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Kendang are long, cylindrical drums with a head at each end. They are often tapered so that the two heads are different sizes. Many ensembles will employ two drummers playing drums of slightly different sizes, using a very intricate technique to play complex, often interlocking parts. The drum may be played with a stick or beater, but is often played directly with the fingers and hands. The director of the ensemble often plays the drum, using it to audibly signal changes in tempo or dynamics or cyclic variations , in order to closely coordinate the music with the dance, storytelling, or ritual.

Cymbals and processional instruments

Cymbals are a feature of many kinds of gamelan . Large cymbals are played in pairs, (like orchestral crash cymbals). These are often found in processional and ceremonial ensembles. Also very common, in many types of gamelan , is a set of several small cymbals set onto a wooden base, played by being struck by two small hand-held cymbals.

Another instrument type that can be found in processional ensembles - particularly gamelan angklung - is the angklung , a wooden frame holding bamboo tubes that rattle when the frame is shaken. This type of instrument is considered less formal than many other gamelan instruments, and may be kept at home and played for fun.

Woodwinds and strings

Winds and strings are not nearly as important to most Balinese ensembles as percussion , but some gamelan do feature non-percussion instruments. For example, one of the earliest types of Balinese ensemble, gamelan gambuh , features four very long, deep-voiced bamboo flutes called suling and a type of two-stringed, bowed lute called a rebab . These instruments may also be found in other types of gamelan . They are often not as precisely tuned as the other instruments of the ensemble; this is considered acceptable because they are played with a highly florid style very different from that of the percussion instruments, and because their tuning may be adjusted, for example by partly covering the holes of the flute.

The florid playing style of wind and stringed instruments creates a very different texture than the percussion instruments.


Various types of gamelan may have as few as three or as many as 24 players. Some types are very old, while others have been more recently invented. Some are rare, even unique; others are widespread, with only minor differences (such as tuning) between various communities across the island. There are far too many to include a complete list. In order to give some idea of the variety, a few common gamelan types will be described here, including a detailed description of the gamelan gong kebyar , which is very popular with tourists.

Gamelan gambuh is a traditional ensemble, rarely heard today, whose primary purpose is to accompany courtly dance-dramas. The instruments include a variety of gongs and gong chimes , pairs of suling gambuh flutes, and a rebab . The ensemble tends to have a quieter, more introspective sound than many other gamelan .

Gamelan gong belaganjur is a type of processional ensemble that once accompanied Balinese armies into battle, but now is mainly associated with cremation and mortuary rituals. The music and procession are typically led by two drummers . Other musicians may carry either a pair of cymbals or a single small gong. The cymbal players may play the same or interlocking parts. The gongs are tuned to four different pitches, and played alternately to produce a melody, as if a small gong chime had been taken apart and one gong given to each player. Gamelan gong belaganjur tends to produce loud, busy textures.

Questions & Answers

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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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