Origin, Examples of Gamelan Musical Instruments & How to Play It

Origin of Gamelan Musical Instruments, Examples of Gamelan Musical Instruments & How to Play Gamelan Musical Instruments – Discussing Javanese culture is incomplete if you don’t talk about gamelan musical instruments. This traditional Indonesian musical instrument is still being preserved until now and is even known to foreign countries. Gamelan consists of several traditional musical instruments such as the gong, saron, bonang, pelog, and other musical instruments used in karawitan art. 

Sinaumed’s needs to know that gamelan is one of Indonesia’s original traditional ensemble music that has been around for a long time. So getting to know gamelan musical instruments can be our way as the younger generation to preserve Indonesian culture. The following is an explanation of gamelan, starting from the meaning, history, types, to the various musical instruments in it: 


Gamelan is a form of musical ensemble that refers to the unity of musical instruments that are sounded together. The word gamelan comes from the Javanese word gamel which means to beat or hit which is then followed by the ending an so that it means a noun. Gamelan performances are often found in traditions on the islands of Java, Bali, Madura, Lombok with various types and sizes of gamelan ensembles. 

According to Javanese belief, gamelan was first created by the god Sang Hyang Era Saka, the ruler of the land of Java. The first time a gamelan musical instrument was created was the gong which was used to summon the gods at that time. Finally created other musical instruments as complete as the gamelan that we know today. 

Due to the popularity of the gamelan at that time, this musical instrument developed rapidly during the Majapahit era and even spread outside Java, such as Bali and Sunda. Gamelan musical instruments in every region in Indonesia have characteristics that are different from one another, for example from the color of the sound that is created because they also use different musical instruments. For example, the Sundanese gamelan is more seductive because it is combined with traditional Sundanese musical instruments, namely the flute. 

The function of gamelan is usually used to accompany wayang kulit and dance performances in certain events. The development of gamelan until now has been able to become a separate musical instrument performance that is of interest to many people. Gamelan performances are usually accompanied by a sinden as a singer. Sinaumed’s may already be familiar with gamelan performances in palaces or wayang events. 


Gamelan has a long history in the civilization of Indonesian society from the royal period in the 8th century to the 11th century. The emergence of gamelan developed from the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms in Sumatra, Bali and Java. This can be seen in the Borobudur temple monument where there are relief images of gamelan ensembles from the era of the Sriwijaya kingdom in the 6th to 13th centuries AD. 

Royal and noble families at that time were expected to learn and master this instrument. Even in ancient times, someone who could play the gamelan was considered to be brave and wise. Gamelan in the era of the Majapahit kingdom was growing rapidly until there was a schedule for gamelan performances at the court. 

The development of gamelan then continued after the entry of Islam into the archipelago which used artistic methods to spread its religion. Sunan Bonang was one of the walisongo and became the most famous propagator of Islam at that time. In spreading Islam, Sunan Bonang then combined gamelan which was thick with Hindu-Buddhist culture as a medium for conveying Islamic teachings. This method was characteristic of Sunan Bonang and indeed aimed to adapt it to the culture of the Javanese people at that time so that their preachings could be more acceptable.  


1. Kendhang

2. Sharon

 How to play the saron instrument is to hit the metal blade using the right hand and hold the previously beaten blade using the left hand to eliminate the remaining buzzing sound. This method is commonly referred to as sculpting or squeezing techniques .  

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3. Dumble

As with the saron, demung is also included in the balungan group in gamelan instruments. Usually there are two types of demung, pelog and slendro in gamelan. This instrument produces the lowest octave tone from the other balungan groups, despite its largest physical size. The method of playing demung is similar to that of the saron, except that the demung percussion is larger and heavier than the saron percussion. 

4. Bonang

Bonang is a gamelan instrument in the form of a kettle or pot placed on a string (rope) in a wooden frame (rancak). Each pot then has a convex shaft (pencon) at the top as the center to be hit. Bonang is included in pencon exit which is a musical instrument made of metal and has a concave shape underneath with a convex shaft to be hit. 

There are several types of bonang in the gamelan set, namely bonang successor, barung, and panembung. The way to play boning is to hit the hollow or cover with a special bat. 

5. Kenong

Kenong is also included in the pencon family like boning in gamelan instruments. The difference is that kenong has a physical form that is fatter than other pencon instruments. The kenong is then placed on a pangkon made of wood which has a rope base so that it does not hinder the kenong’s vibrations when it is beaten. This instrument produces a low sound but still loud with a distinctive timbre. How to play kenong is similar to playing bonang by hitting with a special stick in the hollow or lump of the kenong.  

6. Gongs

Almost similar to the bonang and kenong, the gong also has a convex shape at the top with a larger size and a hanging position, not placed in a certain layer. Resembling a large disk, gongs are made of melted metal such as bronze and copper to produce a distinctive sound. The way to play this instrument is to hit the convex part using a special stick.  

7. Kempul

Kempul is a gamelan instrument that is played which is almost similar to a gong but has a smaller size. The way to play it is the same as the gong, namely being hit with a special stick. Although the kempul belongs to the pencon family of musical instruments, it can be played with a tone like balungan music and can also precede the balungan tone. 

8. Xylophone

At first glance, the xylophone is similar to the saron and demung, but the blades of this musical instrument are made of wood or bamboo to produce a distinctive and unique sound. There are 18 chords on the xylophone which sit above a boat-shaped connector rack. The blades are arranged sequentially from the smallest blade shape to the longest. How to play the gambang instrument is to hit each number using a special beater called a percussion. Almost similar to the saron and demung, Sinaumed’s also needs to hold the say after being hit so that it doesn’t leave a sound. 

9. Slenthem

The slenthem instrument is one of the gamelan instruments that is included in the balungan family such as the saron and demung. This musical instrument produces a low pitch hum or echoes following the tones of other balungan musical instruments. In a gamelan set there is usually a slendro version of the slenthem with a range of C, D, E, G, A, C, and pelog with a range of C to B notes. 

10. Gender

Gender is a Javanese and Balinese gamelan instrument made of metal with which each blade is struck. There are 10 to 14 blades on a gender instrument made of brass which are then suspended from a string above a bamboo or zinc resonator. The way to play this instrument is to hit each blade with a special bat, namely a wooden percussion (Balinese) or cloth-covered (Javanese). In a complete gamelan set, there are three types of gender used, namely slendro, pelog pathet nem lan lima, and pelog pathet barang. 

11. Siter

The zither is a gamelan instrument that is played by picking it like the guzheng musical instrument from China or the zither from India. This musical instrument is rarely found or used in gamelan sets today. This musical instrument is also commonly called the Javanese guitar which has a distinctive sound. Measuring 20 x 50 cm, the zither is made of teak wood with 13 to 14 strings. 

The siter instrument has two sides with different tones, namely the pelog and slendro sides. Siter is considered as a musical instrument that adopts Indian musical instruments because it is almost the same as Sitar which is a traditional Indian musical instrument. 

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12. Rebab

The rebab is an important gamelan instrument for elaborating and embellishing basic melodies. How to play it does not have to match the scale of other musical instruments, aliases can be created freely. This instrument is also part of an ensemble that is played openly. 

13. Flute

The flute is a gamelan instrument which is played by blowing it and is made of bamboo. Soft sound gives a characteristic to the unity of gamelan music. This musical instrument is considered to come from West Java or Sunda. 

14. Where

How to play this instrument is to be beaten and combined according to other traditional musical instruments. Players will hit the sides and swipe slightly to make a sound. If the body hole is closed, then where will it produce a distinctive tone. 

15. Gendrums

Gendrum is a gamelan instrument that is included in hybrid musical instruments such as drums and drums which was designed by Siswo Harsono in 1992. This musical instrument is usually found in Semarang’s Gambang, Jaipongan, Campursari, or dangdutan arts. The drum consists of jaipong drums, bar drums, ketipung or panepak, large ketipung, bongo, cowbells, bass drum and cymbals such as ride, cerash, splash and china. 

The way to play this instrument is to hit it with the palm of the hand which is played by a drum player, not a percussionist. This musical instrument can produce harmony in other traditional musical instruments. 


After knowing the various musical instruments played in gamelan performances, actually the type of gamelan itself has several differences. The thing that distinguishes it is usually the composition of the traditional musical instruments used and their needs. The following are the types of gamelan that Sinaumed’s needs to know:

1. Big Gamelan

The gedhe type of gamelan consists of a complete ricikan, starting from the slendro tunings to the pelog tunings. This type of gamelan is usually used in concerts or musical performances or uyon-uyon. 

2. Wayang Gamelan

From the name, this type of gamelan is used to accompany wayang performances. In addition to the slendro tunings, the pelog tuning for gamelan is also used for gamelan accompanying middle wayang and gedog puppet shows. 

3. Pakurmatan Gamelan

Pakurmatan gamean is divided into three, namely monggang, caribbean, and kodhok ngrek. This gamelan functions as an accompaniment to ceremonies honoring Javanese culture, such as Grebeg Mulud, welcoming guests, and circumcisions or marriages to the royal family. 

4. Gamelan Sekaten

In the Yogyakarta and Surakarta palaces, the sekaten type gamelan will be used once a year. Namely to commemorate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad SAW on 6-12 Mulud (Javanese calendar) and the sekaten gamelan is played in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque. 

5. Gamelan Gadon

Gamelan Gadohon consists of a composition of drums, zither, gender, slentem, xylophone and gongs only. This type of gamelan is used for the needs of people who have climen (simple) intentions, namely circumcision, 5 after the child’s birthday, moving house, birthdays and so on.

6. Gamelan Cokekan

Gamelan cokekan is a type of gamelan used for singing. The musical instruments in this gamelan only consist of zithers, drums, and gongs made of wood or gongs. 

7. Gamelan Senggani (Sengganen)

Senggani gamelan is made of iron and brass in the form of smaller blades and is more practical. This gamelan consists of bonang barung, bonang successor, demung, sarin, slenthem, drums, kempul and kenong. This type of gamelan is usually used for musical practice in villages to accompany the tayub dance. 

So that’s an explanation of gamelan musical instruments that Sinaumed’s needs to know about as an effort to recognize and preserve Indonesian culture. Does Sinaumed’s still have difficulty distinguishing gamelan instruments? Gamelan does have very authentic musical characteristics and has a long historical record for Indonesian culture. It would be a shame if this culture became extinct let alone controlled by other countries. 

We know that many foreign people then learn gamelan musical instruments. Do not let us as owners of this original culture lose out in knowing and mastering this traditional musical instrument. If sinaumedia is interested in getting to know and learning more about gamelan musical instruments, you can visit sinaumedia’s book collection at www.sinaumedia.com and www.ebooks.sinaumedia.com

Sinaumed’s will find many references that can increase knowledge about traditional musical instruments native to Indonesian culture. The following is a recommendation for sinaumedia books that Sinaumed’s can read about gamelan musical instruments and several other traditional musical instruments: Enjoy learning. #Friends Without Limits