suling degung

Title: Gamelan Degung: Classical Music of Sunda, West Java--Prawa; Lingkungan Seni Degung Jugala, Endang Sukandar, suling degung. Label: PAN Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: PAN 2053CD. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The suling degung is and end-blown edge aerophone of the Sundanese people of West Java, Indonesia. Other than being associated with the Sundanese gamelan degung, this instrument does not seem to have any extra-musical associations. Like most other similar flutes found in Indonesia, it is also most likely played solo instrument for personal entertainment. In the tourism marketplace, it has become an inexpensive and easily portable icon of Sundanese culture that tourists can buy from vendors.


This is a cylindrical bamboo endblown flute with a cylindrical bore, open at the bottom and closed at the top (blowing end) by a natural node. The preferred type of thin-walled bamboo for this instrument is called pring wuluh (Kunst). A narrow and shallow notch is chiseled out of the node and into the adjacent wall of the tube; the end of this notch is squared off and sharpened to create the edge against which the player's airstream is directed. A narrow bamboo ring is fastened around the node in such a manner as to create a duct with the aforementioned notch; this duct ensures that the airstream will be directed against the sharp edge to produce a sound (see detail image, which shows the blowing-end of the instrument with the ring removed). This distinctive ring-and-notch duct design is why instrument classifiers refer to the suling degung as a ‘ring flute.’ Four fingerholes (one twice as large as the other three) are drilled into the lower half of the side of the tube opposite that of the duct; the suling degung does not have a thumbhole.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The suling degung player covers and uncovers this flute's four fingerholes with the fingertips of the index and middle fingers of both hands, leaving the thumbs on the opposite side of the tube to steady the instrument. This four-hole flute produces the pentatonic pélog degung scale over a range of nearly three octaves. The performer produces a florid, rhythmically free melody the ornamental subtlety of which is produced through the coordination of breadth control (necessary not only for harmonic partial overtone selection but also for volume fluctuations and pitch-bending inflections) and supple finger work resulting in grace notes, trills, bends, and other inflections. Compared to other varieties of ring flutes found on Java, the suling degung is shorter, higher pitched, louder and shriller (Spiller). These qualities allow it to be heard in its primary context of use, the gamelan degung, the instrumentation of which otherwise includes only louder sounding idiophones and membranophones.


The relatively wide distribution of ring flutes throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines suggests that this instrument concept has been around for a long time--just how long is not possible to determine. However, the origin of the suling degung is relatively recent--the 1930s. The addition of a suling to the gamelan degung, a venerable aristocratic ensemble tradition in West Java, was such a successful innovation that henceforth the instrument became a standard member of the gamelan degung.

Bibliographic Citations

Kartomi, Margaret. 1984. “Suling,” NGDMI v.3: 473-474.

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

Spiller, Henry. 2004. Gamelan: The Traditional Sounds of Indonesia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Indonesia

Formation: Sundanese

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

421.211.12 aerophone--single open flute with external duct: the duct is outside the wall of the flute; this group includes flutes with the duct chamfered in the wall under a ring-like sleeve and other similar arrangements; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with closed distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: beveled edge in wall of instrument, indirectly blown against with aid of duct

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


13.6 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter