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Background History of Musical Instruments

There are three theories on the origin of Myanmar music. The first states that Myanmar people were traditional farmers and the music was created to accompany their agricultural activities.

The second theory states that Myan mar people worshiped nats (spirits) before Buddha Sasana arrived and the music was part of the ritual to propitiate the nats.

The third theory states that when Buddhism spread throughout the country originating from Thaton and Hanthawady, the devotees paid homage by holding pagoda festivals.

Myanmar's history of music can be divided into six periods for study: Thaton, Thaye Khittaya, Bagan Inwa, Konbaung and the later period. People used music to celebrate different rituals and occasions relevant to their land and personal life events. Singing and dancing at festivals is evidenced on clay tablets of the 5th to 11th century found in the environs of Thaton and Bago. It is also known that a Pyu cultural delegation visited China during this period and they had brass musical instruments, conches, string instruments, and other instruments made of bamboo, leather, ivory, gourd and horn. The Chinese records show that Pyu music was quite developed at that time.

Myanmar music is an end result of a merging of the different cultures from numerous ethnic tribes and eras. The period from the 9th to the 13th centuries belongs to Bagan, which was a result of the cultural development from the Mon culture of Thaton, and the Pyu culture of Thaye Khittaya. The cultural mix of the Mon and Pyu musical instruments, music and dance plus Myanmar customs and habits, gave birth to the Bagan period of musical culture emergence.

Myanmar has five kinds of instruments.
(1) one headed drum - pot- drum.
(2) two-headed drum - big drum, long drum, short drum, horizontal sitou, bjo: and rattle
(3) jingle bell, hung bell, hollow bell, cymbal, mellifluous bell, timing bell,
(4) iron rod, brass rod, wooden block, stone
(5) conch shell, hollow bamboo, gadou, hne (shawm), flute trumpet

Classical music groups in the Maha Gita are kjou:, bwe thachin: khan, pa' pjou:, jou: daja:, mon, kajin , deir bo:le, tei: hta. Students of music are first taught the basic songs of the kjou: group.

The school of music and drama in Yangon was inaugurated in 1952, and in 1953, a second school of music and drama was opened in Mandalay. Today, a Cultural University has been established.


The flute (palwei) is a wind instrument which consists of a hollow tube played by blowing through a hole at one end. There are two kinds of Myanmar flutes, the khin palwei and the kyaw palwei. The khin palwei is the more commonly played and it has a vintage and a reed at the blowing end. The kyaw palwei has no reed. Murals at Ananda and Mingda Zedi in Bagan show the kyaw palwei being played.

Earlier flutes were made of cane, bamboo or brass, while present day flutes are made of wood or plastic. The vintage holes are made according to the diameter of the bamboo. Altogether there are 10 perforated holes: seven finger holes, a thumb-hole, the membrane hole, and the pinleku or vent hole. However with the modern day flute no longer has a membrane hole because it tends to produce a shrill sound. Flutes come in two sizes - big and small, and flutes can cover the chromatic scale.

In preparing the tube for a flute the lowest hole is perforated two-thirds of the way up the instrument. The six other holes are perforated at distances according to the diameter of the bamboo. The thumb-hole is perforated on the lower side of the flute at the point half- way between the upper sixth and seventh hole. The vent hole is perforated between the topmost ringer hole and the tube end. The membrane hole is between the vent hole and the seventh hole.

Myanmar used to have 37 kinds of musical instruments: 13 percussion, 10 brass, 8 wind and 6 melodious instruments. The flute and shawm belong to the wind group, and are played together in pot-drum troupes, dobat troupes, classical music troupes, and modern music troupes.

Royal Drum

The royal drum or sidaw was played on royal occasions, auspicious gatherings, and for favourable portents in the villages.

Historically , the sidaw was played as part of palace rituals and during royal ceremonies and occasions. It was played during the entrance and exit of the king and queen into the Audience Hall, or when the monarchs were attending grand dramas or marionette shows. The sidaw was also played at ploughing ceremonies, city visits, and ceremonies marking the beginning and ending of the sitting of the Hluttaw. Gift presentation ceremonies were also marked by use of the sidaw, as was the beginning of the Thingyan Water Festival. It was played when soldiers marched to war during the Inwa, Taungo, Nyaung-yan and Konbaung dynasties.

The sidaw drumhead has a diameter of 16 inches and a height of 45 inches. The secondary drum has a primary head of 7 inches and a secondary head of 6 inches with a height of 18 inches.

The advent of the sidaw ensemble induced the creation of the sidaw dance. The two big drums are hung side by side on a beam. The two dancers moved gracefully and swayed gently to strike the drums with their fists in time with the beat. Sometimes, the dancers seem ready to .strike, but just as they are about to do so, they move away from the drums.

The sidaw also brought about songs composed specifically for the big drum. Some of these songs have passed into the literature of the country.

Conch Shell

A conch shell, locally called Khaju thin, is a natural shell with a hollow that produces sound when blown. The shell has grooves on the outside to allow a good hold for the four fingers of the musician. When blowing the shell with the lips, it should be closed lightly, not tightly, so that the lips may be made to vibrate.

Traditionally, the conch is blown on auspicious occasions such as a coronation, wedding, the ceremony for the induction of a male person into the Sangha as a novice, or ordination into monkhood.

The historical use of the conch shell in Myanmar's traditional music is shown in the paintings above the base of a column in the Nagayon Pagoda, Bagan, which was erected in about 1090 AD, before King Kyansittha. The painting shows two musicians and two dancers, and one of the musicians is playing a conch shell. The conch shell is also mentioned in the list of musical instruments taken to China in 80 A.D by a Pyu culture delegation.

Brass Gong Circle ( Kyei Waing )

The brass gong circle or kyei waing as it is locally called, has 18 or 19 brass gongs in a circle similar to the drum circle. It is played to accompany the drum circle and the hne. Its sound is more melodious than the sound of the framed gongs (maun: saing). The player strikes the boss on the gong with a mallet. Two mallets are used for the two hands, and when required, the sound is dampened by the free fingers. The gong is tuned by adjusting the amount of beeswax attached inside the boss. The brass gong player is generally the number two man in the ensemble. The brass gong was called the "nari-sara" in Bagan days. The brass gong was one of the ten instruments of the Bagan period which has a special melody to itself, called kyei:thwa:.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

PTS, IT & Mgmt Consulting,USA




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