Make your own kaval

by Daniel W. Papuga


Good musical instruments don't have to cost you a fortune! Your nearest building supply store or electrical installation shop has plastic tubing which can be used to make a type of flute known as "kaval".

Kaval is the name of an end-blown flute found in Turkey and the Balkans. Similar instruments are played all over the Middle East and North Africa under the name of "ney".

One of the most popular models of kaval comes from Bulgaria. A Bulgarian kaval in "D" can easily be made from a piece of plastic tubing which is 635mm long, and 16mm inner diameter. The tools you will need are a drill with an 8mm drill bit, some sandpaper, and a small knife. Here are the measurements:

top

thumb (on back)

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

tuning

tuning

tuning (double)

bottom

0

278

296

322

348

374

402

426

452

523

553

582

635

Drill out the eight finger holes and four "tuning holes". They are all 8mm in diameter. The dimensions above show the MIDDLE of the holes. Any remaining bits of plastic in the holes can be removed with the knife. The outer edge at the top of the flute (at the 0 mark) is sanded down to about a 45% angle all the way around. This makes a sharp edge which you blow over while playing.

Playing style

The instrument described above is actually just a long, open tube with various holes in it. There is no fixed windway, as in a recorder or tin whistle. Instead, you blow across the sharp top edge of the flute while holding it slightly at an angle, as in the drawing at the top of this page. Your lips should be formed in about the same way as when you whistle or play jew's harp. If you try to say "rööööör" with your tongue towards the front of your mouth, it should be correct.

The lowest octave (from D to H) is called the "kaba" register. It is difficult to play loudly, but in the hands of a good musician, it can give a very warm, full sound. There is no C or C# in the lowest octave, and Eb has to be made by half-holing the lowest hole.

The second octave (from d to b-flat) is easier to get, and gives a more powerful sound. You reach it by blowing slightly harder while you make the air stream a little more narrow.

In order to reach the third and fourth octaves, you need to blow slightly stronger again.

The fingers should be placed flat over the finger holes, with the meaty part of the mid-finger covering the holes. By bending fingers, then straightening them out again, you can make a kind of vibrato, which forms a pulse in time with the music. Bulgarian folk musicians keep an eight-note or sixteenth-note pulse going the whole time.

There are many performers who have made kaval recordings. Bayram Şengül from Erzurum, Turkey is one of my favorites. If you have access to older "Balkanton" records, you can look for the names of Cvjatko Blagojev, Stojan Velickov and Nikola Gancev. These are the most famous Bulgarian soloists from the 1960's and 70's. One of today's most prolific young Bulgarian performers is Theodosii Spassov.

Fingering chart for Bulgarian kaval in "D"

("o" = covered, "/" = half-covered)

 

D

Eb

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

B

H

 

d

eb

e

f

f#

g

g#

a

b

h'

c'

c#'

d'

eb'

e'

f'

f#"

g"

g#"

a"

thumb

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

1

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

o

o

o

o

2

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

 

o

o

o

o

o

3

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

o

o

 

 

4

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

o

 

 

o

5

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

6

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

7

o

/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

o

o

o

 

Some kaval links:


Daniel W. Papuga
Daniel Winfree Papuga email

Updated 13.09.09