Thai Folk Music Ensembles: The Piphat

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Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


This post discusses Thai folk music ensembles and the instruments used in them, with a focus on the piphat.


The piphat is a type of traditional Thai folk music ensemble that includes several different types of instruments. The most common type of piphat ensemble is the phiphat khiri, which includes the khèn (a bamboo mouth organ), the pi (a small gong), the phin (a lute-like string instrument), and the ching (cymbals).

Piphat music is often used for ceremonial purposes, such as religious rituals and court ceremonies. It can also be played at festivals and other public events.

The piphatkhiri is just one type of piphat ensemble; other popular ensembles include the phiphat luang (which features a wind instrument called the luang instead of the khèn) and the phiphat nam ài (which includes a bowed string instrument called the nam ài instead of the phin).

What is a Piphat?

A Piphat (Thai: ปี่พาทย์, RTGS: pi-phat, pronounced [pîː.pʰāːt]) is a kind of traditional Thai orchestra that uses wind and percussion instruments. It can be divided into two main types: the small Piphat which uses only flutes and drums, and the large Piphat that uses a wider range of instruments.

The small Piphat is used to accompany traditional Thai dances and theatre, as well as the Thai martial art of Muay Thai. It usually consists of a mix of flutes (pi [ปี่]) and drums (phat [พาทย์]). The largest type of Piphat ensemble uses a range of different instruments, including clarinets (khlui [คลื่น]), oboes (pi chawaa [ปี่ ชวา]), gongs (chaa tamblers or glong khaek [chaaphap luangkhwae]), cymbals (ping pong [sangkhom pingpond]), and sometimes even saxophones and violins.

Piphat ensembles were traditionally associated with royal courts, but they are now more commonly found accompanying cremation ceremonies and processions, as well as in temples and even in some restaurants and hotels.

The Different Types of Piphat

The piphat is a type of Thai folk music ensemble that includes both wind and percussion instruments. There are four different types of piphat, which are the piphat mon, piphat khruang sai, piphat taam, and the piphat nang Kham.

The Khrueang sai

The khruang sai (ครวยซ้อย) is the most common type of piphat ensemble. It consists of a solo pi (ปี่, oboe), phleng phawaen (เพลงเผาแห่ن, flute), khlui u (คลื่ĩ อ, fiddle), as well as two khrueang rang (kléng rawng/เค1ŭăngrawng, percussion instruments). In addition, it may also include two khruang kaen [khûăŋkaːn] (chimed idiophones) and a ching [tɕʰīŋ] (cymbal) . If there is a need for a singer in the ensemble he or she will also be included. The khruang sai is used to accompany vocal as well as instrumental compositions including solo piphat and shadow theatre music. It also accompanies temple festivals and many types of folk music.[10][11]

The Mahori

The Mahori is the most common type of piphat ensemble in Thailand. It consists of a group of musicians playing a variety of traditional Thai instruments, including the khlui (flute), pi (oboe), saw duang (fiddle), and krajok (cymbals). The music produced by the Mahori is typically light and airy, with a strong focus on melody.

The Instruments of a Piphat Ensemble

A Piphat ensemble is made up of a variety of traditional Thai instruments. The most essential instrument in the ensemble is the phin, a type of lute. Other instruments include the khim (hammer dulcimer), the saw sam sai (free-reed mouth organ), the thon (double-headed drum), and the ching (cymbals).

The Piphat

The word piphat (ปี่พาท) can be translated as “ancient instrument” or “old music”. It is a general term used to refer to a series of Thai classical music ensembles originating from the royal court orchestra of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351-1767). The instruments in a traditional piphat ensemble are the oboe-like pi nai, the drum circle composed of various sizes and types of drums, and the cymbals. The earliest mention of these ensembles is in a relief on Wat Suwandharam temple dating back to 1365. In Thai literature, such as the Trai PhumPhraphuttha Sima (ตราพุ่มพระพุทธสิเ

The Khrueang sai

The khruang sai is the main melodic instrument of the piphat ensemble. It consists of a pair of oboes, each made from a section of hollow bamboo. The neck of one oboe is inserted into the end of the other, and the two are bound together with string. The smaller of the two oboes, which has a higher pitch, is played with a double reed, while the larger oboe uses a single reed.

The Mahori

The Mahori is traditionally the largest instrument in a Piphat ensemble, and is always played by the section leader. It consists of 16 to 21 metal strings, which are plucked with a plectrum worn on the right thumb. The Mahori is tuned in fourths, with an occasional third or fifth, and usually has a range of two to three octaves.

The Music of a Piphat Ensemble

The piphat is a Thai traditional musical ensemble consisting of wind and percussion instruments. It is used in both the royal court and religious ceremonies. The ensemble usually includes five to six musicians. The music of a piphat ensemble is typically lively and cheerful.

The Piphat

The Piphat (Thai: ปี่พาทย์, RTGS: pi-phaat, [pʰīː.pʰāːt], Thai pronunciation: [píː.pʰāːt]) is a kind of traditional Thai orchestral music. It consists of percussion, wind, and string instruments. The piphat ensembles in Thailand can be divided into two types: the “complex” or “Great piphat” and the “simple” or “Small piphat”. In use since at least the 16th century CE, today it is often performed in both traditional and modern contexts.

The Khrueang sai

The khruang sai (Thai: ครวงที่ 2) is the second section of the piphat folk music ensemble. It consists mostly of percussion instruments and provides the main rhythmic accompaniment for the entire ensemble.

The khruang sai section typically includes two to four players. The most common instrument in this section is the khong wong lek, a pair of cylindrical drums suspended from the musician’s shoulders. Other percussion instruments in this section include the khui (wooden clappers), kaen (bamboo mouth organs), and ching (cymbals).

The khruang sai provides the basic pulse or beat that drives the music of the piphat ensemble. This rhythmic accompaniment is essential to Thai music and helps to create a sense of unity within the ensemble. It also helps to keep the musicians together and gives them a common goal to strive for during performances.

The Mahori

The Mahori is a small, portable piphat ensemble used for indoor performances and for accompanying the solo khruang sai and phleng phua cheewit. It consists of a pair of khaen, a khlui neung in the key of C, a khlui tawan in the key of G, a flute, and drum. The flute and drum provide melodic and rhythmic accompaniment for the soloist(s), who improvise their parts.

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