Get Fascinated by these 5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments While You Stay at Home


Indonesia is home to diverse ethnic groups with different cultural traditions that have a distinctive beauty of their own. One such tradition is the fascinating cultural music. The traditional regional music of Indonesia comprises strong beats and harmonies and has a strong influence of European and Malay classical music.

You can have a great time learning about traditional Indonesian musical instruments while you #StayatHome. Here, we recommend five traditional Indonesian instruments that will let you explore the unique and wonderful atmosphere of Indonesia.

1 | Suling

5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments You Can Play At Home

Also known as Seruling, Suling is a Southeast-Asian bamboo ring flute which is used in various traditional musical ensemble performances, including gamelan, gambus, and Malay dangdut. This flute is made out of a long, thin-walled bamboo tube called tamiang and a thin rattan band encircles the mouthpiece. Originating from the Malay culture, this musical instrument exists in several Southeast-Asian countries, including Indonesia.

This simple flute produces tunes or melodies that have traditionally been interpreted as the sound of joyful learning. There are many regions in Indonesia that use flute as a traditional instrument and have different local names for it. In Java, Sunda, and Bali, this instrument is commonly called suling, in Minang it is called saluang, in Toraja, it is called Lembang flute, in Halmahera, it is called bangsil, and in West Nusa Tenggara it is called silu.

One of the most popular suling musicians in Indonesia is Gus Teja.  You can listen to his soothing performance on YouTube and Spotify.

2 | Gamelan

5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments You Can Play At Home

Gamelan is a set of traditional Javanese musical instruments, which usually consists of gong, kenong, gambang, celempung, and many other percussion instruments. Gamelan produces soft tunes creating an atmosphere of tranquillity that is in harmony with the principles of Javanese society. Etymologically, gamelan is derived from the Javanese term "gamel" which means beating/hitting, and the suffix "an" makes it a noun. Therefore, the word gamelan can be interpreted as “hitting/beating objects.”

Gamelan Ageng or the musical performance of all gamelan instruments is usually an accompaniment to puppet performances, such as Wayang Kulit, Wayang Orang, Ketoprak, Javanese dances, and many other performances. Besides Java, gamelan can also be found in other Indonesian cultures such as Sunda (known as ‘degung’), Bali (known as ‘gambelan’), Banjar, and also Lombok.

The sound of Gamelan has been famously known around the world. Russia even has Gamelan Dadali Moscow, their own Gamelan music group consisting of local Russian women trained by the experts from the Indonesian Embassy in Moscow. You can listen to their performances on YouTube.

3 | Angklung

5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments You Can Play At Home

A traditional Indonesian instrument made of bamboo tubes, Angklung is often found in the area of West Java. The tune is produced by shaking the instrument so the bamboo tubes collide with each other. Angklung has been recognized as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO since November 2010. There are many types of angklung: angklung kanekes, angklung dogdog lojor, angklung gubrag, and angklung padaeng.

Etymologically, angklung comes from the Sundanese word "angka", which means tone, and the word "lung", which means broken. Therefore, angklung means “a broken or incomplete tone.” According to Jaap Kunst’s book “Music in Java”, besides West Java, Angklung can also be found in the regions of South Sumatra and Kalimantan, and the people of Lampung, East Java, and Central Java also use this instrument.

During the time of the Sunda Kingdom (12th century-16th century), Angklung was played as a form of worship of Nyai Sri Pohaci, a Goddess of Fertility. It is also said that Angklung was played as a morale booster during wars.

There is a place in West Java called Saung Angklung Udjo where one can witness, among many other great things, the live performances of Angklung musicians and learn how to make the instrument.

There is a place in West Java called Saung Angklung Udjo where one can witness, among many other great things, the live performances of Angklung musicians and learn about the making of the instruments. Listen to their harmonious musical performance on YouTube. You can also listen to angklung music composed and played by Tjoek Suparlan on Spotify.

4 | Sasando

5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments You Can Play At Home

Sasando is a traditional musical instrument from East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) and is made out of bamboo and palm leaves. It was created in the 17th century on Rote Island by two shepherds. They realized that a soft tune could be produced by the container which was used to draw water. Initially, Sasando strings were made from palm leaf sticks, but later got replaced by steel strings that were commonly used for violins after the Portuguese came to Indonesia.

Sasando is played using both hands and each handpicks in opposite directions. The right-hand plays the chord, while the left-hand picks the melody and bass. It requires a particular set of skills to play Sasando. At first, Sasando only had 7-10 strings made out of natural materials. By the 18th century, more strings were added and the number increased 24 to 28. Nowadays, 32 to 48 strings are being used in a Sasando.

The philosophy behind Sasando’s shape and voice is unique and has a special meaning in the lives of the people of Rote. The nine strings present in the original form of Sasando used to symbolize the life cycle of a human child in the womb.

You can listen to the calming tunes of Sasando performed by Natalino Mella on Youtube.

5 | Kulintang

5 Unique Traditional Indonesian Musical Instruments You Can Play At Home

Consisting of rows of horizontally-placed small gongs, Kolintang or kulintang is a musical instrument that’s usually accompanied by a larger hanging gong and drum during a performance. Being a part of the Southeast-Asian gong-chime culture, Kulintang has been played for centuries in the East Malay regions, including Indonesia.

In Indonesia, Kolintang is known as a wooden percussion instrument originating from the Minahasa area in North Sulawesi. It is usually made from local wood such as Telur wood (Alstonia sp), Cempaka wood (Elmerrillia Tsiampaca), Wenuang wood (Octomeles Sumatrana Miq), and Waru wood (Hibiscus Tiliaceus), and many others having a strong but light fiber.

Kolintang is played by striking a cloth-wrapped wooden stick against it. It is usually a part of the musical performances held during traditional Minahasa ceremonies such as the worship of the spirits of the ancestors. However, under the influence of several religions and cultures, Kolintang changed its function and is used as a musical instrument in performing arts.

Watch the performance of Kolintang KEYTUJI, a group of Kolintang musicians from Minahasa, with Eiffel Tower in France as the background and enjoy North Sulawesi’s Nyong & Noni Performance on Youtube

Which of these traditional Indonesian musical instruments has caught your interest, and are you looking forward to enjoying the sounds and music? Well, discover these distinctive sounds of Indonesia and let the philosophy of the tunes inspire you while you #StayatHome.