight or near heat. You can adjust the opening of the
reed by placing a clip on the reed when it dries to minimize the opening.
Or, dry it with a toothpick between the reeds to increase the opening.
As you play, you will become familiar with the style of reed that works
best for you.