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Musical Instruments in the North

percussion WHILE LISTENING to the unique, soothing music of northern Thailand, one might wonder, "Am I really in Thailand?" The rhythm, the harmony, the combination of soft string, wind and percussion instruments of the Lanna Kingdom of old continue on today in a traditional form of music that perfectly matches the gentle nature of northern Thailand.

In order to fully appreciate this music, it is important to be a bit familiar with the various instruments used to convey this very special feeling. It is also helpful to know something about the background of both the instruments and the way in which they're blended to produce such peculiarly northern resonance.

museum exterior A great place to start is at Ruan Anusarn Soonthorn, Lanna music museum located on the campus of Chiangmai Rajabhat Institute (formerly Teachers' College), near the Science Building on Chotana Rd. The construction started on December 23, 1991 and the museum was opened on March 3, 1994. The design of the gracious teak mansion is similar to the Ruan Kamthieng at the Siam Society in Bangkok. These two beautiful specimens of northern architecture were donated by the well known Chutima and Nimanhaemind families of Chiangmai who are the descendants of Luang Anusarn Soonthorn.

percussion This museum was established in the memory of Luang Anusarn Soonthorn on the occasion of his birthday over 125 years ago. Here visitors can look closely at these instruments. To enhance the learning experience is a touch and listen computer monitor for visitors to become familiar with the distinct sounds.

Most of these musical instruments came originally from China, a culture whose influence on the Lanna Kingdom was great due to migration of people from Yunnan province to northern Thailand. Chinese legends, language and beliefs can be detected as an undercurrent in the rhythm of Lanna music. It is also important to consider Thai history, especially at the time a large influx of people from China to populate the Lanna Kingdom during the 12th and 13th centuries.

stringed instruments The string instruments are the Pin Pia, the Zueng and the Zalor. The Pin Pia is said to have been introduced to Lanna from northern China. It has either two or four strings which are anchored to the instrument neck to regulate sound. The body is made of half a gourd or half a coconut shell and the open part of this is held against the player's chest allowing him to control musical tone. Music from the this instrument is called "Music from the Heart."

The Zueng is related to the Chinese Moon Lute, It is a four-stringed instrument with two large strings and two small strings for sound variation. It is a single piece of carved hardwood with a horn or bone plectrum. The player holds the instrument against his chest with his left hand, while the right hand plucks the strings. There are nine frets to control and alter tonal quality.

The Zalor is a relatively crude instrument when compared to the Zeung or Pin Pia, but it has its own unique quality. It is made of slightly more than a half a gourd, the open surface covered with a slat of wood. The zalor has two wire strings and tautness is regulated by pegs equipped with animal hair. This instrument is usually played together with the Zeung in instrumental folk songs

The wind instruments of Lanna music makes use of two types of wind instruments, both referred to as the Bpee. Both types of Bpee are made in a variety of sizes, and different sizes are played together in the same instrumental piece with each size allowing musicians to play in different keys and pitch. They are the Bpee Nae and the Bpee Joom.

The Bpee Nae flares at the tip much like a clarinet and has a metal mouthpiece. The Bpee Joom is made entirely of wood and is in the shape of a flute.

drums The percussion instruments are drums and most essential to all Lanna music. This is a result of the historical importance of dance, a highly developed art in the north. Consequently, many types of drums are played in northern style instrumental music. Also, almost every festival or fair in the North includes a drum competition. And in many ways the drums are perceived as sacred to Lanna tradition: some of the ceremonial drums are the property of village temples. The eight major drums are: Glong Pooja, Glong Luang and Glong Zae, Glong Pong Pohng, Glong Zig Moung, Glong Aew, Glong Talode Pode and Glong Teng Ting.

When you are next dining at a Khantoke culture show or enjoying the sights and sounds of a temple fair, you will be able to recognize the various instruments making the gentle sounds of traditional Lanna music. Visitors can show their appreciation by saying "pra tup jai" with a smile.


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Last modified on:  October 27 2013