• Learn More About Indonesian Folk Music
Grade 6, Log On
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia made up of an archipelago of over 10,000 islands. More than 300 languages are spoken in Indonesia, which has the fourth largest population in the world, right behind the United States. With so many different cultures, Indonesia has many different styles of music-everything from traditional music that stretches back hundreds of years to pop music that blasts from cars, home stereos, and clubs across the country.
The gamelan is a traditional instrument ensemble found in many parts of Indonesia. Just like an orchestra in the United States, a gamelan ensemble has many musicians playing all types of instruments.
On the island of Java, the biggest instrument is a metal gong almost a yard wide called a gong ageng that hangs from a wooden frame. Another instrument is called the kenong, made of long rows of small gongs arranged like teapots in a row. Musicians strike the kenong with short sticks. The gamelan also includes metal xylophones of different sizes. Some of the xylophones play a melody, but many instruments, like the big gongs, play repeating cycles of notes.
On Bali, people play a gamelan style called gong kebyar. Instead of the steady, clock-like rhythm of Javanese gamelan, gong kebyar has lightning-fast melodies. In fact, they are so fast that two players alternate every other note of the melody. This technique is called kotekan.
In Java, people love to watch wayang kulit, or shadow puppet plays, where puppeteers work behind a white screen illuminated by a single light. Puppeteers use intricate puppets to cast silhouettes on the screen to tell a story. A small gamelan orchestra performs along with the play to provide background music, just like the soundtrack of a Hollywood movie.