Title: demo: Javanese kethuk. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The kethuk 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 three kethuk. Morphologically, a kethuk is a miniature kenong japan, i.e., it is a ‘setrèn’ (‘female’) gong form (see bonang barung for discussion of this designation). 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 kethuk pictured and described here, and when well constructed they can produce a musically satisfying alternative to their far more costly counterparts in bronze gamelans.


Each kethuk 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 performs the instrument by striking its knob/boss with the tabuh; any competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. Sometimes this musician will also be performing the kenong and/or kempyang. See Gamelan Besi (Iron) from Central Java for tuning and register information for the kethuk in this gamelan. For any given piece (gendhing) only one of the kethuk is used. The sound of the kethuk contributes to the articulation of the underlying cyclical formal structure of a piece by being sounded at prescribed points of that structure. At fast tempos it is struck and muted simultaneously. At slower tempos it is struck several times in very fast succession and with diminishing intensity. It is normally played at a fairly loud dynamic level, but can be played at a lower level when necessary.


It is not possible to state with certainty when the kethuk came into existence. Kunst implies it might date back to the first millenium CE, but any ensemble it was used in would have differed considerably from the modern gamelan. Many of the oldest extant archaic/ceremonial gamelans in Yogyakarta do not include a kethuk; however, the oldest non-ceremonial gamelans (dating from the mid-18th century) included one in their original instrumentations. 

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret. 1984. “Kethuk,” NGDMI v.2: 380.

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

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

Pickvance, Richard. 2005A 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)

111.241.11 idiophone--bossed percussion vessel gong, flat gong (with flange), and intermediate types

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: one

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


9.5 in. diameter (smallest gong) 6.5 in. height (smallest gong) 11 in. diameter (largest gong) 6.3 in. height (largest gong)

Primary Materials




Entry Author

Roger Vetter