What is a gamelan orchestra, and where can I listen to gamelan music?

According to Javanese mythology, the deity Sang Hyang Guru, who reigned over all of Java from his castle atop the Maendra mountain (now Mount Lawu) in Medang Kamulan in Saka period 167 (c. AD 230), was responsible for the birth of the gamelan. Apparently, he came up with the idea of using a gong as a signal to call upon the gods.

The term “gamelan” is used to describe orchestral arrangements that include metallophones, xylophones, flutes, gongs, vocals, and bowed and plucked strings, among other instruments.

Indonesians from the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese ethnic groups are particularly well-known for performing the traditional ensemble music.

As soon as you touch down in Bali, you’ll be greeted by the soothing sounds of traditional Balinese music. The more of the island you visit, the more likely it is that you will hear the gamelan being played, whether in a hotel lobby, spa, restaurant, or town square as children and adults practice.

From a young age, Balinese kids are encouraged to join a gamelan band in the village called sekaa gong or beleganjur. Most villages in Bali have groups who rehearse regularly, for dancing and for playing gamelan instruments. Each group is classified based on their ages and gender. These traditional orchestras are in high demand for temple rituals, marriages, tooth-filing celebrations, and the blessing of new businesses and homes. 

Bali’s musical performances and traditional dance shows have traditionally been among the island’s most popular tourist draws, and for good reason. Gamelan (Bali’s traditional music) and local dances are integral parts of all the rituals done on significant days in Bali, serving as a means of connecting with Gods, deities, and ancestors and paying tribute to the crucial roles they play in the cosmos.


What is different about Balinese Gamelan to other types?

The Balinese gamelan is a kind of music that originated in Java but made its way to Bali, where it has been infused with powerful rhythms and harmony.

Balinese gamelan has powerful, dynamic tones with faster beats and rhythms, whereas Javanese gamelan has much gentler, slower tones. Sundanese ( highland people of western Java) gamelan is soft and mellow, with the sound of flutes dominating.

Today, gamelan remains a integral part of Balinese Hindu ritual and may also be enjoyed by members of Bali’s banjar communities (and visitors) as a form of group entertainment. The Balinese gamelan provides a setting for people to meet and mingle since it is often played in unison with religious rites and musical performances for the purpose of entertainment.

Gamelan Orchestra Bali Artist

What instruments are part of the Gamelan ensemble?


The largest instrument in a gamelan is the reong is  played by a group of at least two and up to four people, and it appears like a long hollow frame holding roughly a dozen miniature gongs made of bronze plates. During the performance, the musicians take turns striking a gong with either a long wooden stick cushioned with soft thread or hard wooden mallets, resulting in a wide range of tones. The high and low tones of a reyong are determined by its size and thickness.  The greater the size, the lower the pitch, the more concave it is, and the higher the pitch.


Although not commonly utilized, It is played at the front of the ensemble, facing the audience. Like the reyong, it consists of 10 gongs or kettle gongs, with each covering about two octaves. It is performed by a single individual who acts as a type of ensemble leader and sits on a small stool, playing the primary melody line. The trompong player is an honored musician, due to the required skills to be able to improvise, paraphrase the melodies, and take control across a span of more than two meter rows of melodic bronze plates.


A common gamelan instrument that is usually played by the ensemble leader. It looks like a bamboo xylophone with four to fourteen metal plates. During the performance, the ensemble leader will act as a conductor, raising the wooden mallet like a baton as the other instruments follow suit. The player moves at breakneck speed, holding the mallet with his right hand and then using his left hand to reduce the force of beaten bars.


The massive bronze gongs that are found at the back of the band. Suspended gongs are smooth, round metal discs that are hung vertically by a string threaded through holes at the top rim of an ornate frame. The player only appears during certain portions of the song, pounding the instrument with a cloth-covered mallet to produce a deep mellow tone to add a mystic vibe to the performance.


Ceng ceng are metal cymbal pieces decorated with red tasseled threads that are struck against one another. The rope at the top of the ceng-ceng provides a grip. Ceng-ceng is constructed from six round metal pieces on the bottom and two round metal pieces on top. The musical instrument is an important part of the various Balinese gamelan ensembles.


The Kendang, one of the main instruments in the gamelan ensemble, is a traditional two-headed drum made of hollow cylindric wood covered with leather on both ends, similar to the pahu drum from Hawaii.

Some kendang have a larger side than the other, but in Bali, both sides are the same size and are played with a combination of hands and/or sticks.

In a wayang performance, the kendang player will try to mimic the dancer’s movements and relay them to the rest of the ensemble. In Balinese Gamelan, there are two kendang: Kendang wadon, the “female” and lowest pitched, and Kendang lanang, the “man” and highest pitched.

Bali Art Festival

Pesta Kesenian Bali is an annual cultural arts event held in Denpasar from the middle of June to the middle of July. Each banjar from Bali’s nine regions will send their best musicians to compete on an epic stage at the Bali Art Centre. People will come from all over the island to cheer on their representatives. Local groups from the Gianyar regency usually give the most impressive performances among the hundreds of teams competing in this one-month event. Among the most highly anticipated events on the island, this event consistently receives thunderous applause from its many fans.