bonang (Sundanese)

Title: demo: Sundanese bonang. Format: DAT.

Contextual Associations

The bonang is a metal gongchime idiophone of the Sundanese people of Java, Indonesia. It is part of the Sundanese gamelan salendro (see Gamelan Prunggu (Bronze) from West Java for tuning and register information for the instruments in the Grinnell set). Sundanese gamelan instruments in general are remarkable products of highly skilled craftsmen. The transformation, with the aid of fire, of raw materials from the earth into physical objects of sound production is seen by many Sundanese to be fraught with supernatural dangers. In earlier times, gongsmiths were viewed as possessing priestly like powers and would take on the names of mythological characters as forms of protection in their craft.


The ten bronze gongs of this instrument were individually forged by a team of hammer-wielding smiths who gradually transformed a disc of bronze into the shape seen in the picture. This involved numerous cycles of heating the bronze until white-hot followed by a few minutes of hammering. The finished product is an integral vessel with a turned-in flange and a raised central boss/knob. The contouring of the face of the gong is essential to achieving a definite pitch. The bonang gongs rest horizontally in two parallel rows on ropes stretched the length of a wooden rack. Two lightly padded wooden stick beaters are used to strike the bosses of the gongs.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A single player seated on the floor along one of the sides of the casing performs the instrument by striking its knobs/bosses with two beaters and, oftentimes, damping its sound between strokes also with the beaters; most competent gamelan musician can play the instrument. The player of this two-octave elaboration instrument anticipates upcoming stressed pitches (pokok) in a piece's core melody (pola lagu). A sonorous sound with a soft attack and moderately long decay (if not damped) is produced. The sound of each gong has a definite pitch and pairs of gongs are usually played in octaves. It is played at a single dynamic level.


It is very likely that tuned gongs and the technology to produce them were developed first outside of Indonesia. When and by whom they were introduced to Java is not known. Many types of Sundanese gamelan, even the oldest extant archaic/ceremonial ones, include bonang type instruments, though most of them have a single row of gongs and go by different names. 

Bibliographic Citations

“Bonang.” 1984. NGDMI v.1: 249.

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)

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


51 in. length of case 8.2 in. diameter (smallest gong) 5.5 in. height (smallest gong) 8.5 in. diameter (largest gong) 5 in. height (largest gong)

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter