Gongs or Cong-Chieng

Gongs are musical instruments made of alloy bronze, sometimes with gold, silver, or black bronze added to their composition. In the Kinh language, the word cong identifies convex gongs and the word chiengrefers to the flat ones. Gongs vary in size from 20 to 120cm in diameter.


Gongs may be played one at a time or in groups of 2 to 20 units. The Muong, as well as other ethnic groups in the Truong Son-Tay Nguyen regions, use gongs not only to beat the rhythm but also to play polyphonic music. Ensembles of gongs usually include several sets that vary in number and function during the performance.

Gongs can be struck with wooden sticks, mallets, or even bare hands. There are techniques that can be used to shut off sounds and to produce melodies.

In some ethnic groups, gongs are only intended for men to play. However, the sac bua gongs of the Muong are played by women. In other ethnic groups, both men and women may play. In general, taboos regarding cong-chieng customs differ from ethnicity to ethnicity.

Gongs hold great significance and value for many ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen. The gongs play an important role in the lives of the inhabitants of Tay Nguyen; from birth until death, the gongs are present at all the important events, joyful as well as unfortunate, in their lives. Almost every family has at least one set of gongs.

In general, gongs are considered to be sacred instruments. They are mainly used in offerings, rituals, funerals, wedding ceremonies, New Year’s festivities, agricultural rites, victory celebrations, etc.

In the Truong Son -Tay Nguyen region, playing the gongs electrifies the people participating in dances and other forms of entertainment. Gongs have been an integral part of the spiritual life of many ethnic groups in Vietnam.





Lithophone or Dan Da

The lithophone is a set of stone slabs of different sizes and shapes fabricated through an elementary technique. These stones are available in the mountainous areas south of Central Vietnam and east of South Vietnam






Examination of the stone slabs found at Binh Da archaeological site in Dong Nai Province has revealed that this instrument may have existed for over 3,000 years.

At the end of the 1980s, 200 lithophone stone slabs had been discovered in Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa, Dong Nai, Ninh Thuan, Binh Phuoc, Lam Dong, and Phu Yen Provinces. Each set is comprised of between three and 15 bars. The first set, discovered at Ndut Lieng Krak in Dak Lak Province in 1949, is now kept in a French museum. Most of the other sets are exhibited throughout Vietnam.

For some ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen, the stone slabs are sacred and preserved as family treasures played during grand ceremonies for the gods. For others, the stone slabs are used for setting up crop-protection devices.






36 string zither

The 36-string zither is a percussion instrument. It has the shape of an isosceles trapezoid, with a slightly convex sound board made of light, porous, unvarnished wood. 





The bridges and sides are made of hardwood. The bottom is flat. There are two staggered lines of 18 bridges on the sound board. The bridges on the left have hooks to which the strings are attached; those on the right have pegs for tuning. The strings are of metal.

Those on the left, numbering 18, are tuned as follows: C, D, E, F-sharp, G-sharp, A-sharp, C1, D1, El, F-sharp 1, G-sharp 1, A-sharp I, C2, D2, E2, F-sharp 2, G-sharp 2, A sharp 2.

The 18 strings on the right are tuned as follows: C-sharp, D-sharp, F, G, A, B, C-sharp 1, D-sharp 1, FI, GI, Al, B1, C-sharp 3, D-sharp 2, F2, G2, A2, B1.

The range of the instrument covers three octaves from C to B2. The strings are struck with two thin flexible bamboo sticks tipped with felt.

The playing technique includes a quick run, vibrato, stopping, and pressing. The tones are bright and merry and the notes of an arpeggio can be played in swift succession or simultaneously.

The instrument plays an important role in the band accompanying cheoand cai luong operas. The 36-string zither can be played to accompany instrument solos, singing, or as part of an orchestra. Recently, more strings have been added so that all semi-tones can be played.







Tranh zither

The tranhzither is also called the thap luc cam or sixteen-stringed zither. The tranh zither appeared in Vietnam in the time of the Tran dynasty (12th-13th centuries). 





It has a rectangular sounding box, about 110cm long that tapers about 13cm toward an end, with a warped sound board made of unvarnished light wood. The sides are made of hard wood decorated with various designs, either lacquered or inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The bottom is made of light wood with sound holes. The broader end of the sound box is pierced with 16 holes and reinforced with a metal band.

Toward the middle of the sound board there are 16 bridges made of wood or bone tipped with copper that can be moved to vary the tension of the strings, thus creating various notes. At the narrower end of the box are sixteen pegs for tuning. The strings are metal and tuned to the pentatonic scale.

The range of the tranh zither is about three octaves, from the notes C to C3. The player uses a plectrum and can play chords, trills, tremolos... His left hand, which manipulates the strings, can use such techniques such as pressing, vibrato, glissando, etc.

The music of the tranhzither is usually light and full of cheerfulness. The instrument bears some likeness to the Japanese Koto, the Korean Ka Yagum, the Mongolian Jatac, the Chinese Zeng, and the Indonesian Kachap, which have 13, 12, 12, 13-16, 7-24 strings, respectively. It is nonetheless an original Vietnamese instrument with specific musical characteristics. It is used to accompany poetry recitals and is quite often part of an orchestra or a band playing chamber music, religious music, or accompanying cheoor cai luong drama.







Moon-Shaped Lute or Dan Nguyet

According to ancient carvings, the moon-shaped lute appeared in Vietnam in the 11th century. Intended to be played by men, the lute has maintained a very important position in the musical traditions of the Kinh. Therefore, this instrument is widely used in their folk, court, and academic music. 





The dan nguyet is distinguished by its pure and loud sound, as well as by its great capacity to express different emotions. Thus, it is heard at solemn and animated ritual concerts, funerals, or refined chamber music recitals. It can be played in solo, as part of an orchestra, or to accompany other instruments.

Due to its long neck and high frets, the dan nguyet is also used as an ornament.






Dan Nhi

Dan nhi is a simple instrument that can achieve miracles. A folksong of the north, a lullaby of the centre, or a cai luongaria of the south will lose much of its charm if not accompanied by the dan nhi, a traditional instrument capable of a great variety of expression 





The dan nhi is a highly expressive instrument which plays an important solo and orchestral-role.

The dan nhi is a bow instrument with two strings, commonly used among the Viet ethnic group and several national minorities: Muong, Tay, Thai, Gie Trieng, Khmer. The dan nhi comprises a tubular body made of hard wood with snake or python skin stretched over one end and a bridge. The neck of the dan nhihas no frets. Made of hard wood, one end of the neck goes through the body; the other end slants slightly backward. There are two pegs for tuning. The two strings, which used to be made of silk, are now of metal and are tuned in fifths: C-1 D-2; F-1 C-2; or C-1 G-1.

The bow is made of bamboo or wood and fitted with horsehair. The hair goes through the space between the strings. The tones of the dan nhirange over two octaves, from C-1 to C-3. In drawing the bow, the player uses various techniques, including legato, vibrato, staccato; combined with his fingering of the strings he can produce trills, glissando, rapid runs, etc.








This term, popular among the Ba Na and the E De, is used to name the single-stringed fiddle played by some ethnic groups in the Truong Son-Tay Nguyen region (Ba Na, Gia Rai, E De, Xo Dang, Pako, and Hre, etc.). 





The main part of the instrument consists of a 50 to 70cm long bamboo tube or round wooden section. Frets are fixed on the main part and the string is hung along its length. The bow is made of a small thin bamboo bar; the player rubs the outside of the bow on the string to produce sounds.

Though its structure is quite simple, the distinctiveness of this instrument resides in the way it is played. The player holds a thread that is linked to the string in his mouth to amplify and transform the sounds. While bowing the string and touching the frets to produce pitches, the player changes the aperture of his mouth according to the tune. Thus, the sounds are altered, almost evoking human pronunciation. Those who are familiar with the soundsof the k’ni and who understand the vernacular may catch the message of the tune; this is why people say that the k’ni sings. The E De has added cho nac narration (type of song) to k’ni to replace human voice.

Due to this characteristic, the k’nihas become an instrument used mainly by young men to express their feelings to their girlfriends. Sometimes, the k’ni is also played to accompany lament songs at funerals.






Dan Day

In the past, the dan day was an accompanying instrument used only for one genre of songs, which later divided in two variants known today as hat cua dinh and hat a dao.





The dan day, exclusively played by men, most probably came into being in the 15th century when musical genres were forming.

This bass instrument has high frets and a very long neck. Thanks to the unusual technique called ngon chun (slacking the string with the fingers), players may lower the tones. The low register and the dull, warm but short sounds of the dan day always distinguish it from other instruments in a concert.

Apart from accompanying hat cua dinh and hat a dao songs, the dan day is now used to accompany poems as well. Due to its refined and modest sounds, the dan day is sometimes compared to a secluded philosopher.






Dan Bau

Dan bau is a musical instrument that touches the heart. The music of dan bau (one-stringed zither) should be solely for the pleasure of its player. Don't listen to it if you are a young woman.





According to the "Dai Nam thuc luc tien bien" the first dan bau was made in 1770. At its first appearance it was a very simple instrument comprised of a bamboo section, a flexible rod, a calabash or half a coconut. After a process of evolution and improvement, the present form of the dan bau is a bit more sophisticated, yet still quite simple. It consists of an oblong box-shaped sound board, slightly narrower toward one end, with a slightly warped top made of unvarnished soft light wood, sides made of hard wood, and a bottom of light wood pierced with holes for better sound. At one end of the sound board is a flexible bamboo rod that goes through a dried calabash whose bottom end has been cut out before being fixed on the sounding board. At the other end of the sounding board is a peg made of wood or metal used for tuning. The metal string is attached to the rod and to the peg. The pluck is a pointed stick of bamboo or rattan.

The dan bau is usually tuned to the note C. It uses harmonies (or overtones). When playing the musician plucks the string while touching it lightly with the side of his hand at a point producing a harmony. But because the flexible rod causes the tension of the string to vary, the pitch may be made to rise or fall, the note may be lengthened or shortened, and trills may be played. The technique involving the fingers of the left hand includes vibrating, pressing, alternate pressing and releasing. The dan bau may be played on a scale consisting of third-tones or even quarter-tones.

The notes played by the dan bau are smooth, sweet, and captivating. In recent years success has been achieved in amplifying the sound, causing an increase in volume and distance that the sound carries, while still preserving the quality of the sound.

The instrument is played solo or to accompany a poetry recital. During recent years, it has taken a role in orchestral accompaniment to cheoand cai luong opera. The dan bau has been performed on major stages in foreign countries.






Khen Mong

The khenis a musical instrument used by the Mong ethnic minority, who call it the kenh, while the Viet gave it the name Mong Khen (previously Meo Khen). TheE De ethnic minority in the Central Highlands use a similar instrument called Ding Nam.





The kenh is a wind instrument with an ancient history (about 2,500-3,000 years). The present-day kenhisa polyphonic instrument in the shape of a set of bamboo pipes of varying sizes that are arranged in two rows.

Each pipe is fitted with a reed made of a thin strip of copper. The section of the pipes with the reed lies inside the wooden air-chamber. The part of the pipe lying outside it shows a finger-hole. The pipe into which the player blows lies at right angles with the pipes with finger holes. The sound of the khenisnot very clear but quite strong, nonetheless; the deepest notes are rather dull.

The Mong play the khenon various occasions, including funerals where it is accompanied by drums. When the khen is played by one person the soloist accompanies the music with dancing in which much vigorous knee-bending, body-turning, kicking, etc., is performed.





K'long Put

This musical instrument was intended for women. The name klong put of Xo Dang origin has become the common name of this woodwind musical instruments depicted to the right. It is played by ethnic groups in Tay Nguyen, such as the Xo Dang, Ba Na, Gia Rai, Hre, etc. 





 The k'long put is made of a set of 2 to 12 bamboo tubes. Each tube has a length ranging from 60 to 200cm and a diameter ranging from 5 to 8cm. The tubes are either opened at one end or at both ends. When played, the tubes are laid horizontally and the player must either stand with her back bent or kneel while clapping her hands to push air into the tubes to produce sounds. Generally, each tube produces only one tone. However, some ethnic groups use the hand to block one end of the tube to produce some different pitches. With this technique, a two tube klong put can produce four or five pitches.

According to a legend, this instrument is the residence of Mother Rice (goddess). Therefore, it is closely associated with agricultural production, being played exclusively by women on the field and at specific festivities, such as eating new rice, closing the rice storage house, welcoming the New Year, etc. The number of k'long put melodies is somewhat limited. This instrument has been brought to stage by professional artists who perform various pieces.





Trong Com

The trong com (rice drum) gets its name from the practice of placing a pinch of hot steamed rice in the middle of the drum skin to "tune" the instrument.





The body of the drum is made of wood in a tubular shape with the ends slightly tapered. A string is passed through the holes pierced on the edge of each of its faces and strung across it in a zigzag fashion to regulate its tension.

The sound obtained from one face is five tones higher than the other. The sound of the trong com is a little dull, somewhat similar to the large-sized dan ho, and it is used to express sadness.

The trong com is one of the percussion instruments used to accompany tuong or cheo drama. Its use has also spread to cai luong (reformed opera) and other orchestras. The player, when standing, has the trong com slung over his stomach. When sitting he rests his instrument on his lap. He strikes the faces of the drum with his fingers with varied style.






Mong flute or Sao

Sao is usually used to designate a vertical bamboo flute pierced with finger holes. However, this term is often used by ethnic minorities to describe several woodwind instruments that are quite different in structure (single or double flutes, with or without a reed, with or without finger-holes, etc.) and in how to hold them. 






The H’mong sao is a single flute with a reed and a colorful timbre. The H’mong call it tra pun tu. The sounds produced are harsh and sweet like whispers. Since it has been played on stage, the H’mong flute has captured the hearts of many audiences. It is being constantly improved to expand its sound capabilities.

The H’mong flute accompanies young H’mong men at work and in love. For them, the flute is an effective way to reach a girl’s heart.






Dan Tam

This three-stringed lute is used by several ethnic groups in Vietnam. The Viet call it dan tam, whereas the Ha Nhi calls it ta in. This instrument exists in three sizes: large, medium, and small. The small is the most popular. 





The sound box is oval-shaped, and the soundboard is pierced with sound holes. A bridge is fixed on the soundboard. The neck made of hard wood is fairly long and bears no frets, only three wooden pegs for tuning. The three strings are traditionally made of twisted silk, but are now more commonly made of plastic. They are tuned to the notes G, D1, and G1.

The range is fairly wide, nearly three octaves, from G to F3. The player uses a plastic plectrum, which he uses for plucking downward or upward in quick intervals. The tones of the dan tam are bright and cheerful and they carry far.

The techniques for the left hand include tremolos, trills, picking, stopping and especially sliding, which are played in combination with the quick plucking of the right hand. Full tones, three-quarter tones and quarter-tones can be played.

The dan tam is often part of an eight instrument band or an orchestra accompanying cheo drama. At present, a fourth string may be added. The strings are then tuned to the notes C, G, D1, and Al.

The Japanese samisen, the Chinese sangen, the Chinese sanxian, the Mongolian dandze, and the Persian setar fall into the same category as the dan tam.






Dan Ty Ba

Its sound box is shaped like a pear cut in half lengthwise and made of unvarnished light wood, and its back is made of hard wood with a slightly convex surface. The neck is short and tightly fixed to the sound box. Originally the neck bore no frets; now, however, it has four frets in addition to eight others on the soundboard and two under the strings with the highest pitch. 





The frets stand low and close to each other following the heptatonic scale. The instrument has four pegs for tuning. The strings, formerly of twisted silk, are now made of plastic. They are tuned to the notes C, F, G, and Cl, or to the notes A, D, E, Al. The range of the Ty Ba is three octaves, from C to C3.

The player uses a plectrum which she holds in her right hand and plucks either upward or downward in a quick run. The technique used by her left hand, which presses the strings, includes glissando, staccato, arpeggio and tremolo. The Ty Ba music is light and cheerful. The instrument is played solo or as part of an orchestra or a band accompanying the singing of melodies or cai luong operas.

The Ty Ba recitals are well liked by music lovers at home and abroad. Though related to the Japanese biwa and the Chinese pipa, the Ty Ba has a personality of its own.






Tinh Tau musical lute

The tinh tau is an original musical instrument very popular among the Tay, Thai and Nung minorities of the northern highlands.





It is also called the then lute because it is played in rituals performed on the occasion of then ceremonies. Its name describes how it is made: tinhmeans musical instrument, taumeans gourd. Tinh tau means "lute made with a gourd".

A tinh tau comprises a sound box made of the dried half of a gourd shell pierced with sound holes. The sound board is made of light unvarnished wood and is about 25cm across. The neck is a tapered rod about 80cm in length, with no frets. The bigger end of the rod goes through the shell of the gourd; the other end is curved backward. It has small bells attached to it and two or three pegs for turning. The strings, two or five in number depending on the ethnic minority using the instrument, are made of silk.

The player rests the neck of the tinh tau on her thumb and middle finger, and plucks it with her index, either downward or upward, at times in a quick run. The lute can sound a semi-tone, four quarter-tone and a three quarter tone because it has no frets. The playing technique includes vibrato, trills and harmonics.

The tinh tau has a sweet and warm tone. It plays a major role in then ceremonies and traditional dances. Bass and soprano instruments are often played together with good effects. Recitals of tinh tau are well liked at home and abroad.