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.
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:.