Ethnomusicology [Studying music and sound through a specific group or culture of people]

Art Institute 2014

Field Work Proposal [Phases 1, 2, & 3]: Northern Thailand/Southern Laos/Golden Triangle!


I have chosen a lush and mountainous region in Southeast Asia to arbitrate my case study. My proposal is to initially travel to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand and stay a week in the city, as I slowly adapt to Thai culture within this region. Thailand is known for a more “recent” style of music called Luk Thung, which was developed in the 60’s as a response to American film soundtracks as well as some country and yodeling techniques. The Thai adapted this style of music, making it their own- though it was also influenced by techniques from Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and Latin America. These are “songs [that] typically reflect the hardship of everyday life among the rural poor. Tempos tend to be slow, and singers use an expressive singing style with a lot of vibrato. Comparisons are sometimes made with country music of the United States“.  (Wikipedia- Luk Thung) While I would love to have the opportunity to record some of this richly cultural music while I’m in Thailand, it is not the direct goal of my case study. This is mainly because Luk Thung is now known for its utilization of modern electronic instruments, (such as electric guitars) and the music itself is more like contemporary power pop ballads but “[t]hey still retain enough of their traditional flavor to distinguish themselves from Westernized modern Thai pop (Sattar 1). I am interested in a style of music that was developed during an earlier time in both Thailand and Laos.


The Northern regions of Thailand are heavily associated with music called Mor Lam, which translates to one who is an “expert instrumentalist or singer.” Mor Lam’s roots are much older than Luk Thung, as they originated in the distinctively Laotian region (in northeastern Thailand) known as Isaan. The borders between Thailand and Laos are entirely interwoven, so many cultural traditions and styles are shared, and have blended over a period of many many years. (Truthfully, what are boarders really, anyway?)

The red region represents Isaan:



It’s important to note that the “inhabitants of Northern Thailand speak Kham Muang (also known as Northern Thai or Lanna) among themselves, though Central Thai is used in education and is understood by everyone. English is used in hotels and travel-related businesses and many educated people speak English. The Kham Muang alphabet is now studied only by scholars, and Northern Thai is commonly written with the standard Thai alphabet” (Wikipedia- Chiang Mai).

The most common religion in Chiang Mai, Thailand is Buddhism. There are over 300 “Wat,” meaning Buddhist temples in the region. There are a number of different festivals and traditions, specifically charted by the moon/Lunar calendar. “Loi Krathong (known locally as Yi Peng): Held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, being the full moon of the 2nd month of the old Lanna calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November. Every year thousands of people assemble floating banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles onto the waterways of the city to worship the Goddess of Water. Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom fai or kom loi), which are hot-air balloons made of paper, are launched into the air. The sky lanterns are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets” (Wikipedia- Chiang Mai).

Loi Krathong



As I plan on fully experiencing this region, I will surely be asking the locals about traditional “mor lum, maw lam, maw lum, moh lam and mhor lim, as all these names refer to the same kind of music played and sung by experts.

Perhaps it will occur in Isaan, or really anywhere between Thai and Lao borders, I will record Mor Lam (such as this next video which includes an ensemble of playful vocals, clapping, traditional Laotian khene, drums, small chimes, hand-gestured dancing, and tons of smiles 🙂

Mor Lam is based upon Glawn, or Gaun, which is the content focus of traditional Lao music. Glawn is a verse form used in both the poetry and songs of the Lao People. It is the most common text in traditional Mor Lam, and is made up of four-line stanzas, each with seven basic syllables. When Glawn/Gaun is sung or spoken in a form of heightened speech, it often includes extra, unstressed syllables, making it rather regimented. “There is a set pattern for the tone marks to be used at various points in the stanza, plus rhyme schemes to hold the unit together. Performances of glawn are typically memorised rather than improvised” (Wikipedia- Glawn). Often, the Glawn performance is accompanied by the Laotian “khene (khaen in Thailand) [which] is the iconic instrument of the Lao people, including those living in Isaan, the region of Northeast Thailand that formerly belonged to Laos. The khene is basically a bamboo harmonica, two rows of pipes connected in a raft-like form. The player breathes in and out, creating an insistent rhythmic groove. The singing, or lam, is often done by a male and female in a kind of teasing, yet playful repartee” (Haji Maji 1).

I feel that I could capture some fairly unique recordings of Mor Lam, mostly because a lot of what I heard was lo-fidelity/quality. You aren’t able to hear the full set of instrumental harmonics, and most of the timbral qualities are overshadowed by heavy noise-floors that occurred during recording.

Master Daeng Toy is considered to be one of the greatest Khene players:


As I plan on making my way through these regions for at least a month, I will be focusing heavily the various forms of instrumentation. Thailand is swarming with a multitude of different kinds of instruments, all of which are plucked, bowed, stricken, and blown. I’m less interested in the heavy gong traditions introduced to Thailand from Indonesia (For instance: the Gamelan Ensembles which have already had an extensive amount of research.) I am more curious about the free-reed instruments such as the Khene, or the aerophonic Pi Chum/ Pi Nai which is a free reed pipe used in the the Thai Lanna (northern) region. There are various types of Pi’s, “[which is the] generic term for any of a variety of quadruple reed oboes used in the traditional music of Thailand. It is very similar in construction and playing technique to the Cambodian sralai(Wikipedia- Pi (Instrument). There is a Pi Nok, (the smallest, and most ancient instrumental Pi in Thailand), the Pi Nai which is commonly seen in Thai literature, such as the Phra Aphai Mani. There is also a Pi Cha Nai, which has two parts made of both wood and ivory. It is believed that this instrument obtained its musical influence from India, as it closely resembles the Indian Shehnai. The Pi Chawa is longer than the Pi Cha Nai in length, and is generally played alongside the Glong Khaek (drums that are always played in a pair, and played by 2 players.) The Pi Mon is the “greater” version of the Pi Chawa, and has 2 parts and made from wood and metal. This instrument is played at the classical Thai Piphat Ensemble, consisting of numerous wood and percussion instruments. The Piphat Ensemble is considered to be a musical interpretation of the most sacred “high-class” compositions of Thai classical repertoire.



The Bamboo Drum, or Klong Mai Phai is an instrument that has nearly vanished- therefore, I find it imperative to find, capture, and record the sounds and music that it can make. It was very difficult for me to find any samples of this idiophonic drum online (except on this website: (  According to, “[s]ome decades ago, when kids had to take their buffaloes out to graze, their parents would give them the instrument they’d devised to keep their children entertained. It is easy to make and play, and so good for beginners. Unfortunately this bamboo drum is going to become extinct since the only people left playing today are our grandpas and grandmas.”

The other traditional instruments in Northern Thailand/Laos are these different types of chordophones (as pictured below.) There are also a number of dissimilar shaped/sized hand-drums.



Long ago, Thai people understood how to make their own innovative musical instruments. Once they came into contact with various Indian cultures (prominent throughout Southeast Asia at the time), the Thai became rather skilled with duplicating Indian instrumental patterns. As a result, several new kinds of instruments were created after exposure with the Indian musical culture. This included many different versions of aerophonic flutes, chordophonic stringed instruments and idiophonic gongs.

As pictured above, here is a popular instrument called the Pin-Pia, which is considered to be the National instrument of Thailand. (This instrument has undergone very little changes from the past to present) The “Pin-Pia pieces [you can hear below] are performed by Cun Smithitham in July 2005: this instrument has three strings and the vibrato is made by cupping a half coconut shell on your naked breast” (David Soldier 1). This particular instrument is 3000 years old.


Ethnomusicologist/Field Recordist Dave Soldier has some gorgeous field recordings of the Pin Pia on his website: Check out these recordings here!

All together, there are about 50 types of Thai musical instruments. The earliest Thai ensembles included woodwind and percussion instruments, originally  for the purpose of theatre accompaniment.  The Thai scale includes seven equal notes, instead of a mixture of tones and semitones. Instruments improvise around a central melody. Not only is traditional Thai music unique for its sound, but also for the absence of written music. The only way to learn it is from the masters, making it a rare art form (one could be so lucky to learn…)


My ultimate goal is to make my way towards the Golden Triangle (one of Asia’s 2 main Opium producing areas where Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar all converge at one point.) While the Opium is rather prevalent, I’m obviously more-so focused on the historical folk traditions and styles that have coincided between these countries. It does make me a bit nervous that before the 21st century, the Golden Triangle produced more illicit Heroin than anywhere else in the world. Eventually, Afghanistan became the worlds largest producer, so maybe I can wipe some sweat of my forehead? Apparently, many of the poppy plantations have been replaced with tea crops!



During my research, I found that the Golden Triangle has a rich musical culture of its own! And who other than my own most revered record label to record such music?! Sublime Frequencies; a local Seattle Record Label that seeks to travel the world and record music from different remote regions. [I have my mind set on eventually working with these like-minded folks.]

Here is a piece of music from the Golden Triangle recorded by Sublime Frequencies in 2005. “Guitars of the Golden Triangle” featuring twangy-electric guitar, child-like vocals, and percussion in a 2/4 shuffle.

Unfortunately many of the music pieces are not able to be played without purchasing the Vinyl/LP’s, though I have also found that Sublime Frequencies (Specifically Laurent Jeanneau: Kink Gong Records)  has recorded Ethnic Minority music from Southern Laos.


“This is a collection of landmark recordings by Laurent Jeanneau documenting music created by the Harak and various Brao ethnic groups in Southern Laos. Here you can hear the true historic roots of Molam music (now a venerable popular music style in Laos and Thailand) played on the Khaen along with vocal styles from this region. Also featured here are Gong ensembles, various stringed instruments, cymbals, drums, and sung poetry all captured live on location with the ambient sounds of the surrounding villages. These recordings were made in Xekong, Champasak and Attapeu provinces and because much of this music is unknown, this is probably the first time recordings have ever been released of indigenous music from these remote areas of Southern Laos. This is the second release in a series of spectacular field recordings from some of the more remote ethnic minority communities in Southeast Asia. Features insightful liner notes by Laurent Jeanneau and extended track listing with added information about each track recorded” (SF036 – Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Laos- Sublime Frequencies).

I also found another resource for music in the Golden Triangle; Francois Jouffa (This biography is all in French…) Jouffa released a compilation in 1980 under the “Musical Heritage Society” His LP can be purchased here:çois-Jouffa-Music-Of-The-Chinese-Tribes-In-The-Golden-Triangle/release/3624405 and it features music from the various Chinese Tribes who immigrated to the Golden Triangle region many years ago.

chinese tribes golden triangle

The Akha tribe inhabits the small villages among the mountains of Burma (Myanmar), China, Laos and the northern Thailand.


The majority of the Akha people are animists, meaning that they believe that animals, plants, and inanimate objects/phenomena posses a spiritual essence. It is in this way that the Akha people (as well as many of the other hilltribes in Southeast Asia) live out their their lives. With this sort of respect for the environment, this traditional Chinese tribe manages to live in harmony with the nature around them.


“The Shaman or the Spiritual Leader is the most important person in every Akha village. Furthermore Akha see themselves as a link in the great continuum of Akha history and they are in a very close relationship with their ancestors. All Akha traditions and ceremonies are called “The Akha Way” [which] determines their whole life – their manners, the way they treat one another, how they view sickness, how their houses look like and many more” (Blazejewska 1).akha village 2 “The role of music in pre-literate societies cannot be underestimated, for the oral arts have functioned throughout the millennia as the primary channel for sustaining history, myths, customs, laws, knowledge, and beliefs, thereby linking the first ancestor with all who follow. This is so beautifully illustrated by the Akha saying: “If a village has no music, how can it be called a village?”



Through research, I found that there is an “Indigenous People’s Festival” in Chiang Mai that occurs in early August. This wasn’t necessarily the timing that I was planning on, but it’s something to think about when purchasing tickets. Sometimes the festivals are authentic, but there are also a good many that are designed to entertain tourists. I would rather not be perceived this way. This next video is not the greatest quality, as we can hear the entire environment louder than the actual singing. However, I felt it would be interesting to show that the various Akha tribes share the same funeral customs of singing together.

akha dance


The Songs of Memory museum exhibition is a multi-media display that presents comprehensive collections of musical instruments, tribal textiles, jewelry, films, and photographs of the six major tribal groups living in the Golden Triangle—the Hmong, Mien, Lahu, Akha, Lisu, and Karen. (I will briefly speak about the Karen tribe later). Music is entirely important, and with modernization occurring at a rapid pace, it’s essential to capture, honor, and respect the sounds of their ancestors.

Click this link to see the tribal instruments of the Akha peoples. 


As far as equipment goes, I wanted to give a brief overview of how to best capture sound while field recording. Achieving a bit of popularity in the 1970’s, field recording has become its own viable and expressive art form. With the introduction of high-quality portable recording equipment, there has never been an easier time to begin recording and sampling natural sounds in any given environment. Today, we have the luxury of not having to record to tape. This has its ups and downs, but with regards to digital recordings, portability has never been easier. The first important piece of equipment needed is the field recorder itself. Depending on one’s budget, there are a wide range of portable and high-quality recorders. If you want to keep the price range under $3-400, you may consider purchasing a Zoom H4N or H6 with interchangeable microphone capsules. Marrantz, Edirol, and M-Audio also make inexpensive options that are simple to use and can capture high-fidelity stereo field recordings (without much of a hassle.) If your budget is much greater and you are recording at a more professional level, prices can easily range to thousands of dollars. A good example is the Sound Device. Even the 702, high-resolution 2-channel recorder is nearly $2000. It is quite evident that with this particular manufacturer, (and most others) the more channels you want, the more expensive it will cost- (2-channels= $2000, 4 channels= $4000, etc).


For my Southeast Asia trip, I plan on being realistic as to what I own, and have access to as a young field recordist- I own the Zoom H6 with interchangeable microphone capsules. (It comes with an M/S style transducer that pics up on 2-sides of its ball-like head, an X/Y stereo capsule that can spread to both 90 and 120 degrees for more or less of a span of stereo imagery, and I also purchased the interchangeable shotgun mic mount. Each of these mics have respective wind-guards to cut down on environmental noises…like wind, which has the ability to destroy an otherwise awesome recording.) I would like to purchase the Shure VP88 as a single point, stereo condenser as well. I will also bring a stereo pair of AKG 214’s, or something comparable. This way I can have my choice of what will sound the best in any given scenario. I will bring this kit with a ton of back up batteries. I learned the hard-way that water damages equipment, sometimes so much so that you can no longer can use your expensive gear. I would like to find out if there are any water-proofing options for my equipment, or if we have to solely rely on umbrellas?  


As far as translation services go, I found that Chiang Mai has a number of resources, as well as people to translate Thai into English. A company called “CNX Translation” provides not only Thai–>English translation, but also Simplified and Traditional Chinese into English. This would be rather essential considering I’m not only searching for musicians of one cultural background–I need someone who can translate Thai, Chinese (of different dialects), as well as Laotian. The CNX business has great rates although, “The price can vary depending on factors such as nature of text, deadline, availability and long-term relationship.” This company generally deals with documents that need to be translated, rather than traveling/tour guide translators. However, upon contact with this company I would be able to discover if they would be able to help me out quite quickly. If they cannot- they may know who can.



I also discovered Chiang Mai Tour Guides at a website called This company prides itself on the fact that they do tours/activities, and translating. This may be a better company for what I’m specifically looking for. Especially if I need to go towards Southern Laos, as well as the Golden Triangle. This company has a tour that goes to the Golden Triangle, as well as a tribe called “The Karen Long-Neck Tribe.” This is most certainly something that I could get behind. Maybe this indigenous group of people would be interested in recording the songs of their ancestors. These “[w]omen put brass rings on their necks when they are 5 or 6 years old and increase the number every year until their necks become longer, as a symbol of beauty. They are one of the most interesting hill tribes in the world” (


Just like the prior translation company, these are great places to start looking. If one company cannot do what I need, they may be able to refer me in a better direction.


As far as the trip itself goes, I am planning as though this is a real trip my husband I and will be taking. There will be no crew besides he and I, though he is also a musician and knows very well how to handle audio equipment. I would love to bring a video camera, or have him take any sort of directed footage. However, it is true that I specialize in field recordings, which forces the listener to visualize what they are hearing. I enjoy this. Video camera or not, my mission is for the audio recordings.


After doing research, I found that the best time to travel in Southeast Asia is November through February. Assuming we leave this coming November 2014, are away for 1 month, and return in December 2014, tickets are about $1,100 per head (Korean Air). This should technically be the most expensive part of the get-away. Going through Trip Advisor, I chose to use This graph shows that we would depart from Seattle at 12:40pm- and land in Seoul, Korea (5,196 miles away)- and the overall trip would be 12 hours. Then, we would be taking Korean Air from Seoul to Chiang Mai, which is a 5 hour and 55 minute flight. (2,109 miles).

This is a long trip! [BUT SO WORTH IT!]

Sun, Nov 02 – Departure 1 stopTotal travel time : 19h 0m
Web Fare
  • Seattle
  • SEA 12:40pm
  • Seoul
  • ICN 5:40pm + 1 day
  • Arrives on Mon, Nov 03
12h 0m
5,196 mi
  • Korean Air 20
  • Economy/Coach (T)
  • 772 – BOEING 777/200 |  Lunch |  Dinner

Layover:  1h 5m

Web Fare
  • Seoul
  • ICN 6:45pm
  • Departs on Mon, Nov 03
  • Chiang Mai
  • CNX 10:40pm
  • Arrives on Mon, Nov 03
5h 55m
2,109 mi


I have done my best to connect with people through Instragram and Facebook who live in Chiang Mai, and so far have met a lovely lady from Australia currently living in Chiang Mai. Having been there for some time, she offered to meet up with me and show me the ropes. I feel so blessed that it’s not that hard these days to link up with people over the internet (without feeling at all endangered.) I will be counting on people who I meet who can lead me in the right direction in order to accomplish my goals.

LAVISH HOTEL STAY (1/4 of the trip) & VILLAGE ROOMS (3/4 of the trip)

The 4 Seasons in Chiang Mai is absolutely gorgeous, and yes. It’s a 5 star hotel. The structure is pushed up against a green-belt jungle and it would be a FABULOUS place to get started before the real journey throughout the villages begins. (This being said, it is $392.00 a night to stay at the 4 Seasons). I would consider staying here for a week, and I’m sure my husband would agree that it would be nice to be pampered before we head into some of the indigenous villages. Sleeping in a room in the middle of a small path (really in the middle of no-where) will most likely be occurring throughout the rest of the trip. We may be taking it day by day….referral by referral…


There’s also another Chiang Mai hotel called The Rachamankha. This hotel looks equally as lavish, and is a much more affordable $209.00 a night. It may be a more likely possibility.


As far as budget goes, we’re looking at round-trip pricing around $2,400. Then, if we were to stay at The Rachamankha for a week, that’s about $1463.00. I’ve looked up a ton of restaurants and the food is all SCARILY inexpensive. Each meal is probably under $10 a day… so adding up breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week would be about $210 per person. ($420). So far, I know for the first lavish Thai experience we’ll need at least $4283. This doesn’t include translator services, touring, or activities. I think a safe bet would be to set aside $8-10,000 for the entire vacation.


I don’t want to discount the musicians who will be involved in my concept of a world wide tapestry of musical culture and folklore. I will be paying them on the spot, almost like a “work for hire.” I think this is the best technique because copyright is a very difficult thing to get around. Especially internationally. If I wanted to collaborate with these musicians… or use their recordings to aid in the creation of my own music, I would just want to make that clear to them. This is where my translator comes into handy. I would need to draft up some extremely “easy-to-comprehend” contracts to allow for this. If I make “x” amount of money on a project that I enhance with my own musical influence, “x” amount will return to those who helped me create it.


I plan on having extraordinary file management throughout this entire audio-collecting journey. With a couple external hard-drives and a lap top, properly organizing what I capture should be straight-forward. My goal is to create a collection of vivid field recordings (assuming there is  little to no video-footage). I will be recording in 96kHz so that the audio quality will be rather high-fidelity. I want people to visualize what they are hearing, and create their own mental imagery of Southeast Asia. The field recordings may be of some interest to certain cultural museums, or maybe even the Library of Congress!

Though EarthPop Studios is officially an LLC, and label of its own, it’d be nice to have the “Sublime Frequencies stamp of approval” and have the recordings formatted for both CD and digital delivery.




Ancient Chinese Music & Mythology



According to Chinese Mythology, Ling Lun (2697 BC) was the legendary founder of music. During the time of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi), Ling Lun constructed bamboo pipes so carefully tuned to the sound of the birds. The Yellow Emperor, reigning from (2697-2596 BC), is said to have ordered the casting of bells in tune with these flutes. From this early development, the Chinese 5-tone musical scale was established (In Western Solfeggio the notes were equivalent to Do, Re, Mi, So, and La, and were called Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi and Yu.


According to Chinese Mythology, Ling Lun enchantingly captured the sound of the phoenix; or Fenghuang; a bird that reigns over all other birds in East Asia. There have been images of the phoenix dating back some 8000 years ago during the Neolithic Hongshan Culture in Northeastern China (4700-2900 BC). Together, the mythological Phoenix and Dragon are a balanced couple, further representing the Taoist idealism of Yin and Yang. In ancient times, The Feng was deemed as male, while the Huang denotes a rather feminized beauty, delicacy, and peacefulness.  suggesting “how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another” (Wikipedia-Yin and Yang). Today, these symbols are entirely reflected and translated throughout Imperial culture in China. When portrayed with the dragon as a symbol of the Emperor, the phoenix becomes entirely feminine as the Empress, and together they represent both aspects of imperial power.

Another piece of mythical Chinese Philosophy credits Kui as the inventor of music. Not to be confused with another mythical Kui- the one-legged mountain demon, this Kui was said to be the heroic creator of music and dance. Kui “[made] a drum by stretching an animal skin over an earthen jar that defeat[ed] another monster”. (Wikipedia- Ling Lun). In relation, Emperor Shun (2317-2208 BC) was a legendary leader of China, and is greatly honored throughout Chinese history. Great Shun, as they called him, had appointed Kui as his musical master and director.

As quoted in the Canon of Shun,

“Teach our sons, so that the straightforward shall yet be mild; the gentle, dignified: the strong, not tyrannical: and the impetuous, not arrogant. Poetry is the expression of earnest thought; singing is the prolonged utterance of that expression; the notes accompany that utterance, and they are harmonized themselves by the standard tubes. (In this way) the eight different kinds of musical instruments can be adjusted so that one shall not take from or interfere with another; and spirits and men are brought into harmony.’ Kui said, ‘I smite the (sounding-) stone, I gently strike it, and the various animals lead on one another to dance.”

[…] When the sounding-stone is tapped or struck with force, and the lutes are strongly swept or gently touched, to accompany the singing, […] (In the court) below (the hall) there are the flutes and hand-drums, which join in at the sound of the rattle, and cease at that of the stopper, when the organ and bells take their place. (This makes) birds and beasts fall moving. When the nine parts of the service, as arranged by the Di (Earth), have all been performed, the male and female phœnix come with their measured gambolings (into the court).’ Kui said, ‘Oh! when I smite the (sounding-) stone, or gently strike it, the various animals lead on one another to dance, and all the chiefs of the official departments become truly harmonious.”- (Chinese Text Project- Canon of Shun).


Emperor Shun is later accredited with originating the music called Dashao; a symphony of 9 musical instruments covering both chamber and lyrical music.

Today, there is a shrine called Jiuyi Shun to both honor and respect the Great Shun. It is rumored that Emperor Shun was buried in the Jiuyi mountain range near the Southern Hunan Province of China.


When Zhang Qian (a Chinese official from the Han Dynasty) visited various countries in the Western regions through the years (138-115 BC), the result was ultimately a great deal of cultural exchange of both culture and foreign instrumental knowledge. The changes that were most seen were with the flute, which up until this point was played vertically. Now that they could be played horizontally, the “flute” became the instruments official title, while aerophonic instruments that were played vertically were called the “xiao.” (See video below) Both instruments are equally important to Chinese culture. Through vicious war and affliction, “the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD) faced the same threat that plagued every indigenous Chinese government throughout history – the danger of raids by the nomadic peoples of the steppes. To the north and west, China borders on desert and range-lands that have been controlled by various nomadic peoples over time, including the UighursKazakhsMongolsJurchens (Manchu), and the Xiongnu” (Szczepanski 1). This collapse resulted in a China that was divided into 3 kingdom regions: Wei in the north, Shu in the southwest, and Wu in the center and east. It was a period so famously regarded as The Three Kingdoms (220- 280 AD). This partitioning of powers led to a fragilely segmented country for the next 400 years. With regards to the series of wars, there was a great deal of cultural exchange which in turn paved the way for a great deal of instrumental variation. Gradually, the instruments introduced to China through the Silk Road marketplace became important to the musical life of the country. In general, the Silk Road was “central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East by linking traders, merchants, pilgrims, monks, soldiers, nomads and urban dwellers from China to the Mediterranean Sea during various periods of time” (Wikipedia- Silk Road). “The Xiongnu (an ancient nomadic-based people in Northern China/Mongolia) adopted Chinese agricultural techniques, dress style, and lifestyle. On the other hand, the Chinese adopted Xiongnu military techniques, some dress style, and music and dance” (Wikipedia- Xiongnu). The following map indicates the Xiongnu territories in (250 BC).


Xiao, Xun and Guzheng (Chinese zither) Trio:

Overtime, the Chinese made their modifications to the foreign introduced instruments that had become readily available. An example of these changes is transparent with the Chinese Ruan Xian. Formerly, the instrument was called the Qin Pipa (Qin Dynasty 221 BC- 206 BC). It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (8th Century) that the name Ruan was given.

Prior to this change, the instrument was made of copper and had a round sound box, and 13 frets on its neck. Revisions made way for the modern Ruan; with 24 frets and 12 semitones on each string. Also, the strings were previously made of silk, while today’s Ruan has steel strings.

The following picture (found in an Eastern Jin or the Southern dynasties tomb) depicts Ruan Xian playing the instrument so formally named after him. Ruan Xian was a musician and scholar during the Three Kingdoms. It was said that he and six other scholars (The 7 Scholars) would get enjoyment from drinking, writing poems, playing music, and simply enjoying life away from the corruption of the government.



One of the most well-known Chinese instruments, called the Pipa, has a pear-shaped sound box and crank-handled strings. This chordophone was indefinitely prominent throughout early Chinese musical culture. Similar to the way a western guitar is played, the Pipa was at first played horizontally as the musician plucked the strings with a plectrum. Today, the Pipa is played much differently; It is gently placed on its players lap, rested against the shoulder, and played vertically. According to Qiao Jianzhong, former director at the Music Institute of China Art Academy, “it took more than a thousand years before it was being played vertically as it is on the stage today. That period lasted from the 7th century in the Tang Dynasty to the 17th century in the Ming Dynasty” (Chinese Civilization- History of Chinese Instruments). The Chinese introduced the Pipa to Japan, and even today, the Japanese play it horizontally, with a plectrum.

As quoted by Po Chu-Yi (also known as Bai Juyi (772-846 AD). in his “Song of the Pipa Player”:

“She brushed the strings, twisted them slow, swept them, plucked them — […] The large strings hummed like rain, The small strings whispered like a secret, hummed, whispered-and then were intermingled, like a pouring of large and small pearls into a plate of jade.” 

The Tang Dynasty brought about a rich array of musical instruments, many of which are neither played or constructed today. Now extinct, the Konghou, an Chinese ancient harp, was introduced to China through China’s western regions. The Paiban, a clapper made from several pieces of flatwood or bamboo, produces a sharp clapping sound. It was introduced to the Tang Dynasty through today’s northwestern regions. “According to historical records, there were about 300 kinds of musical instruments during the Tang Dynasty- and some of them can still be found in Japan today” (Chinese Civilization- History of Chinese Instruments). In many ways, many of the musical traditions from the dynasties are still represented in Chinese culture today. In Xi’an, one of the oldest cities in the People’s Republic of China, a group of musicians still play imperial music from the Ming dynasty- using up to 7 types of drums. The score of their ensembles depends on the beat of the drum throughout the song. The drum is extremely important throughout this culture, as it ties the instruments in the ensemble together as a unit while playing.

Traditional Chinese Opera roots back to the 3rd century CE. Jingiu represents capital city operas, such as Beijing or Peking. “Chinese opera is seldom publicly staged in the 21st century, except in formal Chinese opera houses, and during the lunar seventh month Chinese Ghost Festival in Asia as a form of entertainment to the spirits and audience. These masks were based on the ancient face painting tradition where warriors decorated themselves to scare the enemy” (Wikipedia- Chinese Opera). String instruments (like the Jinghu or Erhu fiddle), percussion, and various wind instruments are a requirement to accompany Chinese Opera. “For many years men had to play women’s roles, singing in falsetto (head voice), because women were often banned from the stage as the theater was seen as morally corrupting. Today, women are not only playing their own roles, but often men’s roles as well, while some men continue to impersonate women” (Miller and Shahriari 206). The traditional roles are broken into sections: Sheng (male roles) which can be subdivided into young, old and military men, Dan (female roles) similarly subdivided, Jing (painted face roles) featuring facial patterns that symbolize the person’s character, and Chou (comedians) that are easily identified by the white patch in the middle of their faces.


This Chinese Opera is about a maiden who died and was revived for love. It was composed around 1600 AD by poet, Tang, Xianzu (1550-1616).

One of the most important instruments to Chinese culture is the Erhu, though it did no originate in China! Though it did become readily apparent in China over a thousand years ago. The Erhu sounds a lot like the human voice, as it has the ability to express deep and sorrowful emotions. The bowed, 2-stringed Chinese spike-fiddle may have originated within the nomadic cultures, within the Xi tribe; as the instrument was once called the Xiqin, introduced to China through the Silk Road in the 10th century. It’s musical timbre is mid-ranged, with an extremely wide and expressive range. The Erhu is used to accompany Operas, song and dance, as well as being implemented as both a solo and small ensemble instrument. “Perhaps there is no instrument more evocative of China..” (Youtube- Danwei- The Erhu). However, there was no record of the Xiqin/Erhu until the Song Dynasty; demonstrating that it was a product of the integration of Chinese and foreign cultures.

Ancient Chinese regard music as both holy and pure, and believe that it has the power to purify people’s thinking. The harmonious combination of sounds was made by instruments that fell into 8 categories called Bayin; instruments made from metal, stone, clay, wood, bamboo, string, gourd, and leather. The particular sounds and timbres produced by these instruments revealed one’s soul to the listener.

As an ancient 12-tone musical system, the Chinese chromatic scale, or Shí-èr-lǜ, uses the same intervals as the Pythagorean Scale. This particular tuning scale is considered the untempered, or a pure perfect fifth, using a ratio of 3:2. Essentially, this one of the most stable or consonant scalesas well as being easy to tune by ear.

By the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) periods in China, cultural instruments had fully ripened- taking shape as relevant entities throughout Chinese tradition and culture. Bowed string chordophones were represented by the Erhu, Jinghu (higher pitch; used in Beijing Opera) and Gaohu (used in Cantonese Opera) (had minor shape, and tonal differences), the plucked string chordophones, represented by the Qin (a fretless ancient zither) and Pipa, wind instruments that were represented by the flute, Xiao (vertical bamboo flute), Sheng (consisting of 21 reed pipes and a metal base), and Suona (a double-reeded horn with a squeaky, loud, buzzy timbre- often played outdoors in northern folk ensembles), and finally percussion instruments that were represented by the Tanggu (ceremonial hall drum played with 2 sticks), and Bo (small idiophonic cymbals that are clashed together and have a high pitch and brassy timbre).

There was a time when the Qin/Guqin was the connoisseurs’ choice of music within the high court. Many of the played pieces seem to have no detectable tuning because “tablature” (notation consisting of charts that indicated how to pluck, or touch each string), did not include instructions on tuning. Therefor, each instrument truly had its own character, and was a rather acquired taste.  The Qin/Guqin is rarely played today, but the instruments are often collected as ancient art pieces in their own regard. The instrument is fundamentally pentatonic, as its “plucked sounds [are] produced [by] the nail or flesh of the finger, [and] tone bending [is] creat[ed] by the sliding movements of the left hand. The use of harmonics (clear, hollow sounds [are] produced by gently touching the string at the node), [and] scraping sounds are produced when the player slides the left hand along the rough textured strings. […] The notation for the Qin is in a form called “tablature” consisting of a chart the indicates how stop to pluck, or touch each string” (Miller and Shahriari 194). The instrument was quite often passed down for generations within the same family, so many of them are still around today. 


The Chinese Sheng (pictured below) looks vaguely similar to the wooden pipes of the Hulusheng (gourd mouth organ)…which is again similar to the Cambodian M’baut. Read my post on the M’baut here! 🙂


The Hulusheng dance of the Yi Minority


Here’s a video of an ensemble featuring a Suona:

One of my favorite ancient instruments that I discovered is within the stone category. The Bianqing, or individual “sounding stones” qing, were flat L-shaped stones, and when many of them were hung together on a frame, they became “Bianqing.” At the time, someone would strike the stones with a mallet in order to produce various melodic tones. The Bianqing, as well as the Bianzhong (a set of bronze bells- dating back to 433 BC) were important in China’s ritualistic music of the courts.


The Chinese aerophonic ocarina, or Xun, was made of baked clay or bone. It’s globular Earth-like shape has stayed the same for 7 thousand years, making it one of the oldest musical instruments in the world.


In fact, the oldest musical instrument was found in China; a 7-9000 year old Neolithic bone flute, made from the wing-bones of the crane. “The discovery of these flutes presents a remarkable and rare opportunity for anthropologists, musicians and the general public to hear musical sounds as they were produced nine millennia ago” (Harbottle 1).



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The Music & Culture Throughout The Philippines

The jagged mist-covered mountaintops of the Cordillera (the Philippines middle-north), are home to indigenous communities that still thrive in relative seclusion. Secluded for over 2,000 years, the high mountain walls have, for the most part, peacefully separated these tribes from the rest of the modernized Filipino populace.

The Ifugao People



Nested in-between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea, an assortment of 7,107 islands unite together as the Republic of the Philippines. With 17 distinct regions and 80 provinces, only about 2,000 of the Filipino islands are inhabited. The Philippines are clustered into three major island groups or archipelagos: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Luzon is the largest Island, and it harbors many provinces. While its economic and political center are the largest in the Philippines, Luzon is also home to Manila; the country’s capital city. Most notably, the area is acclaimed for its ancient Banaue rice terraces that have sustained its people for over 2,000 years. “The ancient Banaue Rice Terraces in the province of Ifugao, a 2,000-year-old mountain with [many] rice terraces declared by the UNESCO as a “World Heritage Site” and generally considered as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” (Catacutan 1). The name Ifugao comes from I-pugu, literally meaning “people of the hills.”


Using only the most primitive of tools, the Ifugao carved out some of the most extensive terraces in the world. The engineering behind the ancient development is ingenious. In order to irrigate the vast rice crops, the Ifugao found natural water sources at the peaks, and discovered how to channel the water evenly so that each terrace was uniformly watered from the topmost of the slopes to the valley below.


Even today, people work the land in the same fashion as those before them, however, there are now fewer participants. Many of the native Ifugao are lured into the modernized lowlands of the Philippines- ultimately taking them away from the traditions of their ancestors. As a growing number of Ifugao leave for larger cities in hopes of a better life, less and less people are maintaing the rice terraces. Land erosion has had quite an effect on the terraces, which have been worn down through heavy use.

With the hope of persuading people to continue hand-working the terraces, the government has provided the means of farming with more than just rice. In order to drive more monetary income to the location, taro is planted, rice wine is brewed, coffee is grown in the region, and small Japanese eel-fish called “Yuyu” are farmed (later to be cooked in ginger brine or fried and then sold). 


As far as their musical culture goes, “There are substantial ethnographic monographs about their society and their chants, but organological studies of their musical instruments have not been undertaken in any detail […] Fieldwork was also conducted in the summer of 2010 to further investigate the presence or absence of these traditional musical instruments in current Ifugao culture” (Biancorosso 1). The Sachs-Hornbostel system was used to analyze the various types of instruments. (Btw, here’s a post I did on the topic.) It was found that sadly, most of the Ifugao instruments are no longer in use. Essentially, the area has seen a massive agricultural decline throughout the 20th century, and urbanization and tourism are slowly taking effect. As a result, the people have somewhat lost their ability to continue making and playing instruments. Master of Philosophy, Biancorosso believes that “the remaining few musical instruments have been transformed into objects primarily designed for public performance or sale to tourists. Attempts to revive cultural heritage have had the paradoxical consequence of introducing non-traditional instruments, in coexistence with an altered image of the past.” Despite this fact, it has been shown that gongs and certain aerophones were prominent throughout Luzon, and they were essential for various religious rituals.

As you will see in this next video, the spiritual chanting and singing of the human voice remains as a powerful catalyst. The video is raw, and beautiful. There is no narrative in this short documentary, however, I do want to warn you, animal sacrifice is highlighted in this video. Please watch with an open-mind and heart towards their culture.


Extremely important to the Ifugao people are the chants that have backed their spiritual practices for many many millennia. As the Ifugao have a Matrilineal culture, it is the women who chant together in groups as they honor the stories of their ancestors. Like in many ancient traditional civilizations, it is the old women who orally bestow their poetry and melodies upon the younger generations.

Among the Ifugao traditions are the epic “Hudhud” incantations that are chanted during the rice sowing season, harvest time, and at funeral wakes and rituals. “Thought to have originated before the seventh century, the Hudhud comprises more than 200 chants, each divided into 40 episodes. A complete recitation may last several days” (UNESCO). The chants are replete with highly expressive and allegorical language that is rather difficult to completely translate. UNESCO has dubbed it “a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity, one of the very few in the world.” The sheer volume of hero-centric images and symbols have reverberated in these chants throughout the centuries, and heavily shaped the Ifugao as a result. As the most documented indigenous group of the Philippines, the Ifugao are celebrated for their cultural accomplishments.

The TagTag planting ritual occurs when a great number of Ifugao men clad in traditional attire march along the rice terraces while chanting and beating traditional wooden planks in cadence in order to protect the rice crops from rats, pests and other evil spirits that bring sickness to the people. The ancient rhythm is sounded, and “as the prayers permeate the air, it is as if the archaic chorus harks back across centuries” (Living Asia Channel). 5 deities are summoned; 3 pigs are offered, along with 5 chickens in order to please the gods. Blood (being the most vivid reminder of life) is then smeared on the wooden plank instruments that are then used during the planting ritual. A chick is placed in a bag, that is said will lead the Ifugao men on their dance throughout the footpaths. The community members join in on the beat of the synchronized planks; banging rocks and stomping their feat. From another direction, little boys make their way through the terraces, and hit sticks upon small carved wooden slabs. As the ritual between men and boys converge, a rather musical percussion-like ensemble occurs.


During other Ifugao festivals, “The Bumayah [occurs] which is an Ifugao dance of thanksgiving to the god Kabunian. In this dance, performed by both men and women, the movements mimic those of a rooster scratching the ground. This joyful dance serves as a prayer of thanksgiving for a bountiful rice harvest” (Filipino-American Cultural Organization).

In the Kalinga province,  (also in the northern Cordillera region of Luzon) there is an Eagle Dance, (which is similar to the animist impressions of the rooster during the Ifugao Bumayah dance.)

Below is a picture of an Isneg Woman: Another one of the remaining tribes in the Cordillera Region on Luzon. The Isneg people are the earliest residents of the Apayao Province. This woman is wearing customary clothing having just performed a traditional dance.


Indigenous tribes-women and children in Apayao (wearing the Isneg Sipattal mother-of-pearl neck-ornaments). Considered the most important piece of personal adornment worn by men and women alike.


Located in the centermost location of the Philippines lies the Visayan islands which are broken down into Western, Central and Eastern regions. (Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar are the most prominent.) The people in these regions are incredibly unique with traditions and a developed musical culture of their own. In Cebu, a rather large “Sinulog Festival” occurs yearly on the 3rd sunday of every January. With an especially long parade, many different groups of people dress up in colorful costumes and dance the Sinulog. Though this parade is relatively young (organized in 1980), “The Sinulog was already danced by the locals in honor of their wooden statues in the period before the Cebuanos were baptized. Later on, after the image of the famous Santo Niño was brought to Cebu and the Catholic faith was established in the region, the dance was made a part of the yearly fiesta in honor of the Santo Niño” (Utrecht Faculty of Education).,


Today, the Philippines is approximately 85 percent Christian (mostly Roman Catholic) and it is alluring to ponder how “a small number of Spaniards converted the bulk of the Philippine population to Christianity between the mid-1500s and 1898–the end of Spanish rule” (Russell 1). When Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan encountered the Philippines while sailing in search of a western route to the East Indies (the source of spice trade), he and his men landed on Cebu. “At this time period, almost nothing was known of the Philippines, and so our sources of information about pre-Hispanic societies in the country date from the early period of Spanish contact. Most Philippine communities, with the exception of the Muslim sultanates in the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao, were fairly small without a great deal of centralized authority. Authority was wielded by a variety of individuals, including 1) headmen, or datu; 2) warriors of great military prowess; and 3) individuals who possessed spiritual power or magical healing abilities” (Russell 1). The absence of kingship, or really any other powerful leadership allowed for a small number of Spaniards to mass-convert a large number of animist Filipinos.

The Spanish were unsuccessful in converting the small number of Muslims in the country, and as a result, warred with them throughout their 300 year colonial rule from 1521-1898. The Spaniards were also unsuccessful in conquering and converting the uncolonized mountain/highland tribes throughout Luzon (Ifugao/Isneg, etc.). In little under a century, most lowland Filipinos were largely converted to Roman Catholicism. Today, most of the country remains Roman Catholic.

The Christianization of the Visayans and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Ati-Atihan Festival of Aklan, the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, and the Sinulog festival [celebrating] the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child/Jesus Christ).


The southernmost archipelagos are known as Mindanao, and as of 2010 the population was nearly 22 million. Today, about 63% of Mindanao is Christian/Catholic and it is the only geographical area of the Philippines with a Muslim presence of about 10%. Islam is the oldest monotheistic religion in the Philippines, reaching the islands in the 14th century “[w]ith the arrival of Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, Southern India, and their followers from several sultanate governments in the Malay Archipelago (the islands between Southeast Asia and Australia)” (Wikipedia- Islam in the Philippines). The rest of the population (all of 5%), still categorize themselves as indigenous, tribal or animists.


Like its counterparts in Asia, Philippine folk music is strongly associated with nature. Being a large archipelago, the types of Filipino instruments vary from region to region. Traditional Filipino music employs a combination of musical instruments belonging to the percussion, wind, and string families.

As far as aerophones go, there is a vertical chip-on-edge flute called the Bulungudyong, (Played in Northern Pinatubu Ayta). There are 3 open holes on the top of the flute, and one hole underneath.BulungudyongActually, a whole series of Filipino bamboo flutes exist all over the country. There is the Tumpong, The Tulali with 6 holes, and the Bansik with 3 holes (Similiar to the Bulungudyong; Played by the Negrito people in Zambales as a courting instrument)                         011109_181633

The Palendag, known as the “lip valley” flute is the largest, longest bamboo flute played by the Minguindanao people (southern) This particular aerophone is considered the toughest to play based solely upon how one shapes their lips around the flute in order to get a sound. “The construction of the mouthpiece is such that the lower end is cut diagonally to accommodate the lower lip and the second diagonal cut is make for the blowing edge” (Wikipedia-Palendag).


The Filipino nose flute is called a Lantoy/Tongali is usually played during meals, planting season, and festivals.


The chordophones of the Philippines are the Bamboo violin (3 stringed violin of the Aeta people/Luzon), the Butting (a bow with a single hemp string, plucked with a small stick), and the Faglong (2 stringed lute-like instrument of the southern B’laan) The B’laan are one of the remaining indigenous tribes of southern Mindanao.


The bamboo zither is called the Budlong, and a Pas-ing is a two-stringed piece of bamboo with a hole in the middle from northern Apayao people. There are also a series of lutes, for instance, the Buktot is a 4-stringed instrument made from coconut shells (originating from the Visayas), and the Kudyapi which is a 6-stringed boat lute coming from Mindanao.


The southern region of the Philippines is known for a musical repertoire called “Kulintang“: idiophonic gongs that are played as a type of percussion. The brass tones can be tuned, and forged in a series of different sizes. Traditionally in the Philippines, Kulintang is a set of 8 tuned gongs placed horizontally in an ornate frame and tuned to the Pentatonic scale. Among the Maguindanao/Maranao (primarily Muslims), the music serves as entertainment and hospitality. It is used in weddings, festivals, coronations, to entertain visiting dignitaries, and to send back or welcome those coming back from pilgrimages. Kunlintang is also used to accompany healing ceremonies and can serve as a form of communication.


Gandingan (on the left) is the set of 4 large hanging knobbed gongs, and an Agung is a large gong suspended from an ornate frame. (on the right)


Babandil are small, narrow-rimmed gongs, primarily used as the “time-keeper” of the Maguindanao kulintang ensemble.


Also considered a tuned idiophone, the Subing is a bamboo jaw harp “of the Cuyinin people of Palawan Island in the western Philippines. Despite their length of approximately 20-25 cm., the actual functioning part of the subbing is quite small with a resultantly high pitch. Subing are often tuned by a small piece of pitch or insect wax on the tongue.


There are Filipino xylophones that are important to note, called Gambang/Gabbang. Specifically, the instrument is made up of a series of  bamboo blades on a frame similar to an African marimba. This is played throughout (Yakan, Batak, B’laan, Badjao, and Taus) It can be played as a solo instrument or within an ensemble.


Luntang, also considered a type of xylophone, is a set of wooden beams that hang from a frame played by the Maguindanaon people.

Another category of instruments in the Philippines are called Metallophones. Kulintang a Tiniok translated as “Kulintang with string” is played by the Maguindanaon people within the ensemble of gongs. There is a very similar instrument played by the Maranao people called Saronay. Essentially, there are 8 various pieces, all of which are tuned knobbed metal plates strung onto a wooden frame.


As far as the membranophones go, there are quite a few different kinds. There’s a bamboo slit drum, (Agung a Tamlang) used to practice for real Agung (to refresh your memory, it’s the large gong hanging from an ornate metal frame). There’s also a goblet drum from Maranao called Dabakan.

drum_dabakan (1)

The Gandang is an cylindrical ornately pattered double-headed barrel drum (also from the Maranoa people.) It plays alongside the Kulintang ensemble and is made of wood with a membrane made of carabao/water buffalo skin on each side. It is decorated with ‘okiran’/crocodile motives and then painted.


The bamboo scraper/slit drum is called a Kagul is played by Maguindanaon and Visayans. It has “a jagged edge on one side, played with two beaters, one scarping the jagged edge and the other one making a beat. The Maguindanaon and the Banuwaen use it in the rice paddies to guard against voracious birds, using the sound it produces to scare them away” (Wikipedia- Kagul).


Both the Libbit (Ifugao), and the Sulibao (Ibanoy) are conical drums from the northern Cordillera region.


It would be rather trying to name and discuss all the different Filipino instruments, though I hope you got a good understanding of both the country, as well as the culture and traditions throughout Philippines as a whole.

Here is one last video of kids performing tribal music and dances from the Bagobo and Ifugao tribes.



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“Borneo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

Catacutan, Rene “RC” “About The Site.” RC Goes Online. Your Voice Can Make a Difference, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Culture.” The HudHud Chants of the Ifugao. UNESCO Multimedia Archives, 2008. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Filipino-American Talent Showcase 2010.” Filipino-American Talent Showcase 2010. Filipino-American Cultural Organization, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

“Ifugao: Patipat Festival.” Ifugao: Patipat Festival., 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.

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“List of Philippine Musical Instruments.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Mar. 2014. Web. 20 Feb. 2014.<>.

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“What % of the Population in Mindanao Is Muslim and Christian?” What % of the Population in Mindanao Is Muslim and Christian? Yahoo Answers, 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.


An in Depth Study on Rajasthani Music & Culture



There are several important musical traditions that have developed from the differing regions throughout Northern India’s state of Rajasthan. However, it is first important to get a sense of the vast amount of history that occurred throughout this region- all of which gave Rajasthan it’s cultural zest and richness.

This particular dance ceremony represents Rajasthan’s well renowned folk dance called “Kalbeliya/Kalbelia.” Today, Rajasthani folk dance is recognized worldwide for its amazing movements, colorful costumes, and sizzling music. Every piece of dance in Rajasthan both resembles and respects the essence of desert land. The Kalbelia folk dance is also known for its heavy focus on the Bin/Pungi instrument, as well as the dancer’s serpentine movements.  (I will go into further details about these instruments later in the post.)


5000 years ago, today’s Rajasthan was apart of the Indus Valley Civilization which “was a Bronze Age Civilization (3300–1300 BCE; mature period 2600–1900 BCE) in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent, consisting mainly of what is now Pakistan and India (Khan 1). This region was especially important for various forms of commerce. “The Indus civilization is one of three in the ‘Ancient East’ that, along with Mesopotamia and Pharonic Egypt, was a cradle of early civilization in the Old World (Childe 1950). The cultural trade and blending that occurred caused a great deal of influence as borders slowly changed. This Indus Valley Civilization was long ago owned by Pastoral groups of people called “Gurjars/Gujarras.” At that time, the region itself was known as Gurjaratra. According to The ITC Sangeet Research Academy, “ Little is known of the musical culture of the Indus Valley civilization of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. Some musical instruments, such as the arched or bow-shaped harp and several varieties of drums, have been identified from the small terracotta figures and from the pictographs on the seals that were probably used by merchants. Further, the famous bronze statuette of a dancing girl, probably representing a class of temple dancers, clearly indicates the presence of music. Evidence of Rudra-worship during this period has also been found. Rudra was later to become popular as Shiva- the supreme deity of dance, drama and music.”

Eventually the territory was called Rajputana when the British Government established their stakes within Indian-territory. “Rajputana included 18 princely states, two chiefships and the British district of Ajmer-Merwara” (which remained a province of the Dominion, and later Republic of India.) ”The British official term [Rajputana] remained the official name (early in the Muslim period) until its replacement by the name “Rajasthan” in the constitution of 1949″ (Gupta 143). There are tales of Rajput warriors (“sons of kings”) who fought their way through the region, staking this land as their own. Whether or not they were Pakistani or Indian, it is difficult to decipher as “there are scattered references in historical sources to struggles between Rajputs who were either decedents of foreign immigrants or interlopers from adjoining regions. (Gupta 143-144). Regardless of lineage, new traditions developed and time pressed on creating a melting pot of achievement and philosophy.

Here we can somewhat see the urbanism in the Indus Valley: both during the mature, and late phases.


1876 engraving of Rajput Warriors


In Northwest India, Rajasthan prevails as “The land of the Kings.” Recognized as its own state within India, Rajasthan has been heavily influenced (both musically and culturally) by its surrounding Indian land, as well as various Southern Pakistani traditions. This is because the Northwestern regions of Rajasthan (Sri Ganganagar, Bikaner, and Jaisalmar) border Southern Pakistan alongside the region of Sindh. “[Sindh] is also locally known as the “Mehran” and has been given the title of Bab-ul-Islam (The gateway of Islam)” ( Therefore, it’s quite fair to say that Islamic history and customs have culturally influenced Rajasthani music and traditions.

So that you can get a fair look at the state of Rajasthan, check out all the different districts:


Rajasthan is one of the states of India “and home to several important centers of Indian Musical development, including UdaipurJodhpur and Jaipur” (Wikipedia).

The Udaipur district, (commonly referred to as “The city of the Lakes,” or “The Venice of the East” is located in the Southern region. (See Southern Fuchsia district on map above) Plenty of Bollywood movies have been shot in Udaipur, and in addition, many Bollywood films’ songs were filmed in Udaipur. 80% of the district identifies with being Hindu, while 14% are distinguished as being Muslim. With Jainism as one of the oldest religions in the world, the number of Jains may have been much higher during ancient times, though only 4.7% of Udaipur’s residents identify with this religion today.

Jodhpur, known as “Sun City,” is the second largest city located near the center of the state, with well over a million residents. (See the Fuchsia district near the middle of the Rajasthani map above) Jodhpur is considered the second Metropolitan city, as it was once a Princely State under British ruling. With the capital kingdom called Marwar, there are plenty of temples, palaces and forts that attract a great deal of tourism to help sustain Rajasthani economy. Jodhpur’s official spoken language is Hindi, but most people in Marwar speak Marwari.

The Jaswant Thada mausoleum in Jodhpur in the early morning.


Jaipur, or “The Pink City” is Rajasthan’s official capital and largest Indian state in Northern India. With a population of 3.1 million, the city inhabitants speak Hindi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, and yes….English. (On the map above, Jaipur is the brown colored district towards the East.) Jaipur was founded in 1727 by the young Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who at age 11, immediately became a ruler when his father suddenly passed away. Leaving the former destination of (what was then called Amer/Amber) to his son, the location is now apart of the Jaipur Municipal Corporation, and contains some very old, lavish forts/palaces.


(1875) Rajasthani’s in Jaipur who practiced Jainism (“an indian religion that practices non-violence towards all living beings, and emphasizes spiritual independence and equality between all forms of life -Wikipedia.)


Though it’s very important to note the traditional Rajasthani folk instruments, “In 1757, during colonization, the British brought brass instruments to India and the native population grew to love these alien instruments. Since independence in 1947 till today, the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, bass drums, snare drums and cymbals of a brass band are everywhere as a part of life. They accompany national and religious celebrations, popular festivals, political processions, weddings, births and funerals” (Kawa 1). According to Kawa, there is no marriage without a brass band in India. All of the musicians of the “Jaipur Kawa Brass Band” have ancestral ties to their art as the recipients of many generations of musical culture and knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation.” If you would like to hear some of this music, click here. This particular music most certainly has a heavy Jazz/big-band influence (due to the particular instruments brought by the Brits). The musicians also incorporate traditional indian instruments within this music as well, such as the Sitar. It’s no surprise that this music has developed as a result of much earlier musical traditions. The rhythms used allude to a much more diverse musical understanding.


Traditional Folk music in Rajasthan can be broken up into 4 sections: Percussion (Membranophones), Wind (Aerophones), Autophonic (Idiophones), and Strings (Chordophones).

Rajasthani musical instruments are essential in making traditional music more melodious. The most common percussion instrument in Rajasthan is the Dhol drum. Highly ornamented and rather large, it slings over the players neck/shoulders and is played in front of the body. Made out of wood, the two ends are kept hollow with tightly-held skin parchment on either side. One side of the drum gets played with the hand, while the other side gets struck with a wooden stick. This drum “form[s] the basic rhythm of the folk music of Rajasthan” (Nad Sadhna).


The smaller version of the Dhol is the Dholak, where the hands play both sides of the drum. This drum will almost always accompany a larger ensemble.


The Nagara has a metallic-like drum tone because the body is made of metal, iron, or copper. This particular drum is struck with wooden sticks at various ceremonies and functions (such as weddings.) Generally, the Nagara is accompanied by a smaller Tasha drum, and Shehnai (Reeded Aerophone with a nasal/buzzing timbre)


Tasha Drum




Here’s an Mp3 example of what the Shehnai sounds like: 

The Dhaf is a large tambourine with stretched skin attached to a rim of iron or wood (played especially during “Holi” or the Festival of Colors) 


Burst-of-Red-Holi-India (1)

The Khartal is another form of percussion commonly used for devotional/spiritual purposes. A bit like clappers, the Khartal has two pieces; one held in each hand. The “male” piece is thicker and held with the thumb, while the “female” piece is thinner, and balanced by the ring finger. “It has derived its name from [the] Hindi words ‘kara’ mean[ing] hand, and ‘tala’ mean[ing] clapping” (Wikipedia). This wooden clapper has metallic discs or plates that produce a clinking sound when clapped together. Therefore, it would be considered an Idiophone due to the combined properties of the vibrator and resonator. Rapid and complex rhythms are encouraged, as this instrument represents assertiveness, strength, and stamina.



Flute’s are also commonly played in Rajasthani Folk music. Similar to the Shehnai in its elongated, vertical figure, flute players in Rajasthan have mastered playing two flutes at once…You may notice some circular breathing techniques being utilized in this next video.

This particular kind of flute assembly is called a “Satara.” One flute has holes, and the other does not in order to provide the fundamental base tone.

Very similar to the Satara, the Algoza is also a double flute played simultaneously. A lot like a bagpipe, the player has to master playing various notes on one flute, while the second flute acts as a drone. Again, circular breathing is quite essential!

This video shows a Dholak drum accompanying Sayer Khan as he plays the Algoza.

According to the The Institute for Indian Music and Research Center, there is another interesting wind instrument that is widely used by snake charmers. At the beginning of this post I mentioned the Kalbeliya/Kalbelia dance tradition in Rajasthan. The snake charmers believe that the Bin or Pungi instrument has a hypnotic effect. The instrument itself is made from a dry bottle-gourd, and consists of two reeds or bamboo tubes known as Jivala. Like the previous flutes, one is used for playing a melody, and the other is used to create the lower defining drone.


Mp3 Example of the Pungi

The most common stringed instrument, considered a Chordophone, is the Sarangi. According to Nad Sadhna, “This is a multi-stringed instrument that is played by using a bow drawn across the strings and running of fingers on the strings. The modern guitars have probably been modeled upon [the Saragi]. Incredibly popular all over India, Rajasthan embellishes upon the

Here’s a video that explains the Saragi in greater detail 

Here’s a video I absolutely loved: Sarangi sound design….. Want to hear what a Sarangi can sound like when you sample each potential sound? I do!

The other popular stringed instrument is called the Kamaycha. This instrument [has] nineteen strings, three of gut for melody, two of brass for drone, and fourteen of steel for sympathetic resonance (

In Rajasthan, Ravenhatta’s are also quite favored, and considered to be a type of Sarangi. Today, these instruments are quite rare. The bowed Indian fiddle has a rich history and the instrument itself is quite ornate.  It has jingle-bells attached to the long bow, and the bowl at the bottom is made of a cut coconut shell. To cover the opening, goat hide is stretched tight to the outer shell. Bamboo acts as the long neck of the instrument, while the strings are made of both steel and horse-hair. “Throughout the medieval history of India, kings were patrons of music; this helped in increased popularity of [the] ravanhatta among royal families. In Rajasthan and Gujarat, it was the first musical instrument to be learned by princes” (Wikipedia).


Ravenhatta Mp3

The Bhapang is a variable tension string instrument from Rajasthan. It is used in Lok Geet, an Indian folk music tradition. The instrument is used both for accompaniment, and solos. It is played all over North India and is unique to South Asia. The Bhapang consists of a small cylindrical drum with an open end. At the center of the skin, a string is fixed. The player holds the drum between his upper body, and under his arm, while the hand holds a little bamboo stick fixed to the end of the string. To produce different pitches, the string is stretched and relaxed by the player. (Information from Asian Music Circuit) Generally, the Muslims play the Bhapang in Alwar (Rajasthan) on the occasion of Shiva Ratri (Birth Day celebration of Lord Shiva of Hindus)


Bhapang Mp3

While India still functions under a strict Caste system, and the Mughals are not considered “Untouchables” but they are from the lower caste community. They will never be in the center of the community, and they will always be on the outskirts of society. Besides being weavers by profession, the rest of the time, these people are singing and playing music. The Harmonium has been adopted by the Rajasthani Mughals because it has a bright melodic tone, and it’s generally a rather loud instrument. These particular Mughal communities consider the Harmonium to be more along the lines of “pop” music.


Within the Mughal communities, the men sing to supplement their efforts from farming, building and weaving. The women don’t sing in public, but they do sing at village births, deaths, and weddings for themselves, and for their deities. The girls have had hundreds of songs passed down from earlier generations, and amazingly enough- they have memorized them all. The oldest woman in the Mughal village will pass these melodies down, and the next generation will remember and continue to teach the younger girls. This cycle creates a beautiful tradition, but this passing of knowledge is 100% essential if they want to keep their customs alive. When singing, the musicians shut their eyes, and are able to put themselves in a spiritual trance and venture into mystical realms. The women who have gotten permission from their Gurus to sing in public have done quite well for themselves monetarily. (Though it seems to be misunderstood in the community. Times are changing.)

mughal women

It is said that to find happiness, one must find a teacher to help them achieve these emotional highs. The songs sung are devotional with regards to their Hindu deities, but they will sing for the people after they have already sung for the divine.  Bells are wrapped around their angles and arms while dancing and playing music, and it does not matter if these people are professional; the point of music within the Mughal community is joy.

When getting married, it’s important that both the man and woman know the music. They must know how to sing the traditional songs. If this is not the case, there can be no wedding. As a living heritage, the songs must be remembered, or the cultural significance of these people will die out.

2013-09-Mughal-Wedding-Guide-4-752x563 (1)

There are many supporters that feel Rajasthan’s wealth of tradition (“Vera Sit” “or “First tradition”) can potentially reinvent itself within the modern world. However, it’s completely up to the people. The Rajasthan International Folk Festival seeks to support village musicians on the outskirts of rural society.

Most of the music is not considered entertainment; It’s a way of life for religious ceremonies, marriages, births, deaths, and any other large community function.  In regards to the Festival, the performers come from all over Rajasthan and perform for each other. All these different people can act as a brotherhood, in order to make sure their own traditions can stay alive and respected. Generally, most artists would only perform in their own village settings, but traditional settings are beginning to fall-apart. The old ways of being a musician and making money is no longer working within these communities. Sadly, the Mughal Rajasthani people cannot sustain themselves this way against the new modernized India. The concept behind these particular festivals is to create a new-found interest in what is unfortunately dying out. Segregation regularly occurs because Hindus and Muslims would not generally blend, and the same goes for people from different Castes. Bringing the Rajasthani villages together creates positive vibrations and gives hope for the future of their vivid cultures.

Even regularly paid performers are considered low within the Indian social hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if they are amazing performers or not because they still cannot break free from their caste. It is only when they are unencumbered from their patrons, and free to perform as they please that they feel especially talented. The patrons practically own these musicians! It reminds me of a modern day American music-label.

The first person to work with the musician castes of Rajasthan was Komal Kathari. He was an Indian folklorist and ethnomusicologist from Jodhpur. In the 1960′s he set up a folklore research center, and as his partners collected stories as he became enchanted by the music of different Rajasthani villages. Kathari decided to record this music in order to preserve it! He was the first person who brought these traditional performers out of their traditional circumstances (away from their patrons), and onto the stage.


Before he died in 2004, Kathari worked heavily with the Kabelia Gypsies (as previously mentioned), and it is clear that Popular Bollywood has soaked up their gypsy style, and reflected it back to them. It’s almost as though the Bollywood style copied the Kabelia Gypsies, and now, the Gypsies are copying the Bollywood interpretation. The traditional Kabelia songs were sung in Marwari, and the traditional instruments didn’t have the modern flashy embellishments used to entice tourists.


Collaboration has become a way for tradition to grow and influence the next generation of Rajasthani people. India is changing so much due to technological advancements, so it’s impossible to keep things the way they use to be.

“Culture is not static. It is fluid. So we have to find the right place for these traditional musicians. They have talent, they have great skills”- His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II of Jodhpur


“Dawn News.” KARACHI: Babul Islam Day Observed., 07 Nov. 2003. Web. 07 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Geography & History of Rajasthan.”, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

Gupta, R.K., and S.R Bakshi. “Studies In Indian History: Rajasthan Through The Ages The Heritage Of …” Google Books. Google, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

“History of Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Indus Valley Civilization.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

Khan, Aurangzeb, and Carsten Lemmen. “Bricks and Urbanism in the Indus Valley Rise and Decline.” Bricks and Urbanism in the Indus Valley Rise and Decline., n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

Kahn, Hameed. “Kawa Music.” Kawa Music. Jaipur Kawa Brass Band, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Khartal.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 May 2013. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Music of Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Dec. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajput.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajasthan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 02 Apr. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2014. <;.

“Rajasthan History.” Rajasthan History. A to Z of Rajasthan, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

Rathore, Praveen Singh, Mr. “Music of Rajasthan.” Music of Rajasthan. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014. <;.

“The Chronology : Indus Valley Civilazation.” The Chronology : Indus Valley Civilazation. ITC Sangeet Research Institute, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.

Wright, Rita P. “The Ancient Indus.” Cambridge Catalogue. Cambridge University Press, Oct. 2009. Web. 09 Feb. 2014. <;.

The Study of Oceania: New Zealand

Maori warrior_0

The original Māori explorers and settlers arrived from Eastern Polynesia in several waves of canoe voyages sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE. It’s becoming more clear that through this research, the arrival of the Europeans and missionaries in the 1600’s brought a significant amount of change to Māori way of life. This of course included the purging of traditional music, performing and visual arts. However, anthropologically “New samples of bone (and now also of unequivocally rat-gnawed woody seed cases) match the 1280 date of the earliest archaeological sites and the beginning of sustained deforestation by humans” (David Lowe).

New Zealand: The narrow islands southeast of Australia


To get your ears excited, I’m so excited to share an instrument with you called the Poiawhioohio. Later I go into detail about how this instrument originated, but until then- enjoy, and welcome to the ancient music of New Zealand!

poiWhio (2)

Another compelling piece of research by The New Scientist states that , “A previous study of bones from rats – which Polynesian settlers brought with them as a food source  […] were dated as early as 200 BC.”  If this research is at all accurate, another group of people known as the Potupaiarehe could have been living in New Zealand before Māori settlers had even arrived.



Before colonization sought to reeducate and cleanse-away traditional Māori lifestyle, the native tribespeople told mystifying folklore of the Patupaiarehe people that dominated the mountainous regions of New Zealand. As these people were known to be musically oriented with the Pūtōrino flute or trumpet “which, along with the Kōauau (another flute), were played expertly by [the] Patupaiarehe (fairy-like spirit-people living in the forests and mountaintops of New Zealand.) The flute can be played through the top air channel (held vertically) or through a hole carved in the center of the flute’s body (played horizontally). This pressurizes the air out either end of the flute, creating a low-end, smooth-sounding voice. Generally made from different materials, the customary construction of these flutes were made of wood, albatross bones, or even human bone! The carving skills that these ancient peoples utilized are rather magnificent.


Oh, and now I know that you’re thinking about human bone. Cannibalism is a whole separate topic within Māori Warriors…as a side fact, after battle they would eat various parts of their victims (which were usually conquered people from neighboring tribes) in order to gain “superhuman” powers.

Now back to the traditional Māori music; Taonga Puoro(this music was thankfully revived over the past thirty years by Hirini Melbourne, Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff.)

The Pūtorino flute is inspired by the sound of a female case moth and its shape’s based on her cocoon. The aerophone, can be played in different octaves with both male & female voices depending upon breath control.


Check out this video by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa 

Rumored by Māori folklore to have pale skin and red hair, Writer/Historian James Cowan (noted for his books on colonial history and Maori ethnography) was told that ‘The Patupaiarehe were a lighter complexion than typical Māori; their hair was of a dull golden or reddish hue.” With much lighter skin and hair than the Māori tribe-line, it perplexes the curious anthropologist. The Patupaiarehe’s eye-colors were also said to have ranged from pale blue to a rich sable.  Does the answer lie somewhere between the research and the mythology?


There are many various ideas based on these ancient spirit-people. While some believe them to be merely stories and stories alone, others truly believe that the Patupaiarehe are an under-studied anthropologic goldmine, and in their favor there is new research.


According to Historian Richard Wood, “[The] Maori used umbrella terms like Patu-paiarehe, Turehu and Pakepakeha as names for earlier [New Zealand] inhabitants, but each Maori tribe developed their own regional names, such as Ngati Kura, Ngati Korakorako and Ngati Turehu for the Patu-paiarehe tribes in the Rotorua lakes district of the central North Island.


Believed to be Patupaiarehe/Terhu remains, this Māori burial cave had its skeletal contents examined in 1919 and determined to be “very old when found in isolated country, far from the consecrated ground of a churchyard. The deceased people were, undoubtedly, the white Ngati Hotu, known in local Maori and European folklore to have hidden from the cannibals for centuries in this inhospitable region” (Wood).

For about 12-years during the mid 1860’s-70’s Robertson’s Mill in Onehunga, Auckland [New Zealand] ground-up tens of thousands of Patupaiarehe skeletons from the Auckland and Northland burial caves to make fertilizer. Maori leaders had told Governor Bowen at Te Kopuru in 1869, ‘Do with them what you wish for these are not our people’ (Source: Noel Hilliam, former Curator of the Dargaville Maritime Museum)

Scarcely seen, these perplexing spirit-people were known by the Māori as being avid flute players living in mist covered hill-tops and deep within mossy vine-covered forests. As they lived off the natural sustenance from the land, the Patupaiarehe were hunter-gatherers, consuming mainly raw forest food, and fishing along the seashore or within forest lakes.

According to the New Zealand Encyclopedia, “In different traditions, albino birds and eels, red flax and red eels were considered  property of the [Patupaiarehe] , and trouble befell upon the Māori who took any of these. If they sincerely did exist, it’s clear there may have been tribe-to-tribe rivalries.


Instrumentally, both the Pūtōrino and  kōauau flute was said to be played expertly by the Patupaiarehe, and that “while playing their music they were able to lure young women into their clutches” (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). Acting sprightly throughout nighttime hours, the Patupaiarehe people were physically distressed by light, and rather disliked being unshielded by the mists of the mountains. Intermingling between the Māori and the Patupaiarehe was preferably rare, and would have potentially caused tribe-to-tribe conflict.


Alongside the vocal tradition of chant and song, Māori people played a wide variety of drum percussion and wind instruments. “In traditional Māori society the voice, chant and instrumental sounds played a significant role in the social and ritual activity of the community” (’s6.htm) 


This was in essence due to the absence of any sort of written literature within Māori society. Like the orally passed-down traditions of the Torah in Judaism, Māori oral literature was passed-down through significant musical traditions that formed a large part of society.

“Haka”: are shouted speeches by men, combined with a fierce dance. Haka Taparahi are performed without weapons and they can give expression to different emotions depending on the situation for which they are performed. Performed with weapons, Haka Peruperu were associated with war-dances that frightened and intimidated the opponents in order to achieve power.



In this next Youtube video, there are various examples of Māori song and dance. Though it’s mainly vocal and hand-percussion based, it is no doubt that “Waiata” are passionate expressions of song sung in groups.

Waiata tangi are laments for the dead. The word tangi means weeping. This form is mainly composed by women. During burial ceremonies women were expected to show signs of deep grief, for example by wounding their faces with sharp stones. Sometimes these waiata were very personal, telling about the composer’s emotions and feelings towards the dead. When composed by men the waiata tangi can also instruct us about the warrior qualities of the dead person.”’s6.htm

The Pukea, also an aerophone, was a wooden trumpet used for war and enemy intimidation. On a more positive note, they were also used to announce the rituals associated with the planting of kumara (sweet potato) and other crops” (Dr. Richard Nunns)



The Nguru was a small flute made out of either wood, stone, clay or whale bone. With anywhere from 2 to 4 finger-holes, like many flutes, the lips (or nose!) blow through the open end of the instrument. While air is forced through a small curved hole at the end of the aerophone, the Nguru has a high pitched and smooth sound (a bit like an Ocarina)


The Putatara (Conch Shell) is also found in other islands throughout Oceania, and is used to let people know something was about to happen (including seasons changing.) The bigger the shell, the deeper the sound.

This tradition is consistent throughout Polynesia. When my husband and I hiked to the summit of Haleakala with our 2 friends, (10,000 ft. Volcano), it was our intention to stargaze in a location with very little light-pollution. When the sun-rose around 7am, a man played a howling Conch Shell to symbolize the new year, as it was now January 1, 2014!


Back within traditional Māori instruments, the Pahu Pounamu is a jade gong used in “The House of Learning.” It’s made from the bone of a Pilot Whale, and a natural hardwood called Akeake. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any solo recording samples of what this instrument sounded like.


There are also nose flutes made of globular shaped gourds called Koauau Ponga Ihu as well as whistling and chattering bird lures called Poiawhiohio (also made from a hollowed out gourd). When the Poiawhiohio was able to entice the birds… an easy meal was to follow.

I purchased this recording from (New Zealand’s Centre for Music) Believe it or not, this was the only place I was able to find a good recording of what the Poiawhioohio sounds like…This is the same recording you heard

poiWhio (2)

My personal favorite instrument is called the TumuTumu. Like the Pahu Pounamu/ Jade Gong, it was used in the “House of Learning” to accompany intoned learnings. It was made from the jaw bone of the Upokohue (pilot whale) and the striker is made from the native New Zealand hardwood, Akeake. Throughout my exploration on traditional Māori music, I thought that the overall construction involved to create this hand-percussion instrument was wonderful with the teeth-enhancements. The sound itself also reminded me of the sound of hollowed-out chattering teeth.

Here’s the link you can hear the TumuTumu recording


Early Christian missionaries sought to take the music away from those who inhabited native New Zealand. However regardless of the intended cultural-purge, today there has been a strong revival of traditional Māori music! Thanks to Dr. Richard Nunns, Māori descendants have been able to rediscover many of their lost instruments and culture. The voices of the traditional instruments had rarely been heard since the early nineteenth century.

Nunns’ musicality and facility in playing the instruments are underpinned by his extensive scholarship and research.

Maori Women hard at word (circa 1930)


The Oldtime Māori (1938) Photo by Mākerti Papakura


Pocket groups of these first inhabitants survived into the 20th century and are well-remembered by old-timers as the red headed, freckle-faced Maoris or Waka blonds, (perhaps there was some previous intermarrying with the Patupaiarehe?) 🙂


“James Cowan (New Zealand Writer).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Feb. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <>.

Lowe, James. “Polynesian Settlement of New Zealand and the Impacts of Volcanism on Early Maori Society: An Update.” Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand. Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Waikato, Hamilton, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.

Nunns, Richard. “Dr Richard Nunns — Nga Taonga Puoro, Traditional Maori Musical Instruments.” Richard Nunns. International New Zealand Artists, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>

“Rat Remains Help Date New Zealand’s Colonisation.” Rat Remains Help Date New Zealand’s Colonisation. New Scientist: Life, 04 June 2008. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.

“Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.” Urukehu – Patupaiarehe –. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.


Wilmshurt, Janet. “Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand.” Dating Human Arrival in New Zealand. Landcare Research, n.d. Web. 03 Feb. 2014. <>.

Cultural Insider Vs. Cultural Outsider

Since its release in 2008, New Age/electronic  group Enigma’s, Seven Lives Many Faces has been an album of personal comfort. The very first time I heard the artistry within “The Same Parents”, I noticed a sense of primordial awareness stirring in my soul. Through the lyrics, I felt in-tune with the message and intention of the song. Through my own inner sense of being, I feel that everyone and everything is naturally interwoven through the same breath of life. As a human, I feel I have a lot of responsibility to treat the planet [and it’s respective inhabitants] with great reverence.

For centuries upon end, humans have fought one-another in order to have their tribes and villages come out on-top biologically. There are plenty of differing causes for people not having the conscientious ability to peacefully coincide with one-another. Perhaps they were neighboring villages, or two civilizations so racially similar, it was threatening, or unclear who was ‘right’ and who was ‘wrong’ in their respective belief systems.

Romanian-German musician and producer, Michael Cretu, spreads an important message still very much needed in today’s day in age. Cultural genocides, racial obliteration, and massive destruction through war has slaughtered more than just human-beings…and in the end, for what?

The human ego seeks control.

Instrumentally, the piece fades in with a plucked (pizzicato) guitar melody line. A child speaks with (what in my opinion) sounds both sad and aware, “In the beginning, We all had the same parents, Many million years ago, Why can’t we live in freedom? Without hunger, with no war.”

A violin saturated with reverb holds the base-line, while a series of strings gracefully plays on-top, assisting in compositional development.

When the percussion comes in, the beat is seemingly very simple, though many various samples and drum-elements are used along side the young singer to create a rather enchanted sound…it almost begs people to think outside themselves for the 3:32 it plays.

At the beginning we all had one mother and one father. That’s where we’re descending from. Attention, I don’t, I don’t understand, Why so much hate? Attention Between races and religions. It’s mad, insane, I don’t understand. Amazing, Why it has to be like that? Incredible experience. We all had the same parents, Many million years ago. Why can’t we live in freedom?Without hunger, with no war. Attention, I don’t, I don’t understand, Why so much hate? Amazing, Between races and religions, Incredible experience, etc.”

…..Now on the flip side, I must present a piece of music (or style) that makes me extremely uncomfortable for whatever reason, be it musical or the message it stands for. I can appreciate the skill one must acquire to snort like a pig and scream like a banshee- but I just don’t find this “sub-genre” of metal appealing to listen to for more than a couple seconds at a time. This is simply because it fatigues my ears and is often-times very shrill, over-compressed, and rather deafening.

There is so much going on at once: the guitars are intentionally out-of-tune, and the music is arranged in an unexpected, uncomfortable manner. Instrumentally there’s very little headroom in the mix, giving it next to no space to breathe. I can respect the skill it takes for double-kick bass drum pedal techniques, and having 16th notes, grouped in two, spread across two feet. This is a genre that takes an insane amount of practice and skill to withstand its blood-thirsty fans.

While I can’t directly understand the lyrics, the artist inaudibly screams “Your eyes silently scream astonishing grief. The satisfaction I devour is not retribution. Your sorrow’s my devotion. I’ll be rewarded with your degradation. Nourished by bitter passions, My hunger for human deprivation will be quenched. No retribution. Your sorrow’s my devotion.”

Now that I just decided to slit my wrists, let’s all hold hands and dance around a rainbow! Maybe this is just my own form of ethnocentrism, as I’m just not in a death-metal state of mind.


“Furtive Monologue Lyrics – Despised Icon.” FURTIVE MONOLOGUE LYRICS. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <>.

“Enigma Seven Lives, Many Faces.” Enigma. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <,-Many-Faces/>.

“A Metal State of Mind.” A Metal State of Mind. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <>.

“Michael Cretu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2014. <>.

The Sachs-Hornbostel System

In the field of Ethnomusicology, the Sachs-Hornbostel System had been arranged and published as a system of musical instrument classification in 1914. As the structure was originally presented in German through the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie publication, an English translation was announced through the Galpin Society Journal (GSJ) in 1960.

The Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, or “Journal of Ethnology” first appeared in 1869. Originally focusing on German ethnology, the journal branched out internationally, and still creates various publications on the subject.

Founded in 1946,The Galpin Society sought to research musical instruments based upon their history, construction, development, and overall use. Still today, the society welcomes those interested in studying musical instruments from all over the world. The society commemorates the name of Canon Francis W. Galpin (1858-1945) who studied, collected, and made his own musical instruments from scratch.

Here is a picture of Canon Galpin playing a “Tromba Marina” from his personal collection:


As we will learn after reading this post, Galpin’s “Tromba Marina” appears to be a bowed lute in the chordophone category…

Looking back at the Sachs-Hornbostel System, Austrian scholar of music Eric Moritz Von Hornbostel, co-authored the instrumental arrangement with German Ethnomusicologist and modern Organologist, Curt Sachs. The systems intention was to organize musical instruments into four primary categories based on what part of the instrument vibrates to produce the sound. Regardless of there being several subcategories, the top four are:


These instruments produce sound through the direct vibration of air. They are typically subdivided into three categories: Flutes, Reeds, and Trumpets.


When a column of air is set into vibration through breath, the air is split on an edge. It can be  made from a tube of metal, wood, or ebonite usually with  six holes at one end of the tube. With the end of the tube sealed with a cork,  the player is able to blow his/her lips across the embouchure (position of the lips in/on the mouthpiece) or hole. The air directed into the tube causes turbulence and vibrates within the tube.

R. Carlos Nakai’s serene Native American flute performance. [He plays a few different sizes and kinds of flutes throughout this video, and you will be able to decipher between the different timbral qualities between each flute.]


The end of the players’ mouth is not open to the outside air, so unlike the  flute, the air is not free to move in and out. Reeds have one or more small pieces of material like cane, bamboo, or metal that vibrates when air is blown over or through them into a tube.


A performer must blow into instrument by vibrating their lips at high  speed. This force acts as the reed itself, and the vibration is harnessed to produce the sound. Trumpet players can modulate pitch by changing the  pressure on their lips and the force of air blown into the mouthpiece. They can  also change pitch by changing the length of the tubing through which air flows.

Duke Ellington with Cat Anderson [Trumpet Solo]

*For information about another amazing aerophone, the Cambodian M’baut/Chinese Hulusheng  (An intricate Mouth Organ found all over Southeast Asia), Please click this link! I created a detailed post a couple of months ago, and think you may like it!


Defined as having one or more strings stretched between two points. Sound is produced when a string is able to vibrate. The shape/body of the instrument distinguishes the two basic types of chordophone (though there are many more subtypes!)


Generally plucked, the reverberant qualities fade away almost  immediately as each note subsides. When a lute is bowed, the string vibration  does not fade away until the bowing has subsided. Lutes can also be fretless (like a fretless bass or guitar), or they can have frets. Frets are straight bars of material (wood/bamboo/metal) that are carefully placed on the neck of a lute vertically, underneath the horizontal strings. When pressing the string to the fret, the player is guided in obtaining his/her desired pitch. Fretted lutes tend to be plucked, while fretless lutes are most commonly bowed.

John Playford with a fretted lute [plucked]

Fusani Tia & Muhammad Kusanii on the Fretless Talensi fiddle in Gana, Africa


Plucked, bowed, or hammered (which tends to have more reverberant sound timbre than other types of chordophones.)

Bowed Zither duet with Harp

Plucked Chinese Guzheng 

Hammered Zither in Central Park NYC [Celtic]

The timbral qualities will also be deciphered based upon whether or not the lute or zither is plucked with a finger or plectrum, which is thin flat piece of plastic, tortoise-shell, or flexible material held or worn on the fingers and used to pluck the strings of for example, a guitar, or the Chinese Guzheng (which can be played with both fingers and a plectrum.)

Tortoise Shell Picks

Lyres and Harps also technically fall under the category of Chordophones due to their construction. An open frame suspends the strings vertically on both of these instruments. This design allows the player to pluck each string. While it may be difficult to distinguish the auditory different between a lyre and a harp, the construction of the instruments is quite recognizable.

Alemannic Warrior Lyre/Trossingen Lyre (6th Century Germanic Lyre) 

Harp + Vocal/ Förgätmigej: The Flower of Magherally


Create sound through actual vibrations within the instrument itself. The vibrations compress and rarefy the surrounding air to create sound which travels to our ears in the form of longitudinal waves. Examples of Idiophones are xylophones, hi-hats, bells, rattles, and cymbals. Even slamming doors are idiophones!


Gongs, bells, wood blocks/Claves, (anything that can be struck to produce  various sound qualities. These instruments are normally categorized timbrally by their sharp attack once they’ve been stricken.

Balinese Gamelan Ensemble


Small plucked idiophones are called “lamellophones” meaning they   have a tongue or prong that is flexed and then released. This action creates a  crisp short sound before the vibrating prong (lamella) desists.

Mbira + Vocal

There are also single plucked prongs (lamella) that can be amplified by the mouth cavity. These are called Jaw or Jew Harps (coming from the French word Jeu, meaning “Game”) Just about every culture has their own version of this instrument, and naturally, it has a different name in every country. This would fall under the category of a plucked idiophone.

How to play the Jaw/Jew Harp


rattles, shakers, or anything hollowed out and filled with pebbles, seeds, or sand. When the particles bounce against the outer shell of the instrument, vibration occurs causing a crisp sound in the upper register. Another instrument called the “Shekere” has a woven net of beads and shells on loosely attached    to the outside of a gourd.

Caribbean style Maracas 

Yosvany Terry on the Shekere


are most commonly percussion instruments. They usually consist of a hollow cylinder with a vibrating membrane stretched across each end. Traditionally, the membrane was made of animal skin, but today they are manufactured in mass quantities with synthetic membranes instead. Drums are categorized by body shape, and whether or not they are single or double headed. Most drums are struck with a hand or stick with different shapes/materials. Smaller drums usually have a higher, tighter sound, while larger drums naturally have more space inside the instrument. For this reason, big drums are louder with deeper tones.

Eric Piza on Bongos

Japanese Taiko Drums by Kodo

As technology has become a large part of contemporary society, Electrophones have also become the fifth category we consider. Any instrument that is generated by electrical means is considered an Electrophone.

Presenting… the Seaboard Grand by Roli:


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