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Thailand Traditional Music

Located in Southeast Asia, Thailand is a country that is as rich in culture as any other.  Although they are considered to a "minority within a minority", the Thai people feel the need to promote and educate the richness of their culture with the other communities of the world.  Since ancient times, music has been a major component of daily life for the Thai people.  The music has traditionally been transmitted from master to student aurally.  Rather than providing a history and theory to the music, as is done in Western music, the masters simply played short melodic patterns which the student was expected to reproduce and memorize.  As such passages were learned and mastered, more music would be added, eventually, creating a lengthy replication of one of many traditional Thai melodies.  Nonetheless, musical notation of music has grown over the past century, but still, the more traditional schools of teaching both teach and practice through the process of memorization.

Thai classical music is considered to reflect identity, prestige, and values central to being Thai.  The whole idea of memorization for the sake of knowledge is found in the Thai religion of Buddhism, as well as in the teaching of the music.  In Buddhism, knowledge is "a frozen Dharmasastra... that is, a fully  developed yet static system of the right formulae and the appropriate rules (Pamela Myers-Moro, essay 'Thai Music in Thai Society')."  When asked about the importance of music in the temples in Thailand, Pong Ky (Paul), a graduate of the Chulalonghorn University in Thailand, explained how music and religion work hand in hand with one another in the Thai society.  Not only is the music used in religious ceremonies and rituals, but it is also built on the same fundamental standards.  As they were practiced long ago, both Thai music and the Thai Buddhism continue to reflect many similarities.

Although the Thai people are the creators of many of the instruments indigenous to the country, influences are thought to have come from the Indians, through contact with the culture.  By the Ayutthaya period (1350-1765 A.D.), the instrument ensemble had grown to about four to eight musicians.  Songs were longer in length, and singing technique had improved from the past. Many songs were composed in forms of musical suites called the Pleng rua, simply meaning a series of songs.  The lyrics were usually written in the form of short stories by various poets of that time period.  These Ayutthaya songs are still being used today, centuries later, in Thai play settings.  From this contact, the Thais created several new musical instruments.  The Bangkok period began, after a long period of war, and revived the arts in Thailand, especially music and drama. 

At this period in time, the instrumental ensemble had grown to as many as twelve musicians.  Also, composition writing was also at a high point, and several masterpieces were written during this period.  Later, Western influences began to blend into the already existing Thai musical format, and instruments such as the bass drum, violin  and organ were being added to the music.  Now, there are about 50 types of Thai musical instruments used for all kinds of occasions, including culture shows, marriages, funerals, and social evenings after harvesting.

Types of Thai Musical Instruments

Klui Flute - recorder style thai flute 
Jakhay - Floor standing string Instrument 
Saw - U - Stringed Instrument 
Saw - Duang - Stringed Instrument 
Seung - Four stringed Instrument
Sa Lor - Two String bowed Instrument
Pi Saw - Long bamboo flute
Kim - Struck String Instrument
Ranat Ek - Wooden Xylophone
Ranat Thum - Bass Xylophone
Ching - Small cymbals 
Chap - Flat round cymbals 
Kong Mong - Thai style Gong 
Ta Phon - Barrel shaped Drum 
Thon Cha Tri - Single head Drum 
Klong Kaak - Bongo Style Thai Drum 
Klong Yao - Long Thai Drum 

thai traditional music instruments

ranat ek

The Thai scale system is thought to have been derived originally from the Javanese tuning system.  The current pentatonic scale consists of seven notes, each being precisely equidistant from one another.  In such a tuning system, there is never a perfect fourth or perfect fifth.  In fact, besides the octaves, not one note in the Thai scales system can be tuned with the European/Western notes.  When Western classical music was introduced to Thailand before the turn of the century, and became incorporated into the Thai culture.  Phra Chen Duriyang began teaching many young Thai musicians this "new" form of music, and later established Thailand's first orchestra in the Royal Entertainment Department.  By the late 1920s, the formation of orchestras began to spread throughout the country, and Thai musicians' style and technique began improving, and continued to do so in later generations.  Popular Western music was later accepted in the 1950s, and continues to be heard throughout Thailand.  Some modern popular groups in Thailand combine Thai traditional musical elements with the new pop ideas.  In attempt to keep traditional Thai music alive, The Music Association of Thailand, under royal patronage, works to promote Thai music and safeguard the welfare of the musicians.

Percussion Instruments Made of Wood


The Ranart-ek has 21 to 22 keys.The lowest key is 38 cm long, 5 cm wide and 1.5 cm thick.The keys decrease in size and become thicker as the tones become higher.They are hung each side by a cord which is attached to the base or support stand.The entire keyboard is 125 cm long .The keys of the Ranart-ek are made of a special hardwood,such as Mai Ching Chan which has a beautiful tone.

The support or stand that holds the keyboard is made in a shape similar to a Thai boat and is made of Teak wood.The Ranart-ek is 13-15 kg. and is a handmade product.


The Ranart-Toom has 17 to 18 keys.The lowest key is 42 cm long and 6 cm wide.The keys decrease in size, that of the highest tone is 35.5 cm long, 5 cm wide.The entire keyboard is 125 cm long.The keys of Ranart-Toom are made of Bamboo.

The support or stand is different from the Ranart-ek. Shaped like a long wooden box it is 125 cm long, 22 cm wide and made of Teak wood.The Ranart-toom is 10-13 kg. and is a handmade product.

Percussion Instruments Made of Metal


The Ching is a percussion instrument made of metal.Although small in size it is an important member of the thai musical ensemble taking on the role of leader or conductor. Shaped like a teacup or like a small hollow cone.The two Ching are played by hitting them together. The diameter is of each one is 5.5-6.5 cm.


The Mong has several sizes and is made of brass or bronze. The diameter ranges from 8" - 12".When beaten it gives the sound "mong" the sound being similar to the name.

Percussion Instruments Using Skin or Leather

Da Phon Thai

The body of Da Phon Thai is made of Teak wood or wood of the Jack fruit tree.The body is made from a solid block of wood which is cut and hollowed out into the proper shape. There are two heads, which are made of cow skin.One head is larger and 25 cm in diameter.The smaller is 22 cm in diameter.

A mixture of cooked rice and ashes are applied to the center of the large head during the production process to give it a more mellow tone. The length of the body is 48 cm. and is handmade product.

Glaw-ng khaek

The Glaw-ng khaek is drum which has long body.The body is made of hardwood, 58 cm. in length.The two heads are of unequal size, the larger being 20 cm. in diameter and the smaller is 18 cm. in diameter. The two heads are made of calfskin or goatskin. Originally the two heads were tied down with cane or rattan which was split in half and widely apart, but today leather thongs are used.

The drums are used in pairs.The higher-tone drum is referred to as tua-phu "male" and the lower-tone drum, as tua-mia "female".


The Glawng Yao is drum which has a single head. The body is made from hardwood, such as Mai Garm Poo or Mai Sa Dao. There are several sizes, the diameter ranges from 20-30 cm. The the length ranges from 75 cm to 110. The head of Glawng Yao is made of calfskin and a mixture of cooked rice and ashes is applied to the center of the drumhead to procure the desired-tone and pitch.

The body is customarily decorated with a piece of cloth, either plain colors or with a pattern which is fastened around the upper part of the body. Another strip of cloth, 5 - 8 cm hangs down loosely from the edge of the head and is attached to the long cylinder .This strip of cloth forms the carrying strap which goes over the shoulder of the player.

This drum is played mainly with the hands, but skilled drummers show great dexterity often hitting with the knees and even their heels.

Thon & Ram Mana

The Thon Maho-Ri (on the left)differs from other drums in that the body is made of ceramic material .It has one head, 22 cm in diameter and the length of the body is 38 cm.The head is fastened down with polished rattan or strands of braided silk. For the head various skins are used, such as calf, goat, snake's skin-(usually of the python, boa-constrictor or the elephant trunk snake.) The Thon is played with one hand, the other controlling the tone by opening and closing the end of the body. It is played in combination with the Ram Mana ( next drum )

The body of Thon is very beautiful and has various designs, some are decorated with inlaid mother-of-pearl or bits of colored glass and mirrors ; others have designs applied in gold-leaf, silver or laquer.All designs are special and of high quality.


On the right side of the picture is the Ram Mana (Ram Mana Maho-Ri) which has one head, is 26 cm in diameter and is made of calfskin.The body is made of hardwood and is 7 cm deep.

Wind Instruments


The khlui is probably the first wind instrument which the Thai devised themselves, although the shape of the instrument is very similar to that of the mu-ra-li of India, which is used to play music in worship of Krishna, one of the Hindu gods.

The Khlui is similar to a Japanese flute called the Shaku-hachi. The Japanese Shaku-hachi and the Thai Khlui are played vertically like the western oboe and clarinet.

The Khlui is made of hardwood, such as Mai Ching Chan or Mai Ma-glua (black color).After cutting and hollowing, the instrument is carefully dried out over a fire.On the front side ,seven small round holes are made in a row over which the fingers sit,opening and closing the holes to change the pitch of the sound.No reed of any kind is used.

The mouthpiece consists of a piece of wood inserted into the opening on the end.Near the opening on the underside is a rectangular hole cut diagonally and slanting in towards the inside of the tube.The Klui must have this cut in order to produce sound.Another round thumbhole similar to the finger holes can be found less than half way down the shaft on the underside.

Above the thumb hole ,but on the right side of the instrument as it is held in playing position there is another round hole called "the membrane hole",covered by thin tissue paper. At the lower end of the body are four more holes made in pairs at right angles to each other.A cord or ribbon is put through the holes going from right to left by which the instrument can be hung up or held by hand.All in the klui has fourteen holes.

String Instruments

Plucked Stringed Instruments


The Jakhay is generally believed to have evolved from the Indian instrument the "Vina" or "Bina".
The name Jakhay comes from the Thai word Ja-ra-ke which means Crocodile the instrument resembling the shape of one.The resemblance to a crocodile was more prominent in the earlier days when the resonance chamber or body of the instrument was made to resemble a crocodile body and the front end was carved in the shape of crocodile jaws.These days the resemblance is more general way.

The instrument is usually played in a floor sitting position with the instrument horizontal to the floorboards.The instrument has three strings which stretch all the way along the body, and up onto the neck .Of the three strings two are made of gut and one of brass wire.Each string is attached to a tuning peg mounted in the neck.The strings pass over 11 frets ,the height of which is graded from 2cm near the sound chamber to 3.5 cm nearest to the tuning pegs.The strings are plucked with a plectrum made of bone or ivory.

The body section is 9-11 cm (3 1/2" - 4 1/2") deep.52 cm (20 1/2") long and 28 cm(11") wide.The tail or neck is 81 cm (32") long.The entire length of the instrument 130-132 cm (52").

Bowed Stringed Instruments




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