Also:       gambang kayu      

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

Contextual Associations

The gambang is a xylophone idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is an elaboration instrument that is part of a Javanese gamelan. The iron gamelan to which the instrument pictured on this page belongs has two gambang--one for each of the set’s tuning systems, laras sléndro and laras pélog.


The gambang is a xylophone with 20 nearly rectangular wooden keys (wilah) made from a straight-grained hardwood. The keys are graduated in size and 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. They rest over a box-like resonating chamber (grobog) made from teak wood the width of which is wider at the end with the longest keys and narrower at the end with the shortest ones. The keys rest on a cloth-covered rope that runs the length of the top edge of the resonator’s sideboards. This rope pad is situated one-quarter of a key’s total length from each of its ends, which are nodal (dead) points in the mode of vibration for rectangular keys. The keys are anchored in place with pins (made from nails) all of which run through the rope pad into the wooden sideboard (see detail image). Each key has one hole drilled in it at a point that is one-quarter of its total length from the end nearest the player. The pins near the other end of the keys keep contiguous keys separate from one another. The two springy beaters (tabuh) used to strike the keys are made from stretched buffalo horn with wooden disc heads the rims of which are padded with rope.

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 fast-paced melodic patterns (cengkok) played mostly in parallel octaves 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 four octaves. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for the gambang in this gamelan. When struck, the keys produce a clear pitch but with a rapid decay that doesn’t necessitate a damping technique. The slight spring-like flex of the stems of the beaters makes it possible for a performer to play at very fast tempos. The gambang is played at a constant dynamic level. For an extended video example of the gambang being performed, follow this link. Performing the gambang 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 of gendhing and vocal pieces (sekar)—all without the aid of notation. Not every Javanese musician can do this, so a gambang player can be considered a specialist.


Extant depictions of xylophones in Java are found on Buddhist and Hindu temples such as the 8th century CE Borobudur and the 14th century CE Panataran, but these instruments differ in significant ways from the Javanese gambang of today. As for when the gambang took on its current form and musical role, there exists no reliable source. There are many centuries-old gamelan sets in royal palaces and museums that include gambang that appear to be original to them, suggesting the instrument as we know it has existed conservatively for 250-300 years or more.

Bibliographic Citations

Kunst, Jaap. 1968. Hindu-Javanese Musical Instruments. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff,.

________. 1973. Music in Java. 3rd ed. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. 

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

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

Susilo, Hardja, et al. 1984. “Gambang,” NGDMI v.2: 8.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.212 idiophone--set of percussion sticks: several percussion sticks 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 shared by multiple sonorous objects - 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


53.5 in. length (case) 20.5 in. length (longest key) 2.8 in. width (longest key) .25 in. thickness (longest key) 12 in. length (shortest key) 1.6 in. width (shortest key) 1.5 in. thickness (shortest key)

Primary Materials

horn - mammal


Raden Riyo Mangkuasmara

Entry Author

Roger Vetter