Community Programmes

Home>   Music Activities  >   Community Programmes  >   Music Exhibition - Sundanese Gamelan

Music Exhibition - Sundanese Gamelan

Untitled Document

Text / Videos / Pictures: Professor Frederick Lau (Professor of the Department of Music, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)




Map of Bali

[Image 1]

Map of Java (the red circle shows the major settlement of the Sundanese people)


Sundanese gamelan refers to the Indonesian gong-chime tradition practiced by the ethnic group known as Sundanese who lives in West Java. It is one of the three major gamelan traditions known both inside and outside Indonesia, with the other two being Javanese Gamelan and Balinese Gamelan.


A display of Sundanese musical instruments

[Image 2]

A display of Sundanese musical instruments


[Video 1]

Ti Bihari Ka Kiwari (From Yesterday to Today)

Sundanese gamelan is one of the three major Indonesian gamelan traditions. The Sundanese people mainly live in West Java, while Bandung is the capital of the Province of West Java. The gamelan in the video was played by local musicians in Bandung.


Goal of this Exhibition

The famous Sundanese music scholar Henry Spiller pointed out that the variety of gamelan ensembles deriving from Javanese models became an integral part of unique Sundanese identity. "Although gamelan ensembles came to West Java as symbols of outside authority and power, in the ensuing centuries an astonishing variety of regional styles and repertories have flourished.” This exhibition introduces to viewers two major Sundanese music genres – gamelan degung and gamelan salendro.





Sunda is not the name of a specific place but refers to the Austronesian native of the modern-day province of West Java. This area has been historically called Priangan or Parahyangan, meaning “the land of the gods”. The northern part of West Java is dominated by a chain of volcanoes and highland plateau which extends along the southern coast creating a narrow strip of coastal lowlands. Its climate and rich volcanic soil make it an ideal place for the cultivation of tea and coffee.


Sundanese People

Sundanese is the second most populous ethnic group in Indonesia and the people speak the Sundanese language. Historically, Sundanese people were divided into two main classes:

  • Menak (aristocrats): Their musical pursuit was similar to those of the Javanese upper class, which included gamelan degung and gamelan slendro, both rooted in Javanese gamelan;
  • Rakyat (commoners): their music is related to angklung (a bamboo instrument often played in agricultural ritual), karinding (jaw’s harp), and entertainment such as ronggeng dance.


Although these social classes have become less relevant in the modern age, some music genres previously associated with these classes remain popular and have become parts of the Sundanese soundscape.



[Image 3]

Angklung (demonstration)


[Image 4]

Karinding (demonstration)

Sundanese Gamelan



The history of Sundanese gamelan can be traced back to the ancient kingdoms of West Java, where gamelan was used in the court and religious ceremonies. It also played an important role in Sundanese cultural and artistic expression. During the Dutch colonial period, Sundanese gamelan underwent some changes due to the influence of Western music. Its popularity dropped in comparison to the growing recognition of Javanese and Balinese gamelans. In the 20th century, Sundanese gamelan experienced a revival. Traditional music and culture were rekindled. Efforts were made by musicians and scholars to study, document, preserve and promote the Sundanese gamelan tradition. As a result, Sundanese gamelan is now being practiced and performed in various contexts, from traditional ceremonies to contemporary music concerts. It continues to evolve and adapt to new contexts, while new pieces – with roots in the rich history and traditions of the Sundanese culture – are being created.


Sundanese gamelan has become an important part of the cultural identity of the Sundanese people and is recognized as a unique and valuable contribution to the musical heritage of Indonesia.



As with all gamelan traditions, Sundanese gamelan utilizes a four-tier musical layer:

  • The first tier: involves the use of colotomic structure which employs gong-type instrument to mark various structural points in the piece;
  • The second and third tiers: concern the use of simplified and elaborated melodies;
  • The fourth tier: involves the use of drums to coordinate the tempo, rhythmic activities, and overall mood of the music.


The distinct Sundanese sonic identity is a result of how the four tiers of musical activities are structured and related to each other, making it different from that of Javanese and Balinese gamelans.



  • A Sundanese gamelan orchestra consists of a variety of instruments, including metallophones, xylophones, drums, gongs and flutes;
  • The metallophones are typically made of bronze or iron, with keys arranged in a row sitting on a wooden frame;
  • The drums and gongs provide a rhythmic foundation for the ensemble;
  • The flutes add melody and embellishment to the whole ensemble;
  • The orchestra is relatively smaller than that of other gamelan traditions.

Popular Musical Instruments


[Video 2]

Sundanese Musical Instruments with Voice

Singing is accompanied by Sundanese musical instruments quite often. The nine-box grid in the video enables the viewers to get a glimpse of different Sundanese musical instruments.



[Image 5]

Panerus (demonstration)




[Image 6]

Saron (demonstration)



[Image 7]

Gambang (demonstration)




[Image 8]

Bonang (demonstration)



[Image 9]

Rincik (demonstration)




[Image 10]

Kenong (demonstration)



[Image 11]

Jengglong (demonstration)



Goong and kempul

[Image 12]

Goong (left) and kempul (right) (demonstration)



[Image 13]

Kendang (demonstration)




[Image 14]

Kecrek (demonstration)



[Image 15]

Rebab (demonstration)




[Image 16]

Suling (demonstration)


Differences Between Sundanese and Javanese Gamelans

  • Sundanese gamelan does not use soft instruments with tube resonators such as slenthem and gender;
  • Sundanese gamelan usually uses only one to two hanging gongs, while Javanese gamelan uses more;
  • Unlike the gong ageng in Javanese gamelan that only plays at ending of phrases or sections, the Sundanese goong plays more frequently with beats and rhythmic activities;
  • What makes Sundanese gamelan unique is the low elegant tone color of the jengglong;
  • The Sundanese rebab is slightly larger and more robust in construction than the Javanese rebab. The strings are tenser and its tone more piercing. The playing technique differs from that of the Javanese rebab. The player stops the strings from the side, not from the front. There is a frequent use of harmonics, produced by stopping the string lightly at its mid-point.

Gamelan Degung


[Video 3]

Gamelan Degung

Gamelan degung is one of the major Sundanese music genres. Entitled Kalangkang (Imagination), this gamelan degung work was composed by Nano Suratno (1944-2010), who was hailed as the Father of Sundanese Music. He wrote over 400 compositions, many of which mix pop influences with traditional Indonesian styles. Kalangkang is one of his most popular works.



Gamelan degung was developed in the court when the local Indonesian rulers were under the Dutch control. Since Indonesia gained independence in 1945, it has fast become popular throughout West Java and considered an icon of Sundanese music. In the earlier times, the repertoire of gamelan degung consisted of long pieces performed without any singing parts, and its style is called degung klasik by contemporary musicians. Since the 1960s, female singing has been introduced into the repertoire. Gamelan degung music is relatively simple in terms of structure, and can either be performed as an accompaniment for a female solo singer, a solo flute, or group singing.


In gamelan degung, the leading instrument is generally the bonang, rather than the metallophones like panerus or saron. The introductory phrase pangkat (similar to buka in Javanese gamelan) is usually played by the bonang in pieces of moderate pace. However, in faster pieces, the pangkat is played by the metallophones.


In a degung concert, it always opens with the piece bubuka to welcome the guests. It is a very loud and fast piece consisting of what sounded like a balungan in Javanese gamelan but it is played much freer and flexible.


Musical Characteristics

  • Tempo: fast and lively;
  • Tone color: high and shimmering tones, particularly from the metallophones and cymbals, giving the music its distinctive quality and atmosphere;
  • Rhythms: consisting of a mixture of strong and weak beats interrupted by syncopations and hemiola (changing between two beats and three beats);
  • Melodies: vocal melodies are typically ornamented with grace notes while instruments usually embellish the melodies with sliding tones and rapid melodic turns;
  • Textures: produced by mixing together melodic lines, rhythmic figures and ostinatos, resulting in a dense polyphony.

Gamelan Salendro


[Video 4]

Gamelan Salendro

Gamelan salendro is another major Sundanese music genre. Compared with gamelan degung, it is more prevalent within the community.



Gamelan salendro was adopted from the Javanese gamelan in the 16th century when the Javanese kingdom controlled the Sundanese. It was popular among commoners. Despite there are some similarities in their playing styles, musical idioms, function of the instruments, and organizational principle, they have their own repertoire.


Gamelan salendro is relatively low in pitch and equivalent to the lower octave of the bonang in Javanese gamelan. It adapts the five-pitch slendro tuning and is primarily used for accompanying rod puppet theatre Wayang Golek, classical dance, and the more recent social dance jaipongan. It was used to be popular at wedding receptions. Nowadays, it is sometimes played in concerts.


Musical Characteristics

  • Five-pitch pentatonic tuning system;
  • Improvisational;
  • A larger ensemble with more instruments than gamelan degung;
  • Often associated with informal social gatherings, e.g. dance and rod puppet theatre.


Gamelan salendro with rod puppet theatre Wayang Golek

[Image 17]

Gamelan salendro with rod puppet theatre Wayang Golek

A display of gamelan salendro instruments

[Image 18]

A display of gamelan salendro instruments
at National Museum of Ethnology (Osaka, Japan)


Establishment Comparison


More instruments are employed in gamelan salendro than gamelan degung:





The size is close to the medium-size Javanese gong.

A bit smaller than the goong hanging from a frame.

Keyed metallophone.


Keyed metallophone, one octave lower than the saron.

Horizontal gong chime with 10 to 14 small knobbed gongs.

Sitting gong chime similar to bonang but tuned an octave higher.


Xylophone with 18 to 21 wooden keys.


A set of barrel drums.

Fiddle with two brass strings and a skin-covered resonator.


Horizontal gong chime with large gongs tuned lower than the bonang.


Horizontal gong with three to six gongs, tuned an octave lower than the kenong.

Stack of iron plates hit with a wooden hammer.


Short bamboo flute with four to six finger holes and has a two-octave range.




Sundanese gamelan is a rich and vibrant musical tradition that has been an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Sundanese people of West Java and Indonesia for centuries. As one of the three major gamelan traditions in Indonesia, Sundanese gamelan has its own repertoire, playing styles, rich and complex musical texture, organizational principles, terminology, and history. Along with its unique combination of gongs, drums, metallophones and other instruments, Sundanese gamelan sets it apart from Javanese and Balinese gamelans. Despite the challenges posed by modernization and nationalism, through the efforts of musicians, scholars and cultural organizations, Sundanese gamelan has continued to thrive and evolve over time.


[Video 5]

Hariring Bandung (Hello Bandung)

Gamelan degung is preferred by the Sundanese elite due to its connection with the court. A pop music style has been developed in the last three decades, gaining popularity among young people. Hariring Bandung is a good example.


Supplementary information on images and videos