kenong jaler

Also:       kenong lanang      kenong       

Title: demo: Javanese kenong. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The kenong is a metal gong idiophone of the Javanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is a punctuating instrument that is part of the Javanese gamelan (the iron gamelan to which the instrument pictured on this page belongs has eleven kenong jaler (see detail image). ‘Jaler’ means ‘male,’ so the Javanese use a gender maker to distinguish between the physical form of the kenong described here and that of a second basic form of horizontal-resting gongs, called ‘setrèn’ (‘female’), with a shallower recep and broader rai (see bonang barung for further interpretation of this distinction). Although Javanese forged bronze gongs in general are remarkable products of highly skilled and admired craftsmen (see goöng), gongs made from iron are not accorded the same level of admiration. Nonetheless, it takes a team of specialized craftsmen to construct iron gongs such as the kenong pictured and described here, and when well constructed they can produce a musically satisfying alternative to their far more costly counterparts in bronze gamelans.


The term ‘kenong jaler’ (here simplified to ‘kenong’) refers both to a single gong of the type described below (see gallery image) or collectively to all the gongs of this type found in a single gamelan (see detail image). The kenong described here is part of an iron gamelan and therefore the details of the physical description to follow differ from those of the same instrument found in bronze gamelans (see kenong (Sundanese)). Each kenong is constructed from three interlocking pieces of sheet iron, one circular and the other two elongated rectangular strips. The strips are connected end-to-end with rivets to form the gong's circular side/rim (bau), which in turn is attached to the edge of the circular face by folding (accomplished with much cold hammering) to create an integral vessel. With further hammering a central knob/boss (pencu) is articulated as well as two concentric surface areas: a flat rai around the pencu, and a sloping recep (brunjung) around the rai. Such contouring of the face is essential to achieving a gong with definite pitch. The pencu is reinforced with a brass cap that is riveted to the iron knob. All seams are soldered and then filed smooth. The gong rests horizontally on ropes running diagonally between the corners of its square wooden rack. The performer uses a wooden stick beater (tabuh) padded with tightly wound cord to strike the pencu of gong.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single player, seated on the floor in the middle of a square of kenong (see detail photo), performs the instrument by striking its knob/boss with the tabuh; any competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for the kenong in this gamelan. It contributes to the articulation of the underlying cyclical formal structure of a piece (gendhing) by being sounded at prescribed points of that structure, typically dividing the gong phrase (gongan) into two or four kenong phrases (kenongan) of equal length. The density of kenong strokes in some gamelan pieces is quite high, requiring the performer to use two tabuh, one in each hand. The sound has a definite pitch with a sharp attack and moderately fast decay that sometimes requires dampening. It is normally played at a fairly loud dynamic level, but can be played at a lower level when necessary.


Many of the oldest extant archaic/ceremonial gamelans in Java include a kenong, although in form and tuning it is more similar to the kenong japan than to the kenong jaler. According to inventories from the Sultan's palace in Yogyakarta, non-ceremonial gamelans in their holdings manufactured before the last quarter of the 19th century typically included one or, at most, two kenong jaler. Such gamelans, if and when they were upgraded in the 20th century, typically had four or five kenong added to their instrumentation. Since most gamelans manufactured in Java from the late 19th century on do include several kenong (usually five to six), it would appear that having kenong with a wider selection of pitches was an innovation of that era.

Bibliographic Citations

“Kenong.”  1984. NGDMI v.2: 376.

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

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

Vetter, Roger. 2001. "More than Meets the Eye and Ear: Gamelans and Their Meaning in a Javanese Palace," Asian Music 32/2: 41-92.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Javanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.241.21 idiophone--set of percussion vessel bossed, flat (with flange), and intermediate types of gongs

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: plate - contoured with folded-over rim

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: sonorous object itself is a general resonating space

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - partially padded stick/s

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


13.5 in. diameter at widest point (smallest gong) 12 in. height (smallest gong) 15 in. diameter at widest point (largest gong) 12 in. height (largest gong)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter