Bali Music

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Traditional Balinese Song

Traditional Balinese songs are called Tembang. Tembang is one of oldest arts in Bali and has been a strong part of Balinese culture. Some Tembang were sung by Balinese before the coming of Hindu-Buddhist cultures, such as Kuskus Arum, Suaran Kumbang, Puspa Pangan Jali, etc. Mostly Tembang in Bali contain many moral messages for education. Based on the structure and function, Tembang can be classified into Gegending, Pupuh/ Sekar Alit, Kidung/ Sekar Madya, and Kekawin/ Sekar Agung.Bali music

Gegending is the simplest. It has short sentences, simple dictions, and very clear meanings. The song does not have any rules on how to sing it like the others. Mostly Gegendingan is used in children games or dances which have purpose for bonding among Balinese youth, but a type of Gegending is also used for accompanying sacred dances. Based on when Gegending is used, it can be divided into Gending Rare, Gending Jejangeran, and Gending Sanghyang.

    • Gending Rare are children songs. These songs are usually used for accompanying traditional children games. It is used to educate children about etiquette. The popular Gending Rare are Meong-meong, Juru Pencar, Galang Bulan, and Indang-indang Sidi.
    • Gending Jejangeran is a cheerful song which accompanies Janger Dance. This song is sung by group of female and male dancers during the dance.
    • Gending Sanghyang is a song which accompanies sacred dances, such as: Sanghyang Jaran, Sanghyang Dedari, etc. This song precedes Hindu-Buddhist cultures. The famous Gending Sanghyangs are: Kuskus Arum, Suaran kumbang, and Puspa Panganjali.

Pupuh / Macepat / Sekar Alit
Pupuh/ Macepat/ Sekar Alit are Balinese traditional songs which has a main rule called Padalingsa. Padalingsa consist of Guru Wilang and Guru Dingdong. Guru Wilang is a rule which arrange how many words should be in a row and how many rows in a song (Pupuh). Guru Dingdong is a rule which arrange the last vocal in a row.  Pupuh is used for expressing one’s feelings or giving advice to the younger. This traditional song is sung in mostly Balinese life. So that is why Pupuh has many variation themes. Pupuh is classified based on the feeling of the singer and its intonation, seen below.


Singer feeling

Name of Pupuh

Normal relaxed & peaceful Pucung, Mijil, Sinom Lawe, and Ginada.
fast & high Happy Adri, Megatruh, Ginada Basur, and Sinom Genjek.
slow & low sad & disappointed Semarandana, Maskumambang,
and Demung.
normal & very high Angry Durma and Sinom Lumrah.

Kidung / Sekar Madaya
Kidung/ Sekar Madya is usually sung in ceremonies in Bali by a group of people and accompanied by Gamelan. Kidung themes are mostly about prayers of adoration. Kidung came to Bali from Java around the 16th – 19th century. It seems to derive from Old Javanese (Jawa Tengaan/ Kawi) which is used in some Kidung. After Kidung arrived in Bali, it was affected by Balinese culture. This influence is evident in the Kidung structure in Bali, which consists of Pangawit (opening part) and Pangawak (main part), which is not found in Java. Some famous Kidung in Bali are Wargasari, Sudhamala, Sidhapaksa, and Alis-alis Ijo.

Kekawin / Wirama / Sekar Agung
Kekawin is actually life philosophies and other Vedic lessons delivered to people through songs. Similar to Kidung, Kekawin is also sung in ceremonies. Kidung are in Sanskrit. It requires the singer to be able in the language. Kidung is usually sung by two singers. The first singer sings Kidung in its original language, sentence by sentence. After the first singer finished a sentence, the second singer will translate it into Balinese. This action will be done until the end of the Kekawin lyric. Some famous Kekawin in Bali are Saronca, Tanukerti, Girisa, Wirat, and Puspitagra. 

Traditional Music Instruments

Balinese music is based around an instrument known as the Gamelan. Gamelan or Gong, traditional musical instrument from Bali, is such a central part of Balinese music that the whole ‘orchestra’ is also referred to as a gamelan. Gamelan music is almost completely percussion. Though it sounds strange at first with its noisy, jangly percussion it’s exciting and enjoyable. It needs about 40 people to play a Gong in a complete formation (Gong Gede). Not only the men that could be the gamelan players, in Bali women can also take part of it.

Gamelan - traditional musical instrument from Bali

The arts of playing traditional music instruments in Bali are called Gamelan. Gamelan is also the term applied to a set of traditional music instruments played in most Balinese songs and dances as accompaniment. A Gamelan consists of percussion, metallophones, and traditional drums. It is mostly made from bronze, copper, and bamboo. The variations are due to the number of instruments used. Instruments in a common Gamelan ensemble are as follows:

  • Ceng-ceng is a coupled instrument for producing high intonations. Ceng-ceng is made from thin copper plates. On the center of each Ceng-ceng, is a handle made from rope or yarn. Ceng-ceng is played by hitting and rubbing the two. There are usually six couples of Ceng-ceng in a common Gamelan. There can be more depending on how high intonations are needed.
  • Gambang is a metallophone made from bars of copper in different thicknesses and lengths. These copper bars are rowed above a wooden beam which has been carved in several motifs. Gambang players hit the bars one by one depending on the intended intonation. The difference of thickness and lengths produce various intonations. In a common Gamelan there must be at least two Gambang.
  • Gangse looks like a wheel without a hole in its center. It is made from bronze. Like Gambang, a Group of Gangse is rowed above a carved wooden beam and played by hitting it with a couple of wooden sticks. Every Gangse in a row has different sizes, producing different intonations. Gangse is used for producing low tones. This instrument is dominant for slow songs or dances which reflect tragedy.
  • Kempur/ Gong is affected by Chinese culture. Kempur looks like a big Gangse which is hanged between two wooden poles. It is made from bronze and also played by using a wooden stick. Kempur is the biggest instrument in the Gamelan. It’s size is about a truck wheel. Kempur is used for producing low tones but longer than the Gangse. In Bali, to symbolize an opening of a national or international event, hitting the Kempur three times is typical.
  • Kendang is a traditional Balinese drum. It is made from wood and buffalo skin in cylinder form. It is played by using a wooden stick or using the palm of the hand. Kendang is usually played as the opening intonation in many dances.
  • Suling is a Balinese flute. It is made from bamboo. Suling is usually shorter than a modern flute. This wind instrument dominates as the accompanier in scenes of tragedy and slow songs which describe sadness.
Bali musical instrument - Kendang

Bali musical instrument – Kendang

In some places in Bali, bamboo trees are so easy to be found such as in Jembrana, Bangli or Karangasem. That makes way to the Balinese artists’ initiative to produce a new music instrument as accompanier for some entertaining dances; even though they still use Gamelan as the main ensemble. This unique instrument is called Rindik or known as Jegog in the district of Jembrana. Rindik or Jegog is a percussion instrument made from sticks of bamboo. The different sizes of bamboo are rowed from the biggest to the smallest. It is bundled by root ropes on the center of a big bamboo frame. Rindik/ Jegog are played by using a couple of special bamboo sticks. Jegog is played in many small social events because it is more practical to be brought anywhere than the Gamelan which is mostly made from metal. Besides, the cost production of Rindik/ Jegog is cheaper than Gamelan. At this time Jegog/ Rindik is played in many hotels and restaurant in Bali as entertainment.

The other unique music instruments which can only be found in the district of Tabanan are Tektekan and Okokan. These wooden music instruments were first found by farmers in Tabanan. Okokan is actually a wooden bell hung around the neck of the cows and Tektekan is a handheld instrument to make noises for scaring away birds from the ripening rice paddy fields. The rhythms of those instruments later became musical instruments for performances during many temple festivals or social events in Tabanan. At this time these have become strong characteristics of the traditional music art in Tabanan. Okokan and Tektekan festivals have become a member of the Bali Tourism Festivals regularly held each year.

  • Bob Shellenberger

    On Thursday, January 11,2018 we would like to attend a traditional dance or Gamelan concert or both. We are free all day.

    We would take a taxi from Benoa Cruise ship terminal. Our Holland America cruise ship arrives at 8:00 a.m. and stays in port until 1800 the next day.

    We have called many places but are unable to find a concert on January 11.

    Thanks Bob from Colorado USA

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