A Composer's Guide to Gamelan Son of Lion instruments and tuning

The instruments and their ranges
The tuning
Types of notation
Tips for gamelan composing

Number of Instruments:


peking 2; one regular range, one with extra high 2 & 3

saron 3; two regular range, one with extra high 2 & 3

demung 2

slenthem 1

bonang barung: 1 Javanese; 1 bump-key

bonang panerus 1 bump-key

gender barung 1 (gender panerus available on loan)


peking 2; one regular range, one with extra high 1, 2 & 3

saron 3 regular range

demung 2

slenthem 1

bonang 1 Javanese; 1 bump-key

bonang panerus 1 bump-key

gender barung 1 pentatonic (no #4, and either 1's or 7's)

shared tunings:

Javanese bonang barung: both tunings share one rack. Pitch 6 and s5/p4 have only one kettle to be used for either tuning.

Key gongs (same octave as kempul): chromatic - low sl 1 to high p1. The lowest notes s1 and p1are not strong.

Kempul (round gongs): low 6 to high s1. Maximum space on the gong stands is 6 and 6 (two rows).


ceng-ceng (two sets)

kendhang (two sets, 3 drums per set)

Kempul and gongs: low 6 up through high pelog 1. Gong agung at pitch slendro 3.

Kempul: incomplete set of hubcaps pitched at: low 6 and p7, usual octave S1, P1, S2 and S2

Rebab: Chinese erh-hu is our usual stand-in

Gambang: slendro and pelog, pitched an octave higher than standard.

Suling: two for each tuning

Gamelan Tuning:

Slendro scale (measured from demung or middle C octave):

S6 (low) = B - 45 cents

S1 (low) = Db - 15

S2 = Eb + 30

S3 = Gb - 8

S5 = Ab + 20

S6 (high) = B - 40

S1 (high) = Db - 10

Pelog scale (demung octave)

P1 = D + 30

P2 = E

P3 = F + 45

P6 = Ab + 20 (same as S5)

P5 = A + 47

P6 = B - 40 (same as S6)

P7 = C + 35

Note: Two notes are "tumbuk" - common to both scales: 6=6 and s5=p4
Total distinct pitches in combined tuning = 10

Range: one octave instruments:

The treble clef octave (middle C to c above) = demung,

Second octave (c to c') = saron

Third octave (c' to c'') = peking

bass octave (C below middle C to middle C) = slenthem

sub-bass octave (the one below bass) = key gongs and kempul

Two octave + instruments

Bonang barung = demung octave plus saron octave (14 notes)

Bonang panerus (bump keys) = saron + peking (14 notes)

Gender barung = slenthem plus demung + 1/2 saron (14 notes)

Gender panerus = demung + saron + 1/2 peking (14 notes)

Gamelan Notation

Gamelan Son of Lion's composers have used a variety of notation types over the years, reflecting a mixed repertoire which is closer sometimes to traditional Indonesian music, sometimes to classical western music or to contemporary. At present the majority of our pieces use the modified staff notation described below.

Staff Notation

Key signatures: Pieces using all Slendro are usually notated in Db, and all Pelog in F with G#. This may be modified according to the tonality of the piece. Many pieces use mixed tuning - a combination from both keyboards, in which case the composer uses whatever key signature best serves.

The cipher names of the notes are notated as lyrics below the staff. All keyboard instruments in the treble clef register are notated for convenience in the middle C octave. Bass instruments can be notated in either clef, with the understanding that the notes will be played in the octave of the instrument. Gender, which spans 2 1/2 octaves, may be written as treble clef an octave below.

Kepatihan (cipher) Notation

This system, used in Java, gives the number names of the keyboard pitches. We often use this form of notation following the central Javanese rather than Sundanese model (-ie, numbers = lowest to highest, rather than the reverse.) One difference in the way this ensemble uses the notation is that of downbeat stress. In Javanese music (karawitan), melodic phrases are subdivided into groups of four, rather like a staff notation of 4/4; the groups are called gatra. However, contrary to the western convention, the rhythmic stress of the music is not on the downbeat, but on the last or fourth beat of every group. Those among the Gamelan Son of Lion composers who feel their music is not structurally similar to Javanese music have used a compromise notation which looks like the kepatihan, but shifts the stress to the beginning of each group of four, more in keeping with the concept of a "measure" but either with or without actual barlines.

Instruction and Diagram Notation

In keeping with contemporary music trends, a number of composers have written scores for the gamelan in which instructions and abbreviated number notation serve as a shorthand for the score. This is particularly suited for pieces with an improvisatory element. Other scores are basically graphic, with or without written instruction. In these cases the presence of the composer to teach or guide the realization of the score is essential.

Composers' tips and warnings

1: There are no notes on our gamelan scales anywhere close to a diatonic G or B.

2: There are only three truly diatonic matches in our tuning: slendro 1 = Db; slendro 3 = Gb, and pelog 2 = E. If you desire heterophony, there is no problem mixing the gamelan with traditional western instruments. If you want the western instruments to match the gamelan's scales, strings are easier to retune and refinger to find gamelan notes. Piano or electronic piano, or anything electronic, can be re-tuned to match. Horns will present the most difficulty, being based on the harmonic series which is irrelevant to gamelan tuning. Woodwinds that can be lip adjusted may be possible depending on the players. Of these, saxophone is easiest to bend pitches; clarinet and flute are more difficult.

3: Although our genders sound like extended range keyboards (2 1/2 octaves), the Pelog gender is a not 7 tone like the other pelog keyboards, but pentatonic. It does not have a pitch 4, and can be strung up to have either pitch 1 or pitch 7, but not both. (ie, 1 2 3 5 6 or 7 2 3 5 6)

4: When combining slendro and pelog scales, take note of the stick pattern problems. Our Javanese bonang barung is the only instrument besides gongs where the notes can be rearranged and selected as needed for the piece.