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Musical instrument

There are three main musical instruments in the Malay art of East Sumatra, especially in the area of Serdang Sultanate. Those are drum, fiddle (replaced with violin), and gong or tetawak (replaced with bass). On the next development, there is some addition of these tools including some types of Gendang (e.g long drum), Telempong, Kesi (cymbal), Ceracap, Gedombak, Gedug, Serunai, Gambang, Rebana, and other musical instruments.


Drum is one of the percussion instruments. This instrument is made of wood covered with animal skin (membrane) on its both sides. Some animal skins used as membrane of drum are sheep, cattle, and buffalo.

Drum has various sizes include small, medium and big. The small drum is called Rebana, while the medium and large-size called Redap. In addition, there are also drum on both sides covered with leather tied with a rope made of leather or rattan in such a way that can be tightened and loosened.

Drum is sounded trough being hit using a stick and beat using a hand. Drum has many functions and it often sounded in many occasion such as in the dance or martial arts, the master tempo or dynamic affirmation of an orchestra, or often simply as a complement to further enliven the atmosphere.

The type of Gendang:

  1. Drum which equipped with rope with one side covered with goat skin, while the other side open with a piece of rubber stretched as wide as 1 cm in diameter; sounded using the right hand hitting the surface of the skin and the left hand plucking the rubber.
  2. Drum dabos which looks like a tambourine, and both ends have a circle with different diameters. The large circle is covered with leather. Gendang dabos is sounded by striking the surface of the skin using hand or finger.

In the tradition of Malay musical instrument is also known the various names of gendang such as Gendang panjang, Gedombak, and Geduk.

  1. Gendang Panjang

    The drum which called Dhol in India has two sides closed by animal skin and the one side smaller than the other. Gendang Panjang (Long Drum) is always played in couple, big and small. The big one is covered with buffalo skin and the small one is covered with goat skin. Both membranes are tied with a rope from rattan. The drum size is about 21 inches length and made of marbau wood which hard and durable.

  2. Gedombak

    Gedombak is a drum cone-shaped with a large round head covered with a membrane of goat skin, whereas on the other side is left open to control the sound using the palm. In Arabic, this kind of drum is called Darabuka, Deblak (Turkey), Thon (Siam), and Dombak (Persian).
    In some countries of Malay, Gedombak is only used in Menora music performance and puppet shadow performance (Kelantan, Petani). However, it is only used in Makyong music in Riau and Serdang (East Sumatra).

  3. Geduk

    Geduk is a drum which the both sides covered with a membrane of animal skin and tied of rattan rope. It also added a double row of wood to strengthen the knot. Despite having two membranes, but only one side is sounded using a stick, while the other side is placed on the ground as the base.
    There are two types, namely Big Geduk measuring 15 inches and Little Geduk measuring 12 inches by 9 inches in diameter. Basically, Geduk is used to sound the war scene or at the beginning (overture) of Malay shadow puppet or called “Makyong”.


Rebab is a musical instrument of kordofon (lute type) serves as a solo melody instrument.  This tool is included in the category of stringed instrument, like a violin. Unlike the violin is lean on the shoulder, Rebab is laid at the bottom like cello, while the player in a sitting position.

In Malay culture, Rebab is considered to have high level among the other musical instruments, as the level of violin in western culture. This is shown in the Malay traditional theater which called Makyong where at the beginning or the opening round of the opening ceremony there is a dance called "Facing the Rebab" in which the players danced and sat facing the player of Rebab. Sometimes Rebab is carved and decorated either at the head of Rebab (called "kecopong") as well as on the trunk (called "shaft"). That is why Rebab has the high level among other musical instruments used in the performance.

As can be seen, the form of Rebab is similar with Violin which both of them has a slim waist and usually made of wood (Vitex) with a length of 3 feet 6 inches carved on the head to the end of the rod. The head of Rebab or "kecopang" is shaped like a hat belongs to Khmer people in Cambodia. There are three "ears" as a place for the rope (string) which is also carved. There are two pieces of "ears" on the left and one piece on the right. On the other side, the bow used to sound the Rebab is made of carved wood extends vertically through its body which called "shell" and reappears underneath as the feet. The width at the top is approximately 8 inches; while at the bottom is 4.5 inches with a thickness of 2 inches. The material used to make this “shell” is usually from buffalo skin. This is also called "milk" because the sticky thing on the skin used to suppress noise (resonance). At the bow there is a wooden device called "cemara". This device is made of buffalo’s tail or coconut fiber.

The way to play this stringed instrument is by putting the thumb on the right side of the head of friction, the second finger and the third are below the friction, while the fourth and the fifth are to harden the rope. The rope is played at the top of the "shell", while the rear part of Rebab is facing its player.

3.Gong or Tetawak

Gong in Sanskrit called ghana vadya is a musical instrument belongs to the group of idiophone. This instrument has been known since the 9th century proven by the discovery of pictorial reliefs of gong in some temple (Penataran Temple).

Formerly, gong was used as an instrument of war, a notification of something dangerous, and tool of traditional ceremonies. But around the 12th century, gong has been included as one tool in the musical equipments, such as musical instruments in gamelan.

Gong is made of bronze. In ancient times, gong was made using technique of a cire Perdue that widely known since the prehistoric period in the manufacture of bronze tools.

In the Malay community (Serdang) in East Sumatra, there is a type of gong which its side is rather thick compared with the gong known in the Java community. This kind of gong is known by the name “tetawak” and often found at the performances such as ronggeng dance, other traditional theaters like Makyong, Mendu, Menora, and Malay shadow puppet. While accompanying those performances of Malay art, it is commonly used two gongs which called the prime gong on tone of C and the other gong having tone of G.

The gong which is not the prime is commonly called “telempong” or “Kromong”. This gong has a diameter of 6.5 inches and positioned to face up and sounded using a stick from wood. The function of this gong is to repeat the basic melody. On the other hand, the prime gong which called “mong” is usually used along with 2 pieces of tetawak and mong.

Besides tetawak, there is also gong which smaller but has loud voice. The name of this gong is “canang” used for the delivery of news.

There are several myths related to this one of the musical instruments. The popular myth is a prohibition to sidestep the gong as it was believed to have magical power inside. In addition, the part inside the gong is usually added to lime before being played. 

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