Gamelan – The Music Of Indonesia

Well my second year at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has finished and I’ve learnt so much that at least I have the summer now to digest it.


One of the units I took this year was in gamelan music, it was a four week immersion into the music and culture of Indonesia and formed part of the practical musicianship module which ran throughout the school year. Gamelan is an orchestra of percussion instruments. I had never heard of gamelan before taking this class and it was a great way to experience music from the Indonesian culture and explore the sounds and vibrations.

Balinese ladies playing Gamelan music during a Hindu festival.

The Indonesians use the music in many of their traditional dances and during their festivals. My favourite instrument was the ceng-ceng ( pronounced cheng-cheng ) which I loved to use in the practice sessions.

Ceng Ceng ( Cheng Cheng )

Ceng-Ceng consist of a set of four small cymbals mounted inverted on a wooden frame, which are struck with a pair of small cymbals held by the fingers to create crashing and shimmering punctuation along with the drummer – the Ceng-ceng player is often the drummer’s apprentice. The ceng-ceng is a deceptively difficult instrument to play well.

Dr J Simon van der Walt taught us the module and lead the ensemble into different tempo relationships a bit like a conductor.  We played whilst sat cross-legged on the floor with shoes off, there were 30 of us on the course.

J Simon Van Der Walt
Dr J Simon Van Der Walt

He made the group sessions entertaining and interesting for us all.  We began by learning different chants which we would then perform on instruments. So each word referred to an instrument. It was a lot if fun but the chants were fast and like tongue twisters it was so hard to keep up with at times.

In the last session I got to lead the Ceng-Ceng which I enjoyed tremendously and it was a fabulous way to end the course.

Sadly I didn’t think to get a photograph of our group but if you take part in a gamelan music group then I would love to see your photographs of an actual active group of gamelan musicians.

The RCS will be running a summer short course from the 8th to 12th September 2014 and if you are interested you can find further details on their website

I found this video on YouTube of a Gabor ( welcome ) dance which uses gamelan music and Balinese dancers which I hope gives you the flavour of the music and how it’s used.


41 thoughts on “Gamelan – The Music Of Indonesia

  1. There’s so many distinctive sounds in this, it’s difficult to pick out one instrument sound from the other. But it’s nice. I would probably try to mix it with another style of music just to hear what it sounds like.

    And Congratulations on making it through your second year. Every time I listen to you sing, it’s like the audience is transported…we get a glimpse of a new world. That’s how I feel. I rarely hear this style of music as I’m walking about the city, so it’s often refreshing…

    Does your Dad (or whomever holds the video camera) use a mono-pod? If not, it would likely assist in controlling the camera movements while not getting in the way of the audience.

    Happy Sunday.

    1. Ooh yes Eric a good new composition of fusion would be fantastic. Quite a lot of it is new to me too, so fascinating I’m happy to share it with you. No he doesn’t use a mono-pod sounds interesting, he doesn’t really like taping me because he has to watch the screen instead of watching me so that sounds like a good solution. So many events don’t let you tape but these are so useful to me in my training reviews.

      Best wishes

    1. The colours of the gamelan musicians and dancers outfits are just beautiful aren’t they. I always think of you when I see new hair styles and hair accessories, the foot positions in the dance are interesting too.

      Best wishes

  2. What a great experience! I also like your attitude about using the summer as a time to “digest” what you learned during the school year. How much could be accomplished in this world if more people had that attitude, rather than just seeing it as several weeks of vacation, where the learning fades away.

    1. Thanks Deborah I really appreciate your comment, I love the summer because I get to go home but I feel as though I’m not learning enough new things, however, reflecting and listening back to my music, reviewing my note books, and just generally appreciating the information I gather from my favourite blogs and friends and family gives me so much information and life to think about, like you say ‘digesting’ is important too.

      Best wishes

  3. Thank-you for the post on Gamelan music. My youngest daughter had a visit from a Gamelan group when she was a little girl in primary school and then they all had a go at it during the afternoon. Great fun! Congratulations on getting through your 2nd year – have a lovely summer break.

    1. How lovely Clare, we had a similar visit from a steel drum band and I remember it as though it were yesterday. I’m counting the days down, three weeks work then a vacation.

      Best wishes

  4. What key (keys) are the ceng-cheng in? are the pairs tuned to resonance or in octaves?

    “…An experienced blues harp player has more harmonicas than teeth” — Muddy Waters

    1. Ooh good question, I was so busy keeping time and chanting I had to look at my notes for this one. The instruments that we used were tuned to the Slendro system which has five notes to each octave. There is another system used which I believe is called Pelong which uses groups of seven notes instead.

      Hope this helps 🙂
      Best wishes

  5. Yes. Congratulations on finishing your second year, not that we knew you wouldn’t.

    Difficult to imagine that there are some people out there who don’t like Gamelan. I’ve a few pieces in my collection, the favorite being Javanese Court Gamelan (on Wikipedia its called Vol. 1.) It’s four selections that are mesmerizing in their slow pace.

    Gamelan is associated with SE Asia’s ‘shadow play’ which is referred to in the movie, “The Year of Living Dangerously.” That is still one of my all time favorite movies in spite of Mel Gibson’s meltdown.

    The movie also features Maurice Jarre’s soundtrack which is his version of Gamelan music. Jarre’s soundtrack has been my favorite piece of music since I first heard it and probably will be for the rest of my life. (Your’s being the exception, of course.)

    Thanks for introducing Gamelan to your followers. Now go enjoy your summer!

    1. Thank you for the extra information I’ll check it out. I intend to enjoy the summer but then again I enjoy all year around. It makes such a difference studying something you love.
      Best wishes

  6. The Gamelan instruments have very distinctive and fascinating sounds. I attended a concert performed by some university students and they were superb. Glad you had the opportunity to learn gamelan music and had a taste of the Balinese culture. 🙂 Have you tried Balinese food? It is delicious and full of flavour.

    1. Hi Iris, I’ve never had Balinese food, is it like Thai food which I enjoy but I have to be careful with spices. One day I’d love to visit Indonesia and feast on all their culture and food,
      Best wishes

      1. Yes, Charlotte, the Balinese food can be spicy for some. Travel can connect different cultures. All the best, Iris.

  7. Congratulations on your second year which has been filled with all these exciting things. Thanks for sharing the video and the beautiful pictures and interesting info. Hope you have a fun summer! Xo

    1. Thank you Janice, getting up at 7am again is a little harder but I work with a great crew of people and I’m allowed to listen to my music through headphones during certain tasks as long as I get my work done.
      All the best

  8. enchanting sounds… beautiful colors and interesting history… I can see why you found this so intriguing and I appreciate that you took the time to share.

  9. I have never heard of it, either, but I can imagine that playing the instruments will be exceptionally tricky. Few people realise how much more to percussion there is than simply bashing.
    I have used drums to give solemnity, and a part of the first theme, in the opening of my Second Symphony.

    1. You’re right I was once singing for a percussion recital whilst I was at JRNCM for Arthur Lipner and he had fabulous stage presence and helped me to appreciate how colourful the use of percussion can be.
      Best wishes

  10. So interesting! Thanks for sharing, Charlotte! You are fortunate that your university offers these cultural courses.

  11. It is really wonderful that you are getting a chance to know different cultures. Music and dance are the best ways to understand a culture as you not only get to know a different language and their thoughts but also get familiar with their dressing and instruments. Keep up the good work. 🙂 😀

    P.S. I read Gabor and thought, is she studying image processing ? 😛

  12. Hi Charlotte, I’m glad you find gamelan appealing. And just in case you do come here someday, make sure to visit Ubud (Bali island) and Yogya (Java island). Their gamelans are quite different in character.

    Salam dari Indonesia. 🙂

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