Gamelan Resources

Information about traditional gamelan orchestra music and its part in Indonesian culture.
Ideas for using our gamelan “Dwi Gambia Sari” and Lawrence Leith’s set of gangsa instruments in classroom and community settings.

Gamelan Facts

“The term gamelan – derived from the Javanese word “gamel” meaning to strike or to handle – refers to the ensemble of predominantly percussion instruments on which the traditional gamelan music of Java and Bali is played. Vocal music has also had a significant role in the development of gamelan music, alongside the addition of the rebab – a stringed fiddle, the siter (a plucked zither) and the bamboo flute called suling.” South Bank Centre Gamelan Resources


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Names of the instruments in the Gamelan Orchestra.

We have bonang, kendhang, gender, kenong, slenthem, kempyang, gong, syem, kempul and saron.

Can you find them on the picture above?

Javanese shadow puppets

Multi-coloured shadow puppet

The shadow puppet character ‘Durna’

Java is famous for its shadow puppet theatre, which dates back to the 11th century. In western Java the stories are adapted from the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, which travelled to Java from India.

The puppets are made from cured buffalo hide, the name for them, wayang kulit, means ‘shadow hide’. Puppet makers cut them out using stencils, with special chisels and knives and then mount them on to hinged rods of horn or bamboo so that the puppeteer can make their arms move. It takes at least ten days to make just one puppet.

The puppets are divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. The puppet character shown above is ‘Durna’ from the Mahabharata. He has a mixture of good and bad qualities. He is a teacher, very clever, but sometimes also a plotter since he can hide his own thoughts and can easily flatter others, but he talks convincingly and can inspire great confidence. As you can see, he wears a distinctive diamond patterned jacket, making it easy for the audience to spot him.

(from the World Cultures gallery at World Museum, Liverpool)

About wayang kulit

Wayang kulit or shadow puppet theatre is a traditional art form from Indonesia and Malaysia. A solo puppeteer, known as a dhalang in Javanese, manipulates and provides voices for puppets cut from animal hide and painted on both sides. The shadows of these puppets fall on a white cotton screen. In Java, wayang performances are watched from both sides of the screen, as either a shadow show or a puppet show.

Performances in Java are accompanied by a full gamelan, which might have 15, 25 or more musicians. A typical performance begins at 7.30 or 8pm with a musical overture and runs until 3 am or later.  Most plays are based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, which were imported from India to Java perhaps 1500 years ago. Dialogue is not written down, but largely extemporized based on oral formulae. Plays blend action, comedy, philosophy, romance and displays of statesmanship. Wayang kulit is so comprehensive in scope that it is described by many commentators as an encyclopaedia of Javanese culture. (from

Composition ideas KS2

Using gamelan in the classroom

Slendro = 5 note scale that our gamelan uses

Pentatonic scale = 5 note scale that is the best fit from the western music tradition.

The tuning is not exact, but luckily near enough to be able to write music on the gamelan and transfer it to tuned percussion instruments schools may have access to such as keyboards, xylophones, glockenspiels and chimes.

I think it is important that we allow a music lesson to start with listening and playing, rather than seeing and notating, especially when introducing not just unfamiliar instruments, but strange timbres and a completely new concept of “being in tune”.

Some children will accept the equivalence of the pentatonic and slendro scales, others will be bothered by the disrepancies – as composers, noticing all the elements involved in making music is a vital part of creating something vibrant and coherent and listenable to. However, just as in scoring out tunes, what we are doing when we describe music in words or numbers is merely to make a rough map so that we can go on the journey together and not get too lost! The complexity of the music cannot be captured on a page in written symbols.


Most teachers will be familiar with the pentatonic scale from KS2 and up and confident to start from there.
Things to notice: the notes on glocks etc. in school follow the 7-note major scale (1234567) and many schools take out the 4 and 7 so that children can find the pentatonic scale 12356 notes more easily.
The gamelan instruments only have 12356 so there are no gaps.
(This sounds obvious but can often throw people.)

Personally I would avoid putting the glock notes all together and losing the gaps, unless you are trying to pretend they are gamelan instruments, as it may make it more confusing using them later on with the full 7-note scale.



Javanese Gamelan Music


Gamelan is the word used to describe an Indonesian orchestra made up mainly of tuned percussion instruments.

The word ‘gamelan’ means ‘to hammer’. Gamelan music is found mainly in Bali and Java, the two styles differ but are based on the same principles.

Gamelan music:

  • has political and religious roots and plays an important part in sustaining traditional life
  • is heard at celebrations and theatre performances. It is used to accompany shadow puppet plays, poetry and drama
  • is not normally written down but passed on through oral tradition – players learn by mastering techniques and memorising the music
  • is played together as a group and emphasises community over individual values
  • Instruments

    A gamelan is a set of instruments consisting mainly of gongs, metallophones (instruments with rows of tuned metal bars that are struck with mallets) and drums. Some gamelans include bamboo flutes (suling), bowed strings (rebab) and vocalists. Each gamelan has a different tuning and the instruments are kept together as a set. No two gamelans are the same.

  • Structure

    The music is made up of interlocking layers. Each layer is played by a different instrument. The layers are usually based on a core melodic line called a balungan. The texture is heterophonic (made up of a main melody played at the same time as variants of it).

    Gamelan music is characterised by the following:

    • the lower the pitch, the longer the note values
    • the highest layers are for virtuoso solo instruments played very fast
    • the lowest gongs are often played by beginners
    • the music is divided into four beat groups called keteg
    • gongs of different sizes are used to mark cycles of music known as the gongan


      Two different tuning systems are used – slendro (a five-note scale) and pelog (a seven-note scale). Our gamelan uses the slendro scale. Tunings vary, but here are the approximate pitches: E Fsharp A B Csharp


      (from GCSE bitesize)

Notes from Sarah Kekus' training session


The Gamelan ‘Dwi Gambia Sari’ ( Spirit of the two oceans ) was made by the late master
gamelan maker Tentrum Sarwanto of Surakarta (Solo)


There is no absolute pitch for gamelan. Each instrument has its own personality and tuning, although there is more standardisation today.

5 note is Slendro 1 2 3 5

7 note is Pelog 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The music is always leading to the last note. The strong beat is on beat 4 – not the first beat as prevalent in Western music.

– = Kempyang + = Kethuk
⌢ = Kenong

v = Kempul
( ) = Gong or Suwukan


This form is relatively fast. The balungan may have a rest between each note ( nibani) or be continuous.(mlaku) e.g.

⌢    v  ⌢   v  ⌢   v   ⌢
3132 3132 5612 163(2)
Each gongan is made up of 4 kenongan. ( Gong stroke at end of each line.)

Buka (Introduction)
…6 356. .532 .35(6)

⌢  v ⌢ v6 ⌢  v6 ⌢
[[.3.5  .6.5  .6.5 . i.(6)

⌢   v⌢    v ⌢ v  ⌢
.3.5  .6.5  .6.5 .i.(6)

    ⌢   v2⌢ v2⌢     ⌢
.3.2  .3.2 . 3.2  .i.(6)

⌢   v ⌢   v ⌢   v6 ⌢
.3.2  .3.2 . 3.2  .i.(6)]]

Kendangan :
Buka :
First time  . p . p    . p . p . p . p    .  p .  (p)

all lines     p p p p p b p p p b p p p b p (p)

Last Line: b p p b p p b p p b p p p b p (p)


Each gong is made up of four kenongan ( kenong after 8 notes)
Kempyang is also used a marked difference to lancaran form.

Ladrang Mugirahayu

BUKA: . 6 6 . 6 1 6 5 i 6 5 3 6 1 3 (2)

– +-      – + –  ⌢  – +- v    –  + –  ⌢
[[ 3 6 1 . 3 6 1 2  3 6 1 .  3 6 1 2

–  + –      – + – ⌢ – + –  v  –  + –  ⌢
3 5 2 3  6 i 6 5  i 6 5 3  6 1 3 (2) ]]-Repeat



ttpb  ..bp  ..bp

..bp ..bp ..bp ..bp
..bp ..bp ..bp ..bp
..bp ..bp ..bp ..bp
pbp.b.pb p.bp..bp


Similar to Lanacaran – Different drum patterns.

Burburan Udan Mas ( Golden Rain) ⌢

.111 56 i 2 2i65 55/55(5/5)

⌢   v  ⌢ v   ⌢   v   ⌢
6532 6532 .323 653(2)

⌢   v  ⌢ v   ⌢   v   ⌢
6532 6532 .323 653(2)

v⌢    v  ⌢   v   ⌢    v      ⌢
i 5 6 i 5 6 i 2 . i 6 5 6 3 6 (5)

i 5 6 i 5 6 i 2 . i 6 5 6 3 6 (5)

Bonang Barung
6 5 3 2 = 65656/2.6/2.

. 3 2 3 = 333/3. 2323


Bonang Panerus

656. 6565 252. 252.

333/3. 33/3.. 232. 2323

1561= i5 i5 6i 6i


.111 56 i 2 2i65 55/55(5/5
t b .t b p p p pb .

line 1 and 2

6532 6532   .323     6532
pppb. pppb. pppb.p bpbpb.

Line 3 and 4

i   5  6 i  5  6  1  2  .  i  6  5 6 3 6 5
pb.t pb.t pb.t pb.t pb.tpb.t .p bpbpb

Suwuk ( line 4)

i 5 6 i  5  6 i  2  .  1 6  5  6 3 6  (5)
ppptp pbtbtpbt pbtptp tb ptbtpp .