Title: demo: Javanese keprak. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The keprak is a struck hollow block idiophone of the Javanese of Java, Indonesia. is used in conjunction with the Javanese gamelan when that ensemble is being used to accompany dancers. It does not appear to carry any strong extramusical associations; it is basically a utilitarian instrument.


This ‘slit drum’ (it is not a ‘drum’ at all in that it is an idiophone rather than a membranophone) is constructed from a solid block of wood that has been hollowed out through the slit at the top of the instrument. The interior space serves as the instrument's resonating chamber. It is struck with a single hammer-shaped beater made from wood.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A dance master/choreographer/teacher typically performs this instrument, which is used to accentuate dance movement and to facilitate, through signals, changes in the gamelan music accompanying the dance or dance drama. The keprak rests on the floor in front of the performer, who is seated on the floor facing an end of the instrument. The right longitudinal face is struck with the beater to produce sequences or rhythmic articulations. The resonant sound produced can be heard clearly by both dancers and musicians. While simple to produce a sound on, only an individual possessing great knowledge of Javanese dance choreography and its musical accompaniment performs it. The keprak is not otherwise used in gamelan performance. Unlike the tuned instruments of the gamelan, which cannot be shared between sets, any keprak can be used with any gamelan.


Although it is not known with certainty when the keprak as a dance accompaniment instrument came into existence, it seems likely that two long-standing Javanese practices contributed to its invention. Morphologically the keprak is related to the kenthongan, a signaling (but not a dance accompanying) instrument the sound of which has been a part of the Javanese village and city soundscape for millennia (see separate entry). Musically, the use of the wooden storage chest (kothak) as a signaling and movement accentuation instrument by the puppeteer (dhalang) in the venerable shadow puppet theatre tradition (wayang kulit) probably served as an antecedent to the keprak. In the aristocratic stratum of Javanese society where wayang kulit-inspired dance drama forms developed in the 19th century (e.g., Yogyanese wayang wong), the choreographer of such productions would play the keprak. It has also been a part of the performance practice of sacred court dances (bedhaya and serimpi) at least as far back as the 19th century. Yet, even with this circumstantial evidence, it is not known even generally when the keprak took on its current form and function.

Bibliographic Citations

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

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


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.243 idiophone--slit drum

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - includes flat face with shallow depression

Sound objects per instrument: one

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - mallet-shaped hammer/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: indefinite pitch

Sound modification: none


19.6 in. length 6.9 in. height 10.9 in. length of slit 1 in. width of slit

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter