Whereas many Western musical instruments like the guitar, piano, violin, flute, and trumpet have long become household names, there are those that remain obscure to the masses; for instance, instruments native to Asian countries like Thailand.
So-Named according to the Sound They Make
The first Thai musical instruments had onomatopoeic names, which means that the appellations given to them accorded the sounds they produced. Such instrumens included the ching (cymbals), glawng (a percussion instrument), and mong (a gong). Through time, however, as other cultures began to infuse themselves into that of Thailand, the instruments evolved and developed into elaborately designed devices; albeit many of them retained their fascinating names.
Today, musicologists divide Thai musical instruments into four groups according to the manner their players produce the melody from them: bowed instruments, or Khryang Sii; plucked instruments, or Khryang Diit; blown instruments, or Khryang Paw; and hit instruments, or Khryang Tii. Below are some examples.
Khryang Sii (Bowed Instruments)
Saw Sam Sai. This instrument slightly resembles the Japanese shamisen and the Chinese san hsien, for like them it has three strings and a fretless neck. Unlike them, however, which have square bodies and are plucked with plectrums, the saw sam sai has a triangular body, with a spiked leg, and is bowed. Its body is made from half a coconut shell, which forms the back part of the resonance chamber. The pitch the saw sam sai produces depends on the size of its body.
Saw Duang. This two-stringed instrument has a thin, tubular neck made of bamboo and a cylindrical resonance chamber. You can produce the melody from the saw duang by inserting the bow between the strings and then rubbing it against them. Basing on its appearance, some musicologists say that the saw duang derived its name from the duang dak yae—a lizard trap that has a similar shape.
Khryang Ditt (Plucked Instruments)
Krajappii. This four-stringed instrument has a flat, oblong body from which extends a long, flat, tapering neck that curves backward from the strings. Many Thai believe that the instrument got its name from the Javanese word gatchapi, which means “turtle,” whose shell’s shape resembles that of the instrument’s body.
Khryang Paw (Blown Instruments)
Pi Chawa. This woodwind instrument consists of two detachable parts: the upper part called loo pi, and the lower part called lam phong. The loo pi is the long, slender, and slightly conical cylinder that contains the mouthpiece, into which the player blows to produce the melody. The lam phong is the end part from which excess wind escapes.
Khryang Tii (Hit Instruments)
Khawng Wong Yai. You may describe this instrument as a “circle of gongs.” The nearly circular stand that holds the series of gongs is a framework made of rattan. To play the khawng wong yai, the player, armed with a pair of padded mallets or beaters, stands inside the framework and hits the gongs.
Khawng Mong. Khawng is the Thai word for “gong,” which comes in different sizes. Khawng mong is the kind which has a diameter of about 30 to 45 centimeters and which, when beaten, gives a mong sound.
Ching. A cymbal-type percussion instrument, the ching consists of a pair of cymbals, each of which is made of thick metal and shaped like a teacup or a small hollow cone. At the apex of each cymbal is a small hole through which a cord is passed. A knot at each end of the cord fits inside the apex of each cymbal.
This prevents the cord from pulling through. The cord holds the two cymbals together, providing the player convenience in holding the instrument. The ching got its name from the high-pitched sound that it produces.
Anyone who says he is a great enthusiast of music should be curious enough to know about some less-commercial musical instruments.