5 Traditional Musical Instruments of the Philippines You Should Learn
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Lets face it. We as Pilipinos love music. It is one of those traits that run through our blood and culture that stems back to precolonial times as we danced and sang while working in the fields, completed rituals of planting and harvest, before a raid, and in celebrations. Even the Spaniards noted our affinity with the sounds of music. Today, majority of the world acknowledges the musical talents and passion of Pilipinos in the diaspora. I for one love grabbing a karaoke mic and singing my heart out in any of the Pilipino parties I attend and having a good laugh surrounded by family, friends, food, and drinks. Cheers!

Many of us have at least at one point in time learned to play one musical instrument with probably the top three being a piano, guitar, and possibly a violin. Come on, don’t tell me that you don’t have that lone piano or organ somewhere in your house from when you or a family member took lessons for some time. Or what about that guitar that you, your brother, sister, cousin, friend, constantly plays? What about those of you who play the ukulele? I know a few of you who do!

We know all these instruments, from a piano to a guitar, from a violin to a flute, but what about the kulintang? The kudyapi? Kubing? Lantoy? Agong? Budyung? Gangsa? Do you know about any of our traditional musical instruments? Well in todays article I will talk about 5 of our traditional musical instruments for all of you musical lovers and those interested in learning to play something new.



The Kubing. Photo by

The Kubing. Photo by donjasonmarco@flickr

1.) The Kubing – The bamboo jaw harp

One of the few well known musical instruments from the Philippines other than the kulintang and gangsa, the kubing is a type of jaw harp made from a carved bamboo reed that is played on the lips. This instrument is actually found throughout the Philippines and known by many names: kubing for the Meranao and other groups in Southern Mindanao, barmbaw for the Tagalogs, kuláing among the Kapampangans, kinaban with the Hanunoo Mangyans, aroding in Palawan, and koding among the Ibaloi and Kalinga. According to William Henry Scott in his book Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society the Bisayans also had this instrument which were known to them as subing.

“Subing was a Jew’s harp–a twanging reed plucked between the lips or teeth with the open mouth as a variable resonating chamber, and since its sound could be shaped into a kind of code words understood only by the player and his sweetheart, it was considered the courting instrument part excellence.” – William Henry Scott, Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society pages 108-109

The instrument is also known in other parts of Southeast Asia with it’s own local names and designs. It is generally used as a form of communication between family and loved ones especially in courtship. The player puts the kubing toward their mouth in between their lips and plucks the end of the instrument creating various sound and notes depending on the rhythm and tempo of the fingers plucking the kubing.

Click play to hear the sounds of the kubing.





2.) The Kulintang – Gong Ensemble

The Kulintang. Photo by Ligaya taken during the 2014 FANHS Conference in San Diego, CA.

The Kulintang. Photo by Ligaya taken during the 2014 FANHS Conference in San Diego, CA.

The Kulintang is one of the other top 3 instruments more primarily known. It is one of the pride and joys among the Meranao, Tausug, and Maguindanao where this instrument comes from and is mostly found (however variations of the gong ensemble is also found throughout many parts of Southeast Asia as its popularity is spread across SEA). The kulintang is composed of different sets of gongs usually between 5-9. It is aligned horizontally next to each other on a rack and arranged in order of the pitch with the lowest gong primarily set on the players left, thus completing the ensemble. Traditionally they were made of bronze however due to the loss of trade routes between Borneo and Mindanao during World War II, today majority of the gongs are made of brass. The frame that the gongs lay on top of is called antangan by the Maguindanao and langkonga by the Meranao. Often times it is made of bamboo or wood and decorated with rich colorful and intricate designs traditionally known as okir. Once the kulintang set has been placed the player then uses two wooden sticks to hit the gongs and play. The kulintang is often played for entertainment often during weddings, festivals, as well as healing ceremonies.

Today the kulintang is the most often played instrument especially in cultural events and dances. Some musical artists such as the brilliant Ron Quesada of Kulintronica (who I have had the pleasure of getting to meet during last years 2014 FANHS Conference in San Diego, CA and also seeing him perform during last years NYC Philippine Independence Parade) has fused together traditional music with modern such as his love for the kulintang and electronica. To see some of his work click the video below.





3.) The Kudyapi – The Two Stringed Instrument

The kudyapi or kutiyapi is a two stringed wooden lute approximately 4-6 ft long. It is commonly played by the Meranao, Maguindanao, T’boli, Manobo, and other Lumad groups. However its prevalence just like the kubing and other musical instruments which I will talk about momentarily, are and/or were found in other parts of the Philippines.

Master Samoan Soliaman playing the kudyapi.

Master Samoan Sulaiman playing the kudyapi.

Here is William Henry Scott’s description of and the names of the particular parts of the instrument among the Bisayans.

“The kudyapi was a kind of small lute carved out of a single piece of wood with a belly of a half a coconut shell added for resonance, with two or three wire strings plucked with a quill plectrum, and three or four frets, often of metal. The body was called sungar-sungar or burbuwaya; the neck,burubunkun; the strings, dulos; the fretboard, pidya; and the tuning pegs, birik-birik. The scroll was called apil-apil or sayong, the same as the hornlike protrusions at the ends of the ridgepole of a house. The kudyapi was only played by men, mainly to accompany their own love songs. The female equivalent was the korlong, a kind of zither made of a single node of bamboo with strings cut from the skin of the bamboo itself, each raised and tuned on two little bridges, and played with both hands like a harp. A variant form had a row of thinner canes with a string cut from each one.” – William Henry Scott, Barangay: 16th Century Philippine Culture and Society pages 108-109

Other names for the instrument are hegelung among the T’boli, fuglung for the B’laan, kudlong for the Mansaka and Mandaya, and kusyapi in Palawan. Differences in the instrument between the groups are little however among the Meranao and Maguindanao the frets are located at the body of the instrument where as among the others it is at the neck. The strings are usually made of horse hair, abaca fibers, and recently wire. According to the Bukidnon of Mindanao (not to be confused with the Sulod Bukidnon of Panay in the West Bisayas) their version of the kudyapi is said to represent the crocodile, or buaya or a big lizard called ibid, if it’s from the river, or palaes if it’s from the forest.

The most well known player of the kudyapi was Master Samaon Sulaiman who passed away in May of 2011. Hailing from Maganoy, Maguindanao, Master Samaon Sulaiman was awarded the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasure Award) in 1993. To hear him play the kudyapi at its finest click the audio below.





4.) The Tongali – The Noseflute

Now the noseflute is known by a variety of names across the Philippines especially up in the north. Among the Kalinga it is known as tongali, the Ifugao call it ungiung, among the Bontoc it’s kaleleng, the Tagalogs it’s pitung ilong, the Kapampangans call it baslÎ, and among the Bisayans it was known as tolali or lantuy where according to Scott was “played in imitation of a mournful human voice with shakes and trills though appropriate to wakes and funerals.

Eric John Gatawa, is one of the few young Ifugao who is able play the kalaleng, a traditional bamboo nose flute. Eric learnt to play the indigenous flute when he was 11. Now, he makes his own kalaleng and one piece usually takes him three months to complete.

Eric John Gatawa, is one of the few young Ifugao who is able play the kalaleng, a traditional bamboo nose flute. Eric learnt to play the indigenous flute when he was 11. Now, he makes his own kalaleng and one piece usually takes him three months to complete.

The nose flute tends to have three to four holes for the fingers to play and one hole in the back where the air is forced through the left or right nostril. A hole about midway on the bottom of the flute is used for the thumb and 2 or three more on top depending on the variety of the flute is for the right hand fingers. The flute is usually played during meals, the planting season, festivals, and in courtship.

You know the drill and I know you want to hear the sounds of the tongali so go and click play!




5.)  Gimbal – The Drums

And finally #5. What musical instruments list would this be without featuring some drums?

Among the Bisayans their war drums were called gadang or gimbal with huge ones being brought out and carried during mangayaw raids. These drums were made out of hollow tree trunks with a deerskin head. Meanwhile in Bicol where the culture is similar to the Bisayans the head of the drum is made out of the skin of a bayawak or monitor lizard. It is known as sulibao by the Ibaloi, kimbal for the Bontoc, and among the Meranao and Maguindanao their version is a large goblet shaped drum called dabakan.

The Gambal. Photo Source: [x]

The Gimbal in Palawan Photo Source: [x]

Typically the gimbal and other similar drums are usually never played by itself but with other instruments, particularly gongs. Among the Kalinga their drum, called libbit or ludag is a drum made with deer or goat skin on the head that is used with gongs during the harvest season.

The drums can either be played by the striking of wooden sticks or by the palm of the hands.

Unfortunately no sound file for this one as it’s hard to find a good sound file or video of just the drum, sorry guys. If you do manage to find one let me know!


Now I can imagine all these instruments being played together around a pit of fire in some sort of celebration as people young and old dance around the fire laughing and singing songs. Remember this vision actually happened during such celebrations and feasts prior to the Spaniards and even still to this very day among those groups who weren’t colonized. It’s something I hope to one day participate in for sure.

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at Pinoy-Culture.com. She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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