Saron

The Instrument

The saron consists of seven keys made of a bronze alloy used for all metal sounding components of the gamelan, mounted on a wooden trough-like basis. The trough itself acts as a sound amplifier. The keys are fitted on metal pins inserted in the underframe, and they rest on cushions of plaited bamboo fiber to enable full vibration of the keys.
 

Three sizes

Sarons come in three sizes: small (called saron panerus or, usually in short: peking); medium (called saron barung, usually referred to as saron; and large (called saron demung, usually referred to as demung). Each instrument sounds an octave lower than the former, demung being the lowest. While a larger gamelan has more demungs and sarons (typically 1 demung, 2 sarons; or in large ensembles 2 demungs, 4 sarons, there is never more than one peking.
 

Playing techniques

Sarons are played with a rather large hammer made of wood. An exception is the peking, which uses a mallet made of horn, in order to project its piccolo-like sound. The right hand, which holds the mallet, strikes the key to be played, while the left hand damps the key that already sounds. Thus the left hand follows, the right hand. The damping is done by grasping the key by the edge; this takes some effort, since the weighty key will tend to keep vibrating. One can also mute a key while striking it, which produces a distinct thud.
In traditional music the sarons carry the main melody (balungan). Together with the bonangs they are the loudest instruments in the ensemble, although it is perfectly possible to play soft on them. For muting techniques, see above. Muting all the keys at once is done with the forearm(s). Remember that for crisp muting a considerable force is needed to pinch the key, which will slow down the playing speed. In general, in playing javanese gamelan instuments, increasing playing speed will cause loss of articulation and clarity of sound.
Only knowledge of the instrument properties by experience, combined with knowledge of the abilities of the musicians can help your judgment of what is feasible or not, just like in any other ensemble.
 

 

Slendro & Pelog

For each tuning, either slendro (pentatonic) or pelog (heptatonic), the compass of the saron is always the same, hence the pelog variety presents a complete one-octave scale (1 2 3 4 5 6 7), while a saronslendro extends its range one note beyond the octave in both directions (6 1 2 3 5 6
 

Saron peking slendro

Saron peking slendro


 

Saron barung slendro

Saron barung slendro


 

Saron demung slendro

Saron demung slendro


 

Saron peking pelog

Saron peking pelog


 

Saron barung pelog

Saron barung pelog


 

Saron demung pelog

Saron demung pelog


 

Hammer (Tabuh)

Compared to western mallets the hammer for the saron barung and demung is rather heavy, because the keys are thick and heavy, which makes it difficult to play fast, especially when the intervals are larger. Also, as mentioned above, the muting with the left hand takes time.
The Peking is using a smaller hammer made of horn, which gives a very celar and penetrating sound.
It is also possible to play “mute” while playing, to get a dry sound. You can even mute with the whole left forearm while playing dry with the right hand.
Only knowledge of the instrument properties by experience, combined with knowledge of the abilities of the musicians can help your judgment of what is feasible or not, just like in any other ensemble.