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Gamelan has nothing to do with games or LAN. GAHM-eh-lahn.

What is a Gamelan?

A Gamelan is a Javanese orchestra. Often, it is used with the Javanese shadow puppet theater. It contains a wide variety of Orff-like instruments:


To play the melody (in order of decreasing pitch):
  • Picking
  • Saron (one octave lower than Picking)
  • Demung (one octave lower than Saron)
  • Slenthem (suspended metallophone--lowest instrument)
To play the variations:

Horizontal Gongs

To play the variations:
  • Bonang Barung
  • Bonang Penerus
To back up and punctuate the melody:
  • Kenong (lower pitch than Bonangs)
  • Kempul (several gongs of varying sizes)

Other Instruments

  • Ciblon--hand drum (directs the whole orchestra)
  • Suling--flute
  • Gambang--xylophone
  • Rebab--stringed instrument (like a strangely-tuned cello)
A singer may accompany the Gamelan, as well.

How is it written?

Javanese Gamelan Notation for Gamelan instruments with tone (xylophone-like instruments, voice, etc.) looks something like this:

[ . 3 4 .     1 2 . 2    4 4 5 .
  4 6 1 .     . 3 3 4    3 4 4 3 ]*

...only so much MORE so.

(Note: If you happen to be in a gamelan, don't try to play that, because it won't sound good. I just made it up off the top of my head. It's not actually a song.)

If you want tons of actual Gamelan notation in PDF format, check out <http://www.calarts.edu/~drummond/gendhing.html>.

How do I read it?

The numbers tell what note of the scale to play. Their order tells when.


There are two main types of tunings, as follows:
           1       2       3       4       5       6       7
Slendro:   C#   D 1.5#     F#           G 1.5#     B
Pelog:     D#      E       F#   G 1.5#     A#      B      C .5#

D 1.5# means D# (D plus 1/2-step) plus an additional half # (1/4-step).

These European-style notes are only approximate. In fact, Gamelan are only tuned to themselves. Therefore, different Gamelan cannot share instruments.

The Slendro scale is actually pentatonic, although it is numbered up to "6". (The European scale is heptatonic, like the Pelog scale.) There is no note "4", for some reason--once again, I'm not sure why.

What does it sound like?

Discordant, complex, rich, and extremely unique. A bit of advice--and I'm dead serious--bring ear plugs if you ever go to hear a Gamelan. It can deafen you otherwise, and you'll still be able to hear it.

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