Also:       khim      

Contextual Associations

The khimm is a struck box-zither chordophone of the Khmer people of Kampuchea (Cambodia). A hammered dulcimer, it is related to two other instruments in the collection (see separate entries for yangqin and hammered dulcimer). This instrument was purchased from Cambodian refugees at a camp in Thailand during the tumultuous times the Khmer people endured in the 1970s and 1980s. The instrument's lid, which is made from the same block of wood as its resonator, has relief carving in the style of Khmer shadow puppets. This introduced instrument (it is of Chinese origin) is used in secular music making, most often as a member of the mohori ensemble that provides music for banquets and accompaniment for newer folkloric dances. It is also used as part of the Chinese inspired Khmer theatre form called basakk.


The khimm is a box zither with fourteen triple courses of metal wire strings. The trapezoidal-shaped wooden resonating chamber is made from a solid block of wood that has been partially hollowed out and covered with a thin wooden soundboard. Two small sound holes are drilled in the center of the soundboard and are covered with perforated coconut shell caps. There are a total of four bridges on the soundboard, two high partitioning bridges which we will call the treble bridge (left center in the image) and bass bridge (right center), and two low side bridges, functioning as nuts, one each located just inside the rows of hitch pins (left side) and the tuning pins (right side). The partitioning bridges have a series of plateaus (seven) and valleys (six) carved into them, their bottom face glued to the surface of the soundboard. The side bridges (ridge-nuts) are lengths of half-rounded wood with their bottom faces also glued to the soundboard; they are capped with a metal rod serving as a saddle. The caps on the partitioning bridge plateaus are made of bone and terminate in a sharp edge. Forty-two steel wire strings of the same gauge are organized into fourteen triple courses. Each string has a noose at one end that is looped around a hitch pin along the left side of the soundboard. Each string then makes contact with the cap of the left side bridge, then with a cap on the plateau of either the treble or the bass bridge (but not both), and makes contact with the cap of the right side bridge before being threaded through and wound around a tuning pin that is securely imbedded in the pinblock beneath right end of the soundboard. Every other string course starting with the second one (from camera perspective) runs over the treble bridge and is divided into two useable segments in the ratio of 9:16 (left of treble bridge: right of treble bridge). For example, the vibrating length of the lowest treble string is 20.6 inches (distance between the two side bridges); it is divided by the treble bridge into segments of 7.4 inches and 13.2 inches, which can be reduced to the ratio of 9:16. The other string-courses pass over the bass bridge, which divides them but not into simple proportional segments; only the longer segment to the left of the bridge of each of these courses is used. Four plains of strings result, none of which is perfectly parallel with the soundboard. Because the bass bridge is slightly out of alignment with the treble bridge, the stings contacting one bridge never collide with those contacting the other bridge but pass through the ‘valleys’ of the other bridge. Two thinly shaven bamboo beaters are used to trike the strings.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The khimm is placed on the floor with its longest side nearest the performer. One flexible bamboo beater it held in each hand, and these are used to strike the courses of strings on either side of the treble bridge and on the left side of the bass bridge. Since the decay of sound is fast, a tremolo technique is used to sustain notes. We have not run across sources that provide specifics of tuning for this instrument. Miller (p. 239) reports that the Thai equivalent, the khim, is tuned to a seven-tone scale, and given that the khimm is paired in some ensembles with xylophones tuned to a seven-tone scale, it seems likely that it, too, would be tuned similarly. The string segments on the two sides of the treble bridge produce an interval of approximately a m7. Once tuned, the instrument is used primarily to play melodies but two pitches can potentially be produced simultaneously. Strings divided by the right-center bridge produce notes that are approximately an octave and a major sixth apart; strings divided by the left-center bridge produces notes that are approximately a major seventh apart.


The khimm is derived from the Chinese hammered dulcimer yangqin, which was introduced to Cambodia by Chinese residents perhaps as recently as the 1930s as part of the ensemble that accompanied their theatre entertainments. It was adapted by the Khmer for their own theatre music and eventually introduced into other secular music making ensembles. As a consequence of the general presence of Chinese peoples throughout Mainland Southeastern Asia, both historically and at the present, khimm-like instruments are also found in Myanmar/Burma (don-min), Laos (khim), Thailand (khim), and Vietnam (du'o'ng cam or dan tam thap luc).

Bibliographic Citations

"Khim. (1)" 1984. NGDMI v.2: 423.

Miller, Terry E. 1998. "Thailand." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 4. Southeast Asia. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 218-334.

Sam, Sam-Ang. 1998. "The Khmer People." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 4. Southeast Asia. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 151-210.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Cambodia

Formation: Khmer

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

314.122 chordophone--true board zither (the plane of the strings is parallel with that of the string bearer): with resonator box (box zither); the resonator is made from slats

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: zither - board

Resonator design, chordophone: box with wood soundboard

String courses: triple at unison

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to ridge-nut

String tension control: friction pin

Method of sounding: striking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one and two (with partitioning bridge)


29 in. length (near edge) 10.7 in. width (near edge to far edge) 2 in. depth of resonator box

Primary Materials

string - wire

Entry Author

Roger Vetter