ranat ek

Title: The Sleeping Angel: Thai Classical Music--Ma Ram (The Dancing Horse); Fong Naam. Label: Nimbus. Format: CD. Catalog#: NI 5319. Track: 5.

Contextual Associations

The ranat ek is a xylophone idiophone of the lowland Tai people of Thailand. It is one of two xylophones found in medium- and large-size pi phat, the traditional gong-chime ensemble of the Tai. One is most likely to hear the ranat ek today in a pi phat or mixed ensemble performance as part of a Buddhist temple festival, a performance by a government-sponsored educational institution (such as the College of Dramatic Arts in Bangkok), or a presentation for tourists at a restaurant or a theme park. Some primary and secondary educational institutions provide their students with the opportunity to study the ranat ek as an exercise in cultural cultivation.


The twenty-one hardwood bars on this ranat ek are strung together with a rope that is threaded through a pair of holes drilled in the keys at each of their acoustical nodes. The ends of this rope are attached to hooks mounted on the end-boards of the instrument's gracefully-curved, pedestal-mounted trough resonator case with just enough tension to keep all the keys from having any contact with the case itself. Tuning of the bars to the desired scale is achieved by manipulating their length and thickness, and by adding or subtracting the amount of tuning paste, made from beeswax and metal shavings, attached to their bottom side (see detail image).  The bars are struck with slender wood beaters that have thinly padded hardwood knobs at their end.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The performer sits cross-legged on the floor facing one side of the instrument, with the longer/wider/thinner lower-pitched keys to his left and the shorter/narrower/thicker higher-pitched ones to his right. With one beater in each hand, the performer produces a steady and rapid melodic variation of a piece's main melody. For the most part the ranat ek is played in parallel octaves (a style termed kep), but when a note in the variation is sustained a technique called kraw, which involves a rapid roll-like alternation of the beaters on the same pitch an octave apart, is incorporated. The keys are tuned to a nearly equidistant heptatonic scale over a range of three octaves (from approximately F3 to F6). The relatively hard beater heads, in combination with the way in which the bars are fully suspended over the trough resonator, result in the crisp attack and bright timbre characteristic of this instrument's sound.


The ranat ek is certainly much older than its earliest mention in literature (1826 CE), and there is considerable disagreement amongst scholars as to whether it is a Tai or a Burmese creation. The Burmese equivalent, the pattala, could date as early as the 16th century CE, but that instrument's technique and some of its repertoire suggest the pattala itself could have been an import from the Siamese kingdom of Ayutthaya (1350-1767 CE). 

Bibliographic Citations

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.

Morton, David. 1976. The Traditional Music of Thailand. Berkeley: University of California Press.

________. 1984. "Ranat [roneat]." NGDMI v.3: 191-192.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Thailand

Formation: Tai

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

111.212 idiophone--set of percussion sticks: several percussion sticks of different pitch are combined to form a single instrument, struck with a non-sonorous object (hand, stick, striker)

Design and Playing Features

Category: idiophone

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Basic form of sonorous object/s for idiophone: block - oblong bar

Sound objects per instrument: multiple sounded discretely

Resonator design: separate resonating space shared by multiple sonorous objects - built into instrument

Number of players: one

Sounding principle: striking - direct

Sound exciting agent: beater/s - stick with hard ball end

Energy input motion by performer: hammering

Pitch of sound produced: definite pitch

Sound modification: none


49 in. length 11.9 in. length (shortest key) 1.8 in. width (shortest key) 1.2 in. thickness (shortest key) 16 in. length (longest key) 2 in. width (longest key)

Primary Materials

rope - braided

Entry Author

Roger Vetter