Background of Khlui

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The khlui is probably the first wind instrument which the Thai devised themselves although the shape of the instrument is very similar to Indian flute. The khluiis also similar to the Japanese flute.  In the old days, the khlui was made of a long length of one variety of bamboo, cut so that there would be a "node 1" from the lower end. This node, however, was pierced so that there was an open shaft throughout the entire length of the instrument. This is still the basic model used today. After cutting and hollowing, the instrument is carefully dried out over a fire.
This makes the instrument less bare and more attractive. On the front side, small, round holes are made in a row.  Fingers are used to open and close the holes to change the pitch of the sound. No reed of any kind is used. The mouthpiece consists of a piece of wood, almost the size of the opening in the end of the bamboo.  It is inserted into this opening and made smooth across the end. The underneath side of this "peg" (called daak in Thai) is cut diagonally away from one side toward the center of the peg, including a small portion of the round top, leaving, when it is inserted into the bamboo, a small space through which air is blown when the instrument is played.
The peg is inserted so that this opening will be at the inside edge when held in playing position, which is with this end at the mouth and other end held out somewhat from the body. This type of mouthpiece is usually referred to in Western musical terminology as the "record-type" mouthpiece. The instrument requires great skill in playing. Different air pressures, positions of the lips, and angles at which the air is directed all  influence the tone and pitch, and great subtleties can be achieved.

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Near the mouthpiece on the under side of the instrument, another opening is made, but it is not a round hole. It is a rectangular opening with one side (the bottom of the opening) cut to slant inward from the outside surface of the bay to the inside surface of the open shaft. The cut starts from the downward end of the body and slants inward toward the end with the mouthpiece. At the end of the slanting cut is a small rectangular hole. This entire device is 1 inch long. It is called in Thai "the beak of the parrot," and without it, the instrument cannot produce sound. Below this opening there is a round hole called "the hole for finger support" because, when the instrument is being played, the thumb must open and close this hole as well as support or hold up the instrument. Above the thumb hole, but on the right side of the instrument as it is held in playing position, is another round hole called "the membrane hole."
Originally this hole was  covered by a very thin piece of bamboo fiber. Today  it is covered with thin tissue paper. On the front side of the instrument are seven finger holes. At the lower end of the body there are four more holes made in pairs at right angles to each other, i.e., one pair is made from front to back and the other from left to right.

The pairs overlap each other slightly, the pair going from front to back being a little higher than the pair going from right to left. A cord or ribbon is put through the holes going from right to left by which the instrument may be hung up or carried by the hand. These holes are then naturally called "the holes through which a cord is put." The other pair of holes seems to have neither a special name nor a specific function. Perhaps they are merely for decoration, to balance the other set of holes. All the Khlui has fourteen holes

         It is believed that the Khlui received its name from the characteristic sound produced by the instrument when it is played. Besides being used as a solo instrument, it is often played for its own enjoyment. It holds a regular place in four fixed ensembles; 1) Khryang Sai, or string ensemble ; 2) Mahori, or mixed string and percussion ensemble; 3) Piphat Mai Nuam, or percussion ensemble using padded beaters or playing sticks; and 4) Piphat Duk-Dam-Ban, a special percussion ensemble used for one type of stage performance. Originally, there was but one size of Khlui, but after it was added to ensembles, three sizes evolved in order to have an instrument commensurate with the general volume of sound of each ensemble:

Khlui Lip This is the smallest sized khlui, measuring 14 1/2 inches in length and 3/4 in width.

Khlui Pheng Aw This is the middle-sized khlui, measuring 18" in length and 1 1/2 inches in width.

Khlui U This is the largest-sized khlui, measuring 24 inches in length and 1 3/4 inches in width.


Listen to the 9,000 year old playable flute!



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