.Khaen Performance Techniques

Basic Traditional Techniques

About Basic Traditional  

Traditional Lao and Northeast Thai khaen playing consists of two layers: drone and melody. The melody is often play in parallel octaves, fifths and fourth  and may also be elaborately ornamented.

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If drones are used, they may be held by one of the fingers or stopped with putty. If a drone is stopped with a finger, note that it will constrain the hand position. For example, if the third finger holds the a on the right side of the instrument, the second and fourth fingers will each be limited to playing notes below or above the a, respectively.

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Traditional khaen playing is based on five melodic modes (lai), each with characteristic drones and idiomatic melodic figures. These five modes are shown here in their most basic form, with alternative doublings for some notes, and with the different drones (diamond-shaped notes) that are typically used. The hand configurations within these modes are very idiomatic and comfortable. 


If a composer wishes a passage to sound idiomatic within a traditional mode, it is possible and preferable to simply indicate the mode by name and the desired drones, and write out a single monophonic melody. The performer will be able to realise the melody with characteristic doublings and ornamentations.   

Grace Note 

Grace notes are frequently used as melodic articulations. These may be done singly or in octaves, fifths, or other combinations, may cover any interval provided the fingers are available, and may be performed very quickly. 

Finger Tremolo

This traditional technique is often used when playing a melody in parallel octaves. The lower melody note is held while the upper note is rapidly repeated with finger motion while the breath is steady.

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Swing Tempo

Using a normal notation for writing but assign the symbol on top that part where will you want to play.
Normally, traditional style they play 2 types 

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1. Straight 
2. Swing feel or shuffle 
3. Syncopation 

New performance techniques

New techniques that I referenced are from western music, Sombut Simla (Khaen Player), Dr. Christopher Adler (Khaen Player) and by myself.


You can see the video "How to Play, How to Notate that techniques to composition."

The Extended Technique Western Notation in Khean. Mostly player they learn and play by ear. They listen and imitate to play by feeling. Considering to mode combine with techniques

Double tonguing

Writing by using two points above or below the writing head.

Flutter tonguing

Writing by using “Tremolo” ymbol and write flutter, ft. Or flz. 

 blow out it’s be a sound good more than blow in 

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Vibrato / Breath Tremolo

Players of woodwind instruments generally create vibrato by modulating their air flow into the instrument. Khaen can make by throat vibrato and write by use vib. Symbol 


Written by using the techniques’s name. When blow in and little bit open the hope to half, it makes sound little bit higher but should be blow slow it’s be sound good


Glissando for Khaen, it’s making sound effect that pitch, can’t play full scale. This techniques in khaen have limitation but can do that. Musician should be blow slow tempo and Note is not much. Writing by using “gliss” on the line

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Singing and blowing together can sound like one cantilever, another cry. But this technique still has some flaws.

1. Cannot play and sing very fast
2. Singing notes and notes that are played in the same sound (unison) should be performed for the full effect
3. If notes are sung and played in different notes It should be a slow song and the sound balance might be not good.

Singing be louder khaen sound

For Notation first line for playing and second line for singing

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Breathing Sound

The sound of the wind is blowing. The timing can be defined as inhalation and exhalation. This technique focuses mainly on the sound of the wind.
Written by using (inha. or exha.) 

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Open and Close position

Using one hand to close and open the bottom of the can while blowing,  it creates a sudden colour difference. Because players have to use one hand to hold the bottom of the instrument. This technique may have some limitations on the Pitch of the sound. 
That is, the player may not be able to play. Get every note while doing this technique. 

Notation can be done in two ways.

1. Writing by using “con sord.” For close the bottom and using  “senza sord.” For open the bottom

2. Writing by using “+ “ For close the bottom and using “๐”  For open the bottom

If you want everything back to normal can use “ord.” (Ordinary)

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Blow Bottom Bamboo

Blowing the bottom of bamboo to make sound each bamboo can make difference pitch and colour. 
In this case composer can assign only rhythmic and write techniques’s name 

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Guiro effect 

Use fingernail to scratching bamboo to make a noise sound. Writing by using “guiro”  

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Khaen for Composer by Christopher Adler


Tontrakul Kaewyong