The many living cultures found in the islands of the Republic of the Philippines are diverse and are separated by over 135 languages and dialects, but all these cultures have one cultural trait in common: they have extremely strong musical traditions.
The instruments which comprise the traditional Philippine kulintang music ensemble vary from culture to culture, from region to region, and from village to village.
At present, the traditional Maguindanaon ensemble instruments are as follows:
–Kulintang. This main melody instrument has three parts: a set of eight brass or bronze knobbed gongs, a carved wooden resonator stand (called “antangan”) and a pair of carved wood playing sticks (called “betay”) made of “tamnag” wood or “alm” wood.
–Gandingan. This set of four large, narrow hanging knobbed gongs is a secondary melody instrument of the kulintang ensemble. It is played with a pair of special rubber-tipped beaters called “basal.”
–Agung. This set of two large knobbed kettle gongs is played in pairs by either one or two musicians, and are known for their interlocking rhythms. The agung provides the “bass” notes in the ensemble music.
–Babendil. This small hand-held time-keeper gong is played on the rim, not on the knob. A steady and reliable rhythm on the babendil unites the polyrhythms of the kulintang ensemble.
–Dabakan. This solid wood goblet-shaped drum has a traditional monitor lizard-skin head in the Philippines, though goat-skin is normally used as well and is more accessible. The dabakan is played with long flexible rattan sticks, though due to global warming rattan does not grow as it once did in Mindanao, so inflexible sticks made from giant bamboo more often used these days.
Related instruments include kulintang practice instruments, and instruments which pre-dated the coming of bronze instruments to Mindanao:
-Kulintang a kayo. Resembling a wood xylophone, the kulintang a kayo is played at the very ends of the shaped wood keys or slabs (never in the center). It has a mellow acoustic sound as compared to bronze or brass gongs of the metal kulintang. Like the metal kulintang instrument, it has eight notes on a pentatonic scale.
-Gandingan a kayo. Like the metal gandingan instrument, it has four notes on a pentatonic scale.
-Saronay. Resembling a xylophone, the eight graduated hand-hammered metal plates are tuned on a pentatonic scale. As with the kulintang gongs, there is no standardized tuning.
-Kutiyapi. A two-stringed boat lute, found in many variations throughout all of Southeast Asia. Many complex Maguindanaon kulintang pieces are derived from traditional kutiyapi pieces.