Philippine Kulintang: Existing and New Techniques

Existing Techniques

1.Single stroke
2. Double stroke
3. Rim shot
4. Muted/Damped
5. Grace notes
6. Hitting two gongs with one stick held horizontally
7. Sliding the stick from one gong to another with the stick held horizontally. Note: this horizontal position can make an easier to play a glissando, compared to holding the stick vertically. 

New Techniques

1. Changing mallets
2. Wrapping the gongs
3. Placing the gongs beside each other and making them ring sympathetically
4. Altering the gongs in the middle of the piece
5. Not following ascending scale
6. Using the frame/sticks
7. Playing the gongs upside down
8. Using alternative materials as Kulintang gongs (for example, bottles, containers, etc.)

Changing Mallets

Normally the Kulintang is played using a pair of softwood sticks. For a change of sound, I have tried using yarn mallets. These mallets create a softer sound. I’ve also tried drumsticks, which tend to slide off the gong easily and produce a really sharp sound.

Wrapping the Gongs

Since you can wrap each gong with a different material, this technique gives the composer a lot of colors to work with. I tried wrapping some of my gongs with bubble wraps and others with paper. With these added materials, the gongs produced a complex sound of the subtle sound of the Kulintang mixed with that of the added material.

Placing the gongs beside each other and making them ring sympathetically

Normally in playing the Kulintang, we make sure that the gongs have a small gap between each other so as to prevent undesired ringing sounds. However, placing the gongs in contact with each other is another way of creating new sounds. Using this technique with sticks played horizontally can create a blanket of vibrations. 

Altering the Gongs in the Middle of the Piece

In most contemporary pieces I’ve played, composers have used a variety of tunings for the Kulintang. Given that the Kulintang is a set of eight gongs in a row, changing gongs in the middle of the piece allows composers to do this. Changing gongs requires more or less time depending on how many gongs need to be changed.

Not Following the Ascending Scale

Traditionally, the Kulintang gongs are arranged from left to right with the lowest pitched on the left and the highest pitched on the right. When there is a drastic change of key in a piece, a composer can arrange the gongs such that gongs 1 to 4 are arranged by ascending pitch and used for one key, and then gongs 5 to 8 are arranged by ascending pitch and used for another key.

Using the Frame/Sticks

In addition to the sharp, ringing sound of the Kulintang, hitting the sticks together or to the frame of the Kulintang can create a contrasting wooden sound. 

Playing the Gongs Upside Down

Placing the gongs upside down on the rack and hitting them along the rim creates a resonating sound that produces overtones. The production of overtones depends on the qualities of each individual set of gongs, and will thus vary among players.

Using alternative materials as Kulintang gongs

I have seen this technique used by the natives of Mindanao, specifically with bottles used as a substitute for the Kulintang gongs. This technique has been quite personal for me because of the Covid-19 pandemic that we have been experiencing as I worked on this project. When the schools closed down during the lockdown period, we left our instruments at the university and only a few of us had our own Kulintang sets. It was important for us to find ways to create our own instruments so we could still play in our homes. 

In a video project I made, I substituted the Kulintang ensemble with things that you can find inside your home such as pots, cans and water containers. Originally my plan was to also substitute the Kulitang itself, but since there were students who had their Kulitangs with them, I opted to use the Kulitang instead. 

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Katheleen Nicole Cahis

University of the Philippines College of Music,