Home | Music | Dance | Schedule | Recordings | Photos | Links | F.A.Q | Blog

How to play mijwiz:

Important note: I'm no mijwiz expert! But I'm sharing what little knowledge I have, since many people have asked me to help them learn to play the mijwiz, and there's so little information out there. If you know more about playing mijwiz than I do, please make a website and share your information, or contact me and I'll post your advice for everyone to see.

With that in mind, here goes:

What is a mijwiz?

It's a wind instrument played all over the Middle East, with different names in different countries, such as zummara, mitbaj, muzmar baladi, cifti kaval, and jufti. It seems to be very similar to ancient Greek and ancient Egyptian instruments. It's essentially two primitive clarinets stuck together and played simultaneously. It's very closely related to the traditional Middle Eastern bagpipe, which also has various names, such as jirba, habban, qirbah, tulum, tsambuna, zukra, balaban, nari hamban, nay amban, and nay mashak.

Where do I put my fingers?

Yes, there are more holes than you have fingers, but that's not a problem. The ring finger of your right hand covers the furthest holes of both tubes. That's right, lay your finger across both tubes. The middle finger of your right hand covers the next-to-last holes of both tubes, and the index finger of your right hand covers the next holes of both tubes. The fingers of your left hand cover the rest of the holes, similarly. (Different instruments can have different numbers of holes.) Practice covering all the holes cleanly.

How do I blow it?

It looks like there's nowhere to blow into, but that's the way the reeds are made. The reeds are about an inch and a half long long. They look like they're just the first joint of the instrument, but they're the most important part, so be careful with them. They're single reeds like clarinet reeds, but you don't have to soak them first, nor do you use fancy embouchure to get different notes and be expressive. You just put the entire reed in your mouth, up to the joint where they're stuck in the instrument, so they're free in your mouth. Yes, you really put it that far in your mouth. Now blow. It takes a fair amount of pressure, but not a lot of air. If your reeds are working, you will get a surprisingly loud, rich, exciting sound, like bagpipes. This rarely happens on the first try with your average mijwiz. That's why I have troubleshooting topics below.

But nothing happened.

If you get no sound, and it feels like you're trying to inflate a carrot, your reeds are stuck closed. Take the mijwiz out of your mouth and gently pry open the tongues of the reeds. Try blowing again.

But still nothing happened.

Your reeds are more seriously stuck. Take a hair (or a few hairs) from your hairbrush, or a thin thread, and slide it up under the tongue of the reed, as far as it will go, so it holds the reed open. Try blowing again. If it now lets a lot of air through, and you just get a windy sound, the reed is too far open, so use a thinner thread instead. Try this with both reeds of your mijwiz until they're both working. Trim the excess hair or thread when you're done so it doesn't tickle your mouth.

How do I know both reeds are working?

Uncover holes on one tube, then the other, to make sure you get an effect from both tubes. If changing the fingering on one tube doesn't change the note, that reed isn't working, so fix it.

Both reeds are working, but they're playing two very dissonant notes.

First, see if the problem is the reeds, or your fingering. See if your mijwiz sounds good or dissonant with all holes open. Then try covering the top holes with one finger of your left hand, making sure all the holes are completely covered, so you're not letting any air leak through. Then try covering the next holes with the next finger of your left hand, and so on. If it sounds dissonant all the way down, the problem is probably that the reeds are out of tune with each other. If there's only dissonance on one or a few notes, but the rest are OK, the problem might be that the holes are in the wrong places. See further below for advice on that.

The reeds are out of tune with each other.

Try pulling the higher-sounding reed out of the body of the mijwiz slightly, so it's longer. You can't pull it very far, though, before you get air leaks. And/or, push the deeper-sounding reed a little further into the body of the mijwiz to make it shorter, but be very careful not to use much pressure, or you could crack the reed or the body.

Pushing and pulling the reeds didn't get them close enough to in tune.

Put very, very small pieces of tape on the tongue of the higher-sounding reed, to make it heavier, so it vibrates slower. You might need a few layers of tape. Of course, don't go beyond the tongue, or it won't be able to vibrate at all. I read that you're supposed to use drops of melted wax for this, but tape seems to work OK. I've also read that you can shave tiny slivers off the deeper-sounding reed, to make it lighter, thus higher, but I haven't tried that myself.

Both reeds are in tune! Now what kind of crazy scale does this play?

The average cheap mijwiz is in the key of stick, and I don't know where to get better ones. Mine is actually close to the maqam rast, which is sort of like a major scale, but has a neutral third (halfway between a major and a minor third), and so sounds strange to western ears, but it is a useful maqam for many tunes. More often, I play it in the maqam bayati, using the second-lowest note as the tonic. Bayati is a very useful scale, that sounds like a minor scale, but with a neutral second. I like this scale so much, I sometimes even tune my hurdy gurdy to play it.

I don't like this scale.

If you're familiar with Middle Eastern music, and you think your mijwiz doesn't play any sort of useful maqam, you could try "moving" some holes by partially covering them with tape, or even, if you're brave, drilling new holes. You could also try this to get the tubes in tune with each other, if the holes don't line up. Good luck.

I've tried my best, but I think this mijwiz is just junk. Where can I get a better one?

I don't know. Sorry. A lot of mijwizes out there seem to be meant as decorations more than as playable instruments..

Now that I finally got it working, how do I play it?

Uncover the holes one row at a time, starting from the bottom, to go up the scale, like you would play a tinwhistle. You can also bend notes by rolling your fingers onto and off of the holes, for sultry, expressive sounds.

Unlike many other wind instruments, the mijwiz has only one register. It has a very narrow range, less than an octave, so only particular types of tunes fit into its range. Fortunately, many old traditional Middle Eastern tunes fit into this narrow range.

To really play it correctly, you circular breathe. That is, you keep the sound going constantly, by storing air in your cheeks, and using this air to keep the sound going as you inhale through your nose. You're essentially playing bagpipes, using your cheeks as the bag. Look up circular breathing for more information on how to learn this difficult technique.

Where do I practice?

Take your mijwiz to a nice loud drum circle, the groovier the better. No one will mind the ugly squawks resulting from your first attempts. More traditionally, you'd go out in the wilderness, herding your goats, and play mijwiz to keep yourself entertained, but such wide open spaces are harder to find these days.

Have fun! And let me know if these instructions helped you, or if you have any suggestions for how I can improve them.

Questions, comments, gig offers? My email address is .

Updated August 28, 2012 © Melissa Kacalanos