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Some of the many variations on the melody will sound quite similar to each other; others will sound quite different. The program for when, how often, and how many times, to play each variation may be set in advance and memorized by the entire ensemble, or may be signaled by the group's leader (often a drummer), or may be a combination of planned and signaled. Particular variations may be closely coordinated with events in the dance, theater production, or religious ceremony.

Timbre and texture

A wide variety of percussion instruments (see Balinese Gamelan ) provide the typical timbres , although quieter ensembles may feature thin, florid lines from flutes and bowed strings. Listen for the long-lasting resonance of large gongs and low-pitched metallophones, the bright metallic sound of high-pitched metallophones and hollowed ring of smaller kettle-gongs, the clatter of cymbals, and an intricate variety of sounds from the drums.

Traditional Balinese music prefers textures that are bright, thick, and busy, often very loud and "noisy" by Western standards, with wide tuning and many simultaneous layers of sound, quite unlike any textures commonly found in Western music. Polyphony is not used. Monophony is common, but with a wide tuning. Functional harmony is not used, but the multiple simultaneous versions of the melody can often produce an impression of harmony, since more than one pitch may be sounding at a time. These multiple layers can be considered a kind of heterophony , but the resulting texture is still very different from the types of heterophony found in musics from other areas (such as middle eastern).

The texture of the typical gamelan sound is based on melodic layers. The fundamental layer is, of course, the colotomic instruments playing the form . Just "above" this layer are lower-pitched instruments playing the most basic version of the melody. Increasingly higher-pitched instruments play increasingly complex, ornamented versions of the melody. Balinese "ornament" notes during a solo may be similar to those in Western and middle-eastern musics, which tend to be free-flowing and indefinite in length, and noticeably shorter than the notes of the main melody. When the entire ensemble is playing, however, the "ornament notes" in the most complex parts tend to be very rhythmically precise, so that the total effect of all of the parts is an impression of a very constant, steady pulse.

Rhythm and ensemble

Rhythm is a very important aspect of the Balinese musical aesthetic. A good ensemble is one that can play very complex rhythms very fast, with a very tight, clean, "together", ensemble sound. Although the ensemble rhythm is usually a very steady, even flow of notes, the technique used to get this steady, even flow at such fast tempos involves having individual players play parts that do not have a steady, even, flow, and in fact are often highly syncopated .

One way this is often achieved is by having players of similar instruments play the same syncopated rhythm, beginning on different beats. For example, if a cymbal part in an eight-beat cycle consists of notes on beat 1, 4, and 7, three cymbal players, beginning the pattern on beats one, two, and three respectively, are enough to give a beat that is steady and continuous, and yet changes timbre (and sometimes pitch, too) from one beat to the next.

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Source:  OpenStax, Musical travels for children. OpenStax CNX. Jan 06, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10221/1.11
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