Saturday, May 3, 2014


The Takhe is probably the most recent of the Khmer classical instruments. The origin of the Takhe comes from the "Chapei Dang Veng" instrument. These two instruments are very similar, in fact from above they look almost identical. However, from the side the Chapei is flatter and can be played with the instrument on the lap, where as the Takhe is free-standing.

The Takhe usually has three to five legs supporting it. When performing, the player sits beside the instrument. The left hand runs up and down the strings, whilts the right hand plucks them using a plectrum. The word "Takhe" means alligator or crocodile, as the instrument from above resembles the shape of one, in addition, the frets are also rather like crocodile's teeth. Older models of the Takhe have a carved alligator or crocodile's head to enhance this image. Now this is rarely so and the decoration lies in the ornamented inlay on the side of the instrument.

The basic shape of the instrument is rectangular with the front part (or head) pointed, whilst the body, "Thung" is wider. The "Thung" is made of hardwood such as "Khnor". There are twelve frets on the sound board, made from bone inlaid into a hard wood. There are three tuning pegs made of bone or hard wood, "Neang Nung", and one bridge elevating the string is also made of bone.

The three strings are "Kse Ek", "Kse Gor" and the third, "Kse Deck" or "Kse Bantor", the last being made of metal or bronze.
The tail piece is called "King Kourk" or "Kragn" and is usually made from a thin piece of bronze.

The Takhe is used for wedding music, Aye-aye and Chapei music as well as Mahori and other modern music, including solo form, depending on the skills of the musician.

Reference: Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia, p.21

Quick Search

Thursday, May 1, 2014


The Chapei Dang Veng is used in "Arak" music and in "Pleing Ka" (wedding music). It is also used as "Samdeng Toul" - a solo instrument accompanying poetry and the telling of folk stories.

Perhaps one of the most popular uses for this instrument is its accompaniment to a witty duel of words between two people in the form of a challenge. This music has been enjoyed by the Cambodian people for many generations.

Interestingly the Chapei Dang Veng is made using carefully selected wood, so that when played the instrument will make a beautiful sound to attract people and also supernatural beings. An extract to this effect can be found in the book, "Lomnom Sangkeb Nay Pleing Khmer" by Mrs Peac Sal, printed in 1969 where it it describes the making of instrument. Such belief probably dates back to the time when the people of Cambodia worshipped the spirit world as animists.

The Chapei Dang Veng has a long neck made of "Krasang" a wood which can be steamed and bent. The neck goes down into a sound box made of "Rang" wood, which is square with rounded corners. Some box have the shape of "Slek Pore" the leaf from the Boddhi tree, or a pinapple shape. Around 40mm long, the sound box is 34mm wide and the rear 30mm wide and 6mm thick. From the top of the sound box to the tuning peg is 60 cm long and from the peg to the pointed end, 50 cm long. The similarity of the shape of the sound box can be found in a "Semah" stone which marks the boundry of sacred areas.

The top of the neck has three to four tuning pegs, "Prolout" of "Neang Nung" or "Popul Thmor" wood, with around four strings made of silk. However, the strings have only two pitches, the first two strings are called "Kse Gor" and the other two are called "Kse Ek". There are twelve frets on the finger board made of bone, each with a small cut in them to prevent the string from slipping, they also help maintain the tension, thus keeping the pitch. If the bridge is unstable, the string may slip off.

The pitch of the Chapei Dang veng can change because the instrument used in weddings or "Arak" music must tune to the "Pei Au". If the "Pei AU" has a higher or a lower pitch, then the player would have to tune the Chapei Dang Veng accordingly. When the Chapei Dang Veng accompanies singing, it changes pitch according to the voice of the singer. Sometimes the Chapei Dang Veng changes pitch in the middle of the song, especially if the Chapei Dang Veng player plays and sings him/herself.

Reference: Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia, p.17


The Kse Diev or Sadiev is one of the oldest khmer musical instruments in Cambodia. Images of this instrument are to be found in the wall carvings in the Angkor complex and other.

The Kse Diev was believed to have been used in the wedding music of "Preah Thoung and Neang Neak" (divinities in Khmer folk tales). Once a popular instrument, it is less so today, as it is thought to be a very difficult instrument to master.

The Kse Diev is made from half a dried gourd, which acts as the sound box. When the instrument is played, the musician places the open side of the gourd across the chest, so that the chest cavity acts as a sound resonator. The closed side of the gourd is joined to a piece of wood around 40 cms long, while the open end of the gourd is placed against the chest. There is only one string, hense the name kse Diev, (single string) and this is fastened to the tip of the neck and passes over the open end of the gourd, where it is fastened with thread. The thread can be made of either cotton or strong vegetable fibre.

The total length of the kse Diev is around 80 cm, the gourd 20 cm long, and the tuning pegs approximately 15 cm long.

The neck and the tuning pegs are made of hard wood. Sometimes the top of the neck has ornamentation in ivory, but normally the wood is carved into the shape of a snake's head or "nega".

The Kse Diev is a plucking instrument and is played using a false nail made of copper or plastic worn on the fourth finger of the right hand. The left fingers run up and down the string, close to the sound box, creating gentle plucking sounds, sometimes with overtones.

The Kse Diev is often used for weddings and "Arak" music, or as a solo instrument.

Reference: Musique Khmere, URBA, 1966, p.50
                 Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia, p.13


The Tro Khmer is one of six musical instruments used to form an ensemble or orchestra in "Arak"* and wedding music.

The length of the Tro Khmer varies with both longer and shorter models played at functions. Usually the length depends on the area where it was made. The neck is made of hardwood "Neang Nung", "kra Nhung" or black wood, "Chou Kmau." Stretched across the sound box, (which is made of coconut) is snake or cow skin. The three strings are controlled with three tuning pegs. These pegs are made of the same kind of wood as the sound box.

Unlike its relatives, the Tro Khmer is played with the bow loose, unattached to the strings. At a slanting angle, the strings can only be played one at a time by the bow if the instrument is titled slightly as each string is played. The strings are now made of metal, where previously they were made of silk. The bow made of wood (with horse hair or fibres from the "Tnout" tree) used to be ornamented with beautiful carved bone or ivory.

There is no strict rule to tuning the Tro Khmer according to the Western sense. However in Cambodia, instruments are tuned to the "Pie Au", the general pitch of the orchestra and so each string of the Tro Khmer is tuned accordingly, with the same interval difference throughout the country.

*Arak dates from around 2000 years ago, before either Hindu or Buddhist influences in Cambodia. It is music which is played to appease and worship the spirits "Kmaut" in a special ceremony. (Notes added by the editor)

Reference: Musique Khmere, URBA, 1966, p.58
                 Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia, p.9


The  Tro Ou is a stringed instrument which is bowed. It has been used in wedding music since the Chattomuk, Longvek and Udong periods and it is still used in weddings today.

The sound box is made of mature coconut shell, with one open side covered with snake skin or thin flat wood such as "Rolous" or "Spoung".

The neck of the Tro Ou is of hardwood, "Kra Nhung", "Neang Nung" or black wood. The neck is around 75 cm long, with the upper end quite large in width, tapering down to a slender base. The strings are attached to two tuning pegs at the top of the instrument. The lower pitched string is called "Kse Gor" and the higher "kse Ek". Resonance is created within the sound box and by a small piece of wood ("yong" - bridge) around 4 cm high. Placed in the middle of the snake skin, the bridge, serves to elevate the strings.

Approximately 20 cms below the tuning pegs the strings are tied to the neck with a piece of cotton thread called Kse Kor, (neck string). This along with the pegs controls tension, and if moved up or down, alters the pitch.

The bow is called a "Chak'" and is made of hard wood which is curved in an arch shape. The hair of the bow made of horsehair or fiber from the "Tnout" tree is stretched taut. The bow hair is actually placed through the strings which are wound around the finger of the played to control the tension of the bow. The right hand is used to control the bow, and the left hand used to play on the strings. To prevent the bow hair from slipping, resin from the pine or Korky tree is applied.

The lower pitch string "Gor" in Western notation, is approximately "C" and the higher, "Ek" is "G".

Reference: Musique Khmere, URBA, 1966, p.50
                 Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia, p.5

Tro Sau Thom

The Tro Sau Thom is a bowed stringed musical instrument, larger than the "Tro Sau Toch" and is used in "Mahori"* music.

The Tro Sau Thom is made from black wood, "Kra Nhung" or "Neang Nung", earlier on in the history of Mohori, more basic materials were used, such as hollow bamboo and tortoise shell.

This instrument has a sound box, called "Bompung Tro" which is around 120mm long and 90mm wide and is covered with snake or lizard skin. The neck is long, measuring 620mm and is made of black wood, "Kra Nhung" or "Neang Nung". Around the scroll, or top of the instrument there is delicate carved bone or ivory ornamentation. Controlling the tension of the two strings are two tuning pegs, the highest being 205mm long and the lower peg of 191mm in length.

The bow stick is made of hard wood and the hair of either horse tail, pineapple fibers or fine animal hair fibers. Both ends of the hair are then tied to the upper and lower parts of the bow stick.

The strings of the Tro Sau Thom at one time were made of silk, but now they are made of metal. The two strings produce the sounds "G" for the lower and "D" for the upper, whilst the "Tro Sau Toch" (a smaller version of the Tro Sau Thom) produces a "D" and an "A"

* Mahori is the name of a small orchestra used for festive occasions.

Reference: Musique Khmere, URBA, 1966, p.63
                 Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia