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Indonesian Traditional Music

Updated on March 3, 2012

The Richness of Indonesian Culture

Indonesia is a very rich country, stretching from Sabang to Merauke, the nation covers an area as large as European continent or the Central American continent. As an archipelago, Indonesia has approximately more than 17,000 islands, home for more than 1,120 ethnic groups so rich in traditional languages and arts.To date the Biro Pusat Statistik (Central Statistic Bureau) is still counting on the number of islands in Indonesia and the ethnic groups, because there are still remote areas that haven't been put into the counts due to the geographical access difficulty.

This lens will introduce some of the richness of the Indonesian music. But I couldn't write them all, because the variety is so large, that it may need a book to write them all. As you may realize, all of the ethnic groups in Indonesia have their own traditional arts. My awareness of the importance to conserve the Indonesian culture has grew larger recently because so many of our traditions has been patented by other country, which has hurt the feelings many of the Indonesians. To my fellow Indonesians, let us love more of our cultures and seek to conserve and introduce them to our friends throughout the world so they may know and love our cultures as well.

My respect to all of the Indonesian cultural ambassadors that have tirelessly introduce the richness of the Indonesian cultures throughout the world! You are all the hero in the hearts of the Indonesian! Bless you all!


The Functions of Traditional Music in Indonesia

Indonesian traditional music characteristics serve for many functions such as:

1. Traditional Ceremony / Ritual

Traditional music serves for many ceremonies such as, wedding, birth celebration, planting and harvesting, welcoming guests, funeral, religious activities and many more. In some ethnic groups, traditional music is believed to have magical powers, and become the most important to make certain rituals succeeded in achieving its purpose. Example of the rituals such as Debus in Banten, and the funeral ceremony in Tana Toraja.

2. Entertainment

Traditional music is definitely the most important thing in entertainment shows. The entertainment show itself may serve as the social gathering in the community for the people to meet and getting to know each other better, or it may serve as an educational show, or as part of celebration such as wedding celebration, circumcision, "traditional" thanksgiving ("syukuran" or "selametan"). In some parts, a celebration following an event may take up for several days, and even a week. Example of the traditions include: Wayang Golek (traditional art from most of the Java island), Tanjidor (an original "Betawi" or native Batavian traditions), Jaipong (from the Sundanese tradition).

3. Self Expression

Like other music styles, traditional music also serve as an expression of its composer, may it be the expression of gratitude, love, sadness, about the people, about God, etc. The song "Apuse" from Papua tells about a son saying farewell to his mother to travel outside his homeland. The "Manuk Dadali" song written in Sundanese language tells about the national symbol of Indonesia, "Burung Garuda" (a mythical bird in Hindu culture), it tells about the power of the Burung Garuda that symbolize the power of the Indonesian nation.

4. Ways of Communication

In some areas where the people lives far from each other, music instrument can be used in certain rhythm as ways of communication. Example of the music instruments include: "gendang", "kentongan" (both of them usually use to alert the community), bedug (usually use to call the people in prayer times), bells, and so on.

5. Accompanying Traditional Dance

What is dance without music? Everybody knows the importance of music in dance. Without music, the dance would be empty in spirit and meaning. There are many musical instruments used to accompany dance, as I will show you later. Examples of this include: gamelan, sasando, angklung, seruling, kolintang, kendang, kecapi, and many more!

6. Declaration of War

War between tribes is a common phenomenon, especially for those who lived in a remote area. As can be seen in many countries, declaration of war would involve certain types of dancing accompanied by musical instruments. Traditionally, declaration of war is in act to maintain the village's border that is expressed in a manner of hostility, offensiveness, or defensiveness, or to boost the morale and spirit of the warrior. However, as the culture grew more steadily, declaration of war has somehow evolved into a ceremony.

Nowadays, declaration of war can mean an annual event of physical competition, usually martial art competition that is celebrated annually. This event is meant to be a way to strengthen the bonds or relationship between villages or tribes. Interestingly, in some part of Indonesia, declaration of war may serve as an annual event to express gratitude of abundance or prosperity, such as during harvest time. Example of traditional war in Indonesia such as: "Perang Karbala" ("Karbala" War) from Pariaman - West Sumatra, "Perang Pandan" from Bali, Pasola from West Sumba, and Jayawijaya Tribal Festival from Papua.

Types of Traditional Musical Instrument in Indonesia

Indonesia is rich in the variety of musical instruments. Generally, the musical instruments can be classified into:

1. Percussion.

2. Stringed instrument.

3. Wind insturment.

4. Acoustic instrument

Mission Impossible Music ala Gamelan from Indonesia

Talempong instrument from Minangkabau, West Sumatra
Talempong instrument from Minangkabau, West Sumatra

Traditional Percussion Instruments

Example of the traditional percussion instrument include: gamelan, kolintang, kendang, bedug, talempong, celempong, canang, jimbe, rebana, etc.

Gamelan instruments originally came from Central Java, Yogyakarta, East Java, and Bali. It maybe one of the most famous musical Instrument from Indonesia. Gamelan also originated from West Java, known as Degung. Gamelan is a set of percussion instruments made from metal. Standard set of gamelan usually include: saron, demung, gong, kenong, slentem, bonang, peking, and gender. Wind instrument such as seruling may be included in a play, such as in Gamelan Degung from West Java. In recent studies, it is believed that gamelan music may stimulates the Beta-wave in the brain that give one a soothing and relaxing effects.

Kolintang are the musical instruments from Minahasa, North Sulawesi (North Celebes). Kolintang are made from wood, and played using a set of wooden sticks. A set of kolintang usually include the bass, melody, and rhythm.The word "Kolintang" is derived from the acoustic tones: "Tong" (low tone), "Ting" (high tone), and "Tang" (middle tone). The native Minahasan used to ask each other to play kolintang in group by saying "Maimo Kumolintang" ("let's play Tong Ting Tang together"), hence the term "Kolintang"

Talempong originally came from Minangkabau, West Sumatra. It is similar with Gamelan from Java. Talempong are made from metal, wood, or stones, although nowadays the metal talempong are the most commonly used. Talempong usually played to accompany traditional dance from Minangkabau, such as: Tari Piring, Tari Pasambahan, Tari Gelombang, etc.

Canang is another percussion instrument, originated from Aceh. Canang is made from metal, which is similar to gong in Gamelan. It is usually used to accompany traditional dance and also as an entertainment that is played after a days work in the rice field or played in leisure time.

Kendang may be one of the most common percussion instrument that can be found in many parts in Indonesia. Similar to drum, its membrane is made of goatskin. Kendang is used as rhythm to accompany an ensemble plays as in gamelan, or to accompany traditional dances. There are also similar instruments to kendang, such as: Tifa that can be found in Papua, Maluku, and Nias; Rapai from Aceh that is made by the skin of a jackfruit tree; Genderang Perang ("war drum) and Dol from Bengkulu; and Tambua from Minangkabau, West Sumatra.

Tifa is another form of Kendang, similar to drum that came from Maluku in eastern Indonesia. Tifa Totobuang are an original set of music instruments that had not had any influence from other cultures. Basically tifa is a set of drum vary in size and tone, including: tifa jekir, tifa dasar, tifa potong, tifa jekir potong, tifa bas, usually added with a large gong and a sets of smaller gongs called "totobuang". Tifa ensemble may also include other musical instruments such as seruling (a bamboo flute).

Gending Musik Jawa (Gamelan Jawa) - Javanese Gamelan

Kolintang from Minahasa, North Sulawesi by Cendrawasih Music Group - Kolintang Played by Students! Two Thumbs Up!

Tifa Totobuang from Maluku

Sasando from Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara
Sasando from Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara

Traditional Stringed Instrument

There are many example of traditional stringed instrument, such as: kacapi, arbab, rebab, sitar, sasando, panting, etc.

Sasando is one of the most popular stringed instrument from Indonesia. Originated from Rote Island, East Nusa Tenggara, Sasando plays have been introduced worldwide in many cultural events. Sasando is similar to harps, the core is made from bamboo tube with strings attached on its ends, and placed within a curved palm leaf. Sasando is played like a harp, using both hands, but run in opposite directions toward each other (left to right and right to left). The left hand plays bass and melody, while the right hand plays chords. Sasando player can play the bass, chords, and melody simultaneously, but it takes a great skill to master Sasando because of the notations are put irregularly.

Kacapi is similar instrument with wooden harp, came from the Sundanese ethnic group in West Java. Kacapi is usually played along with Suling, a wind instrument similar to flute, made from bamboo. Hence kacapi plays are sometimes referred as Kacapi Suling Sunda. Kacapi is best played outdoors, since the player must blend the soul of the music with nature. It has a soothing and relaxing effects to hear the melodious tone from Kacapi.

Sampek or Sape' is another example of traditional stringed instrument. Sampek originated from Dayak ethnic group in Kalimantan (Borneo). This instrument is similar with Kacapi from the Sundanese, only it is larger and made from various wood, especially from a very hard wood (kayu ulin) and played like a guitar. A sampek may be made with 3 strings, 4 strings, or 6 strings, each with a unique engraving which has its own meaning according to the maker. Sampek is played to accompany dance or to boost the morale of the villages warriors going to war. The melodious tone is somewhat enchanted, and it is believed to contain some power or spirit.

"Sempurna" by Gita Gutawa feat. Berto Pah on Sasando

Kacapi Suling from Priangan (West Java)

Sampek from Dayak, Kalimantan

Sronen from Madura Island, East Java
Sronen from Madura Island, East Java

Traditional Wind Instrument

Traditional wind instrument can be found in the most part of Indonesia. There are seruling or suling, genggong, rinding, saluang, serunai, tarompet, selompret, serompet, sronen, and tanjidor. Basically, the wind instrument can be classified as flute-like and trumpet-like. The flute-like instruments include: seruling, or suling, genggong, rinding, saluang, and serunai; whilst the trumpet-like instruments include tarompet, selompret, serompet, sronen, and tanjidor.

Tanjidor is a set of musical instruments from the native Betawi in DKI Jakarta (the capitol in Indonesia). Tanjidor ensemble is greatly influenced from Europe. The word "tanjidor" came from Portuguese "tengedor" meaning stringed instrument. However, in reality tanjidor is not composed of stringed instruments, but mainly wind instruments including: trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, trombone. A complete "Orkes Tanjidor" (Tanjidor Orchestra) will consists of: trumpet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, bass saxophone, trombone, piston, cymbal, and side drum. The first tanjidor play came in the 18th century, consisted of a group of 7-10 people. The tanjidor was usually played by the peasants spending their time after the harvest and played their music door to door ("mengamen") to earn extra cash or simply just to entertain the people. Nowadays, tanjidor is commonly play in ceremonies such as wedding ceremony, religious festivities, or to entertain important guests.

Saluang is a flute-like instrument from Minangkabau, West Sumatra. It is made by bamboo, especially the "bambu talang" (Schizostachyum brachycladum Kurz) which is believed to be the best bamboo to make Saluang. To play saluang properly, the player must be able to blow and inhale simulatenously, to create uninterrupted melody from the beginning to the end of the song. This requires certain types of breathing technique exercises before one can play saluang beautifully. Every sub-ethnic groups ("nagari") in Minangkabau have their own style or technique, such as: Singgalang, Pariaman, SolokSalayo, Koto Tuo, Suayan, or Pauah style. It has once believed that saluang players have their own mantra to hypnotize the audiences.

Tanjidor from Betawi

Saluang from Minangkabau, West Sumatra


Angklung: Traditional Acoustic Instrument from West Java

Angklung is one of the most popular acoustic instrument that has been introduced world wide. It is made from bamboo tube, and played by shaking it. Angklung is an ensemble of bamboo instrument, and must be played in groups. This instrument came from many sub-ethnic groups in West Java and Banten province (formerly part of the West Java province).

There are many types of angklung that came from many parts in the West Java and Banten, such as: angklung Kanekes, angklung Dogdog Lojor, angklung Gubrag, and angklung Badeng. Angklung Kanekes and Dogdog Lojor came from Banten province, whilst the angklung Gubrag and Badeng originated from the West Java province. All of this types may differ in size and composition; however they main function traditionally are in the ritual of plantation and harvest, and to celebrate the Dewi Sri (goddes Sri, the goddess of rice and land fertility). However, its use has been expanded for entertainments, religious activities, festivities, and many other events.

"Manuk Dadali" (Burung Garuda - the Symbol of the Republic of Indonesia) on Angklung

Have you ever been to Indonesia?

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Conserve the Indonesian Traditional Music!

Today, the awareness to conserve the Indonesian traditional music has grew larger everyday. Since the Indonesian culture is so rich, and many of them has been slowly ceased or forgotten, that many of the Indonesian arts and creation have been claimed by other countries and patented as their own works. This act of plagiarism has saddened most of the our people and of course are of our concern.

There has been many cultural ambassador have worked tirelessly to introduce our culture to many other countries worldwide. Lets pray and help of their effort, so the world may recognize the richness of the Indonesian cultures. The awareness to conserve the Indonesian culture has also been put into the school curriculum for the young generations to appreciate more and love their own culture, and hopefully eager to continue the traditions of Indonesian culture.

As for the readers, I really hope you would enjoy a glimpse of our culture and traditional music. Come and visit Indonesia!

Degung: Gamelan from West Java

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Guestbook Comments

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    • Abhaque Supanjang profile image

      Abhaque Supanjang 

      12 months ago from Kumango - Batusangkar - Sumatera Barat - Indonesia

      Nice hub, Ronald Pakasi..! Waiting for your next hubs..!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very informative and outstanding lens. If this is the quality you will be delivering, many people will be looking forward to lenses from you!

    • kimark421 profile image


      6 years ago

      Outstanding lens. I really enjoyed it. I try to be open minded about music and listen to different genres, and it usually pays off.

    • wrapitup4me profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for this introduction to the music of your country.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens, its very informative :)

    • TTMall profile image


      7 years ago

      It looks very helpful. Thank you very much!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      7 years ago

      Really enjoyed the videos.

    • AnnaMKB profile image


      7 years ago

      I learned so much! Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Fascinating, I love learning about music from around the world and this lens is really informative thank you

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Stringed Instruments look really interesting :O..nice many informations about indonesian traditional music..great job! ;)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent lens :) thank you for sharing.


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