gendèr barung

Also:       gendèr      

Title: Pangkur Pamijen--Ladrang Pangkur; Riris Raras Irama. Label: Kusuma. Format: CS. Catalogue#: K.G.D. 018. Track: A-1.

Contextual Associations

The gendèr barung is a metallophone idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is a polyphonic elaboration instrument that is part of a Javanese gamelan. The iron gamelan to which the instrument pictured on this page belongs has three gendèr barung--one for the set’s laras sléndro tuning system, and two for its laras pélog instruments. It is used almost exclusively for gamelan performance, but some itinerant street musicians use it to accompany their singing. The gendèr barung is one of the few gamelan instruments that in times past might be played by women. A stylized representation of the mythological garuda bird decorates the caps of the instrument’s end boards (see the first detail image).


This gendèr barung is a multi-octave metallophone with thirteen thin rectangular keys (wilah) suspended by ropes (pluntur) and posts (sanggan) (second detail image) over tuned tube resonators (bumbu). The keys of this gendèr barung are made from recycled sheet iron (besi), but brass and bronze are also commonly used metals for Javanese metallophones. Graduated in size, the keys are arranged in a horizontal plane from the longest, widest and thinnest one at one end to the shortest, narrowest, and thickest one at the other end. Holes to receive the rope by which a key is suspended are drilled at one-quarter of a key’s total length from each end, which are nodal (dead) points in the mode of vibration for rectangular keys. The keys are suspended over a teakwood casing (rancak) and above cylindrical tube resonators made from galvanized sheet metal, one for each of the instrument’s thirteen keys (third detail image). Although externally the resonators are all the same length, internally they are stopped with wooden discs so that each has a unique operative length (fourth detail image). The lowest few resonators are topped with caps that have central holes of varying diameters; this makes it possible for them to resonate sound waves that are longer than their physical length (fifth detail image). Posts made from buffalo horn are located between pairs of keys, leaving the left-most key alone. A single length of rope runs through the eyelet at the top of each post, through the end boards of the case, and through all the holes in the keys.  The rope loops around a short bamboo pin on the bottom side of each key hole (sixth detail image). Two wooden stick beaters with padded-disc heads (tabuh) are used to strike the bars.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single performer seated on the ground plays the instrument; from the player’s perspective, the longer, lower-pitched keys are to the left, the shorter, higher-pitched keys to the right. Holding one beater in each hand and striking the keys near their middle, the performer produces two-voice contrapuntal patterns (cengkok) that lead up to important pitches (seleh) in the skeletal melody (balungan) of a piece (gendhing). Each key is tuned to a specific pitch and the keys are sequenced to produce a pentatonic scale over a range of two and one-half octaves. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for this gendèr barung. The instrument is played at a constant dynamic level. When struck, the keys produce a clear, sustained tone that necessitates a complicated damping technique. Because the beaters’ rims are padded, the produced tones, and especially their attacks, are relatively mellow in comparison to metallophones that are sounded with hard beaters. For an extended video example of the gendèr barung being performed, follow this link. Performing the gendèr barung necessitates not only acquiring a specialized technique, but also mastery of a large vocabulary of cengkok and the knowledge of how to apply it to a vast repertoire gendhing and vocal pieces (sekar)—all without the aid of notation. Not every Javanese musician can do this, so a gendèr barung player can be considered a specialist.


In an engraving from a late 16th century Dutch book a gendèr is depicted, proving the instrument was in existence on Java at that time. 10- and 11-key versions of the instrument are found in extant early 19th century sets that have not been modernized (Raffles and Quigley). Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries keys have been added to the instrument, and extant examples of gendèr barung with 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 keys can be found. 

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret, and Ruby Ornstein. 1984. “Gender,” NGDMI v.2: 35.

Kunst, Jaap. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.      

Pickvance, Richard. 2005. A Gamelan Manual. London: Jaman Mas Books.

Quigley, Sam. “The Raffles Gamelan at Claydon House.”

Raffles, Thomas Stamford, Sir. 1965. A History of Java. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford.

Sumunar Javanese Gamelan Instructional Videos website, accessed 16 May 2019:


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.222 idiophone--set of percussion plaques of different pitch are combined to form a single instrument, struck with a non-sonorous object (hand, stick, striker)

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - oblong bar

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: separate resonating space/s attuned to pitch/es of sonorous object/s - built into instrument

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick/s with padded disc end/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


36.3 in. length (case) 10.8 in. length (longest key) 2.8 in. width (longest key) .07 in. thickness (longest key) 7 in. length (shortest key) 1.9 in. width (shortest key) .15 in. thickness (shortest key)

Primary Materials

metal - sheet


Raden Riyo Mangkuasmara

Entry Author

Roger Vetter