Kendang tunggal : Balinese solo drumming improvisation

Wayan Sudirana (
Ethnomusicology, University of British Columbia
November, 2009
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Wayan Sudirana was born in Ubud, Bali, in May 1980. A graduate of the Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI Denpasar), and a member of the Cudamani collective, he is one of Bali's most gifted musicians. He has composed and taught actively in Bali and abroad and frequently toured internationally. He has been artist in residence at the University of British Columbia (UBC) since 2004. He received his MA in Ethnomusicology from UBC in 2009, and Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology also from UBC in 2013. One of his publications entitled, “Borrowing, Stealing, Transforming: Intercultural Influences in Balinese Neo-Traditional Composition,” published in a chapter book edited by Kendra Stepputat entitled, Performing Arts in Postmodern Bali: Changing Interpretations, Founding Traditions (Stepputat 2013, page 175 – 186). His current research is focused on the development of new music in Bali. He is currently a lecturer at the graduate program at Arts Institute of Indonesia.


The following thesis is an analytical investigation of Balinese solo drumming (kendang tunggal) in Balinese gamelan music. It is dealing with the solo drumming that is considered improvisational, in particular the styles that are used in the repertory of the gamelan Gong Kebyar. The analysis is culminated in chapter four with analysis of six selected recordings of influential Balinese master drummers, who represent different stages in the development of kebyar style, from its beginning to the present. The focus is on the way these drummers develop their own style or pupuh (drum patterns) within particular Balinese melodies and gong cycles. The term improvisation is carefully used, because the degree of freedom in such meters is often limited. The drummers often describe the way they play in these contexts as bebas (free), but in practice, many drummers usually do not use the opportunity to create spontaneous patterns at all, and instead recycle or reuse the patterns that they have practiced and create a new ordering of well-rehearsed stock phrases. Based on this idea, the basic analysis of solo drumming in two types of Balinese meter is introduced in chapter three that can help outsiders or beginner drummers to understand or at least to clarify how the kendang tunggal works with a certain degree of “limited improvisation” in Balinese gamelan gong kebyar music.