Types of Indonesian Music & Instruments

Written by eric michaels
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Types of Indonesian Music & Instruments
Bamboo Xylophone (Ablestock.com/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Gamelan is the most popular form of Indonesian music. The orchestra is made up of an ensemble of tuned percussion instruments, bamboo flutes and spike fiddles.


Gamelan ensembles are popular throughout Indonesia, and the form is known to originate in Java and Bali, though today it is more widely and preserved in Bali. Gamelan is rooted in Hinduism. The form that is preserved in Bali developed from ceremonial gamelans of the Hindu Temples in the 15th century.


The central melody in Gamelan is voiced through a various types of bronze or bamboo percussion instruments. These instruments are tuned at different intervals to create melody and a plethora of tunings. The most used gamelan instrument is the xylophone. Sometimes the xylophone carries the melody. Gongs layer the song with tempo accentuation, and gong chimes provide the ethereal atmosphere. Spike fiddles and bamboo flutes often trade the melody with the xylophone. Spike fiddles are made of two strings and are said to originate in Southern China, while the flutes are native to Indonesia.


The instrumentation of a particular gamelan orchestra depends on its function. Dance and drama has a gamelan that includes a large ensemble. One of the more popular theatrical ensembles in Bali, the gamelan angklung, requires about 20 musicians. They tune to slendro tuning, which is a four-tone scale the presents an excited and rhythmic sound. Javanese gamelan differs from the bright and fast paced form of gamelan angklung. It can sound subtle and in a soft, flowing landscape or loud and boisterous, in a triumphant voice.

Recent Developments

Kebyar is the most recent development in gamelan musical forms. It is an explosive music that features the high energy of gamelan angklung with the bombastic landscape of Javanese gamelan. This new form of gamelan can be heard in Bali at Kebyar clubs. The music featured is often original compositions with melodies echoed from traditional gamelan songs. It was crafted at the beginning of the 20th century during a time of social and political change. The gamelan gong kebyar is a bronze orchestra that features 25 musicians.

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