Wednesday, September 19, 2007



A gong is one of a wide variety of
metal percussion instruments. The term is Malay-Javanese in origin but
widespread throughout Asia. The instrument itself appears to have origins in the
bronze drums of China, cymbals of central Asia, and perhaps even in European
bell-casting techniques.

Gongs are broadly of three types. Suspended gongs are more or less flat,
circular disks of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through
holes near to the top rim. Bossed gongs have a raised center boss and are often
suspended and played horizontally. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on
cushions. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other
alloys in use.

A gong collection in a Gamelan ensemble of instruments - Indonesian Embassy Canberra
An agung, a type of Philippine hanging gong used as part of the Kulintang ensemble

Types of gong

Suspended gongs are played with beaters and are of two main types: flat
faced discs either with or without a turned edge, and gongs with a raised center
boss. In general, the larger the gong, the larger and softer the beater. In
Western symphonic music the flat faced gongs are generally referred to as
tam-tams to distinguish them from their bossed counterparts, although the term
"gong" is correct to use for either type.

Large flat gongs may be 'primed' by lightly hitting them before the main stroke,
greatly enhancing the sound and causing the instrument "speak" sooner, with a
shorter delay for the sound to "bloom". Keeping this priming stroke inaudible
calls for a great deal of skill. The smallest suspended gongs are played with
bamboo sticks, or even western-style drumsticks. Contemporary & avant-garde
music, where different sounds are sought, will often use friction mallets
(producing squeals & harmonics), bass bows (producing long tones and high
overtones), and various striking implements (wood/plastic/metal) to produce the
desired tones.

Pot gongs of the KulintangWestern bossed gongs are available in tuned chromatic
sets ranging from one, to four and a half octaves. These are used by various
percussion ensembles, orchestras, and solo percussionists (Pierre Favre from
Switzerland, Andrea Centazzo from Italy).

Pot gongs are small (6"-13") heavy gongs with a raised center boss (also known
as a cup, knob, or nipple) that are suspended on cords within a wooden stand or
framework. There can be from 8-10 gongs in either one or two rows. They are
commonly played with padded mallets (although wooden sticks may be used) on the
boss, producing a fundamental pitch with little overtones. Bossed gong sets are
tuned to various scales (pentatonic, 7 note, etc.) and are used as the melodic
element in Gamelan music (Indonesia/Java), Kulintang (Philippines), or Piphat

Bowl gongs (also called cup gongs) are similar to Tibetan singing bowls and may
be played in many different ways, not all of them strictly percussion. The rim
may be rubbed with the finger, for example, or the gong may be struck with a
beater. Bowl gongs are used in temple worship, especially in Vajrayana Buddhism.

Pot gongs of the Kulintang

Traditional suspended gongs

Chau gongs'The

The Familiar "Chinese" Gong (A 10" Chau Gong).By far the most familiar to most
Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams
(not to be confused with tom-tom drums), have become part of the symphony
orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact
it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.

The chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat
except for the rim, which is turned up to make a shallow cylinder. On a 10"
gong, for example, the rim extends about a half an inch perpendicular to the
gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the
direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong
are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the
manufacture of the gong, the rest of the gong is polished to remove this
coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7" to 80" in diameter.

The earliest Chau gong is from a tomb discovered at the Guixian site in the
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. It dates from the early Western Han

Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and
processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on
the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two
officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which
of them should bow down before the other.

Uses of gongs in the symphony orchestra

Richard Wagner was one of the first composers to use the tam-tam in his works.
Within a few decades the tam-tam became an important member of the percussion
section of a modern symphony orchestra. Fine examples of its use are
demonstrated in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich and, to a
lesser extent, Sergei Rachmaninov. Karlheinz Stockhausen used a 60" Paiste
tam-tam in his Momente.

Nipple gongsA very large nipple gong at a Buddhist temple in Roi Et, Isan, Thailand

A very large nipple gong at a Buddhist temple in Roi Et, Isan, ThailandNipple
gongs have a raised boss or nipple in the centre, often made of a different
metal to the rest of the gong. They have a clear resonant tone with less shimmer
than other gongs, and two distinct sounds depending on whether they are struck
on the boss or next to it.

Nipple gongs range in size from 6" to 14" or larger. Sets of smaller, tuned
nipple gongs can be used to play a tune.

A Bau gong is a type of nipple gong used in Chinese temples for worship.

Opera gongs

An essential part of the orchestra for Chinese opera is a pair of gongs, the
larger with a descending tone, the smaller with a rising tone. The larger gong
is used to announce the entrance of major players, of men, and to identify
points of drama and consequence. The smaller gong is used to announce the entry
of lesser players, of women, and to identify points of humour.

Opera gongs range in size from 7" to 12", with the larger of a pair one or two
inches larger than the smaller.

Pasi gongs

A Pasi gong is a medium-size gong 12" to 15" in size, with a crashing sound. It
is used traditionally to announce the start of a performance, play or magic.
Construction varies, some having nipples and some not, so this type is more
named for its function than for its structure or even its sound.

Pasi gongs without nipples have found favour with adventurous middle-of-the-road
kit drummers.

Tiger gong

A tiger gong is a slightly descending or less commonly ascending gong, larger
than an opera gong and with a less pronounced pitch shift. Most commonly 15" but
available down to 8".

Shueng Kwong

A Sheng Kwong gong is a medium to large gong with a sharp staccato sound.

Wind gong

Wind gongs (also known as Feng or Lion Gongs) are flat bronze discs, with little
fundamental pitch, heavy tuned overtones, and long sustain. They are most
commonly made of B20 bronze, but can also be made of M63 brass or NS12
nickel-silver. Traditionally, a wind gong is played with a large soft mallet,
which gives them a roaring crash to match their namesake. They are lathed on
both sides and are medium to large in size, typically 15" to 22" but sizes from
7" to 40" are available. The 22" size is most popular due to its portability and
large sound. They are commonly used by drum kit drummers in rock music.

Played with a nylon tip drumstick they sound a bit like the coil chimes in a
mantle clock. Some have holes in the centre, but they are mounted like all
suspended gongs by other holes near the rim. The smaller sizes (7"-12") have a
more bell-like tone due to their thickness and small diameter.

Modern orchestral gongs

As well as the tam-tam, there are a number of new gong types that were created
during the 20th century specifically for orchestral use.

Planet gongs

A series of 14 tuned gongs by Paiste, ranging in size from 24" to 38". They are
tuned to the vibrational frequencies of the planets, sun, and moon, as
determined by Swiss mathematician, Hans Cousto. Planet Gongs are used
extensively in therapy, as the different notes/frequencies affect different
areas of the body/mind (example: the 38" Earth Gong vibrates at a frequency of
136.10 Hz/C# and affects the Heart Chakra.)

Sound Creation gongs

A series of 10 theme gongs by Paiste, ranging in size from 11" to 60". These
Gongs are designed to evoke various sounds/feelings/moods. Some are designed to
be polar opposites, representing balance (Sun/Moon, Fire/Water, Peace/Fight),
while 3 correspond to Chakras (head/chest/abdomen), and the Earth Gong
(available in 4 sizes: 26/32/38/60") grounds the whole set.

Other uses

In older Javanese usage and in modern Balinese usage, gong is used to identify
an ensemble of instruments. In contemporary central Javanese usage, the term
gamelan is preferred and the term gong is reserved for the gong ageng, the
largest instrument of the type, or for surrogate instruments such as the gong
komodong or gong bumbu (blown gong) which fill the same musical function in
ensembles lacking the large gong. In Balinese usage, gong refers to Gamelan Gong

Another type of drum is the "slit gong" or slit drum. The people of Vanuatu in
particular, cut a large log with 'totem' type carvings on the outer surface and
hollow out the centre leaving only a slit down the front. This hollowed out log
gives the deep resonance of drums when hit on the outside with sticks.

Gongs - general

A gong (鑼 pinyin luo2; Malay language or Javanese language: gong-gong or
tam-tam) is a percussion sonorous or musical instrument of Chinese origin and
manufacture, made in the form of a broad thin disk with a deep rim, that has
spread to Southeast Asia - a type of flat bell.

Gongs vary in diameter from about 20 to 40 in., and they are made of bronze
containing a maximum of 22 parts of tin to 78 of copper; but in many cases the
proportion of tin is considerably less. Such an alloy, when cast and allowed to
cool slowly, is excessively brittle, but it can be tempered and annealed in a
peculiar manner. If suddenly cooled from a cherry-red heat, the alloy becomes so
soft that it can be hammered and worked on the lathe, and afterwards it may be
hardened by re-heating and cooling it slowly. In these properties it will be
observed, the alloy behaves in a manner exactly opposite to steel, and the
Chinese avail themselves of the known peculiarities for preparing the thin
sheets of which gongs are made. They cool their castings of bronze in water, and
after hammering out the alloy in the soft state, harden the finished gongs by
heating them to a cherry-red and allowing them to cool slowly. These properties
of the alloy long remained a secret, said to have been first discovered in
Europe by Jean Pierre Joseph d'Arcet at the beginning of the 19th century. Riche
and Champion are said to have succeeded in producing tam-tams having all the
qualities and timbre of the Chinese instruments. The composition of the alloy of
bronze used for making gongs is stated to be as follows: Copper, 76.52; Tin,
22.43; Lead, 0.26; Zinc, 0.23; Iron, 0.81. The gong is beaten with a round,
hard, leather-covered pad, fitted on a short stick or handle. It emits a
peculiarly sonorous sound, its complex vibrations bursting into a wave-like
succession of tones, sometimes shrill, sometimes deep. In China and Japan it is
used in religious ceremonies, state processions, marriages and other festivals;
and it is said that the Chinese can modify its tone variously by particular ways
of striking the disk. Gongs may have been used on towers in place of place.

The gong has been effectively used in the orchestra to intensify the impression
of fear and horror in melodramatic scenes. The tam-tam was first introduced into
a western orchestra by François Joseph Gossec in the funeral march composed at
the death of Mirabeau in 1791. Gaspare Spontini used it in La Vestale (1807), in
the finale of Act II, an impressive scene in which the high pontiff pronounces
the anathema on the faithless vestal. It was also used in the funeral music
played when the remains of Napoleon were brought back to France in 1840.
Meyerbeer made use of the instrument in the scene of the resurrection of the
three nuns in Robert le diable. Four tam-tams are now used at Bayreuth in
Parsifal to reinforce the bell instruments, although there is no indication
given in the score. The tam-tam has been treated from its ethnographical side by
Franz Heger. In more modern music, the tam-tam has been used by composers such
as Karlheinz Stockhausen in Mikrophonie I and by George Crumb. Crumb expanded
the timbral range of the tam-tam by giving performance directions (in
Makrokosmos III: Music For A Summer Evening) such as using a "well-rosined
contrabass bow" to bow the tam-tam, producing an eerie harmonic sound, while
Stockhausen exploited amplification (via hand-held microphones) of a wide range
of scraping, tapping, rubbing, and beating techniques using unconventional
implements (plastic dishes, egg timer, cardbord tubes, etc.).

Signal gongs

Railcar mounted

The signal bell mounted on a tram, streetcar, cable car or light rail train is
known as a gong. It is a bowl-shaped bell typically mounted on the front of the
leading car. It is sounded to act as a warning in areas where whistles and horns
are prohibited. The "Clang" of the trolley refers to the sound made by the
warning gong. In the Tram controls, the gong is operated by a foot lever. A
smaller gong with a bell pull is mounted by the rear door of these railcars. It
operated by the conductor to notify the motorman that it is safe to proceed.

Rail crossing

A railroad crossing with a flashing traffic signal or wigwag will also typically
have a warning bell, also known as a gong. The gong is struck by an
electric-powered hammer to give motorists and pedestrians an audible warning of
an oncoming train. Many railroad crossing gongs are now being replaced by
electronic sounding devices that have no moving parts to fail.

Boxing (sport)

A bowl-shaped center mounted gong is standard equipment in a boxing ring and is
known as a gong. It is struck with a hammer to signal the start and end of each
round. An example is made by the Everlast boxing equipment company. The
expression "saved by the bell" refers to the gong sounding the end of a boxing


Electromechanical, electromagnetic or electronic devices producing sound of gong
have been installed in Czech theaters to gather audience from lounge to
auditorium before show begins or proceeds after interlude.

Time Signal

German radio uses the gong sound to mark the exact time.

Gongs in popular culture

Gongs have been used in upper class households as waking devices, or to summon
domestic help.

A man hitting a gong twice starts all Rank films. This iconic figure is known as
the "gongman."

The Moody Blues' landmark album Days of Future Passed opens with a crescendo
roll on tam-tam, and closes with a single stroke which fades to silence.

Queen's classic song Bohemian Rhapsody ends with the sound of a massive tam-tam.
Roger Taylor is known for having one of the biggest tam-tams in rock.

A gong is played in the song What Is and What Should Never Be by Led Zeppellin.

A gong is also played at the end of the song Dream On by Aerosmith.

In The Addams Family television show, the sound of the gong (activated by a bell
pull) would summon Lurch the family butler. Upon appearing, Lurch would utter
his basso profundo catchphrase, "You Rang?"

A gong was the titular feature on The Gong Show, a television variety show/game
show spoof that was broadcast in the United States from 1976 until 1980. The
gong was used to signal the failure of an act by the show's panel.

John Bonham used a gong in the piece Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin.

Roger Waters used a gong on stage with Pink Floyd in concerts from 1967-1973 on
A Saucerful of Secrets and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. The latter
was when the gong would burst into flames during live performances.

An eerie gong sounds in WWE superstar The Undertaker's entrance music as well as
in the older versions.

In the British military "gong" is slang for a medal.

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