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Hsaing waing

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Burmese singers at Naypyidaw state luncheon The hsaing waing, commonly dubbed the Burmese traditional orchestra (?????????????), is a traditional Burmese folk musical ensemble that accompanies numerous forms of rituals, performances, and ceremonies in modern-day Myanmar (Burma).

Hsaing waing musicians use a hemitonic and anhemitonic scale similar to the one used by Indonesian gamelan musicians. The ensemble's principal instruments, including the pat waing, kyi waing, and hne, each play variations on a single melody (heterophony).

Table of contents
  1. Origins
  2. Instrumentation
  3. Musical styles
  4. See also


The hsaing waing is the product of indigenous musical traditions, enriched with contact with a diverse array of musical traditions in neighboring Southeast Asian societies. The hsaing waing ensemble's principal instrument, a drum circle called pat waing, continues to use Indian drum-tuning methods, and is considered the last remaining vestige of Indian instrumentation in Southeast Asia. Similar gong and chime ensembles are found in neighboring Thailand and Laos, where it is called piphat, and in Cambodia, where it is called pinpeat. However, these ensembles do not employ the use of a pat waing.

The earliest pictorial evidence of the hsaing waing ensemble dates to the 1600s, coinciding with the Burmese invasion of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, which may have introduced additional instruments, principally a gong chime called kyi waing. However, the Burmese hsaing waing differs greatly in its diversity of instruments and musical style from Thai ensembles. Many of the hsaing waing instruments are shared instead with the an ensemble of Mon origin, the Thai piphat mon ensemble, indicating shared origins.

During the British colonial era, Sein Beda, a prominent musician, introduced various innovations to the ensemble, including decorating ensemble stands with traditional Burmese motifs and glass mosaic, introducing a jazz band to the ensemble, creating spotlights, and introducing musician uniforms.


The hsaing waing ensemble includes a variety of percussion and wind instruments, including various gongs and drums: For more formal and classical performances, the ensemble may be accompanied by the saung gauk, the Burmese harp, the pattala, a Burmese xylophone, or the piano and violin, both of which were introduced during the colonial era. The Mon version of the hsaing waing ensemble also includes a crescent-shaped brass gong chime called la gyan hsaing in Burmese.


Music from the hsaing waing ensemble accompanies singing, dancing, and dialogues in all types of theatrical performances. Burmese scholarship recognizes 5 main types of hsaing waing ensembles:
  1. Bala hsaing (?????????) - performed at celebratory occasions such as weddings, Buddhist ordainment rituals (shinbyu), ear-piercing ceremonies, funerals, lethwei competitions, and pagoda commemorations
  2. Zat hsaing (??????????) - accompanies traditional dramatic theatre and play performances
  3. Yokthe hsaing (?????????????) - accompanies classical marionette (puppetry) shows
  4. Nat hsaing (?????????) - accompanies spirit propitiation rituals
  5. Anyeint hsaing (?????????????) - accompanies traditional anyeint performances
The distinct repertoire of recognizable tunes accompanies of each of these types of hsaing waing ensembles.

Musical styles

Music of the hsaing waing is characterized by dynamic, lively and sudden contrasts and shifts in rhythm, melody and tempo. The melody typically follows a regular meter of 4 to 8 beats. Anyeint dance performances, as well as nat gadaw and marionette puppet performances, are accompanied by the music of the hsaing waing, with the sudden shifts in musical rhythm reflected in the dancer's changing poses. The melody is shaped by tones; a complex system of pitches, principal and auxiliary tones, and melodic phrase terminals (cadential formulas), ornaments, and the vocal lines are associated with particular modes, which are context-driven (depending on environment and stage situations) and express varying emotions. The gong instrumentation provide repetitive motifs (see ostinato) during the course of a performance.

By contrast, classical singing of the Mahagita tradition derived from royal chamber music, which is characterized by a quieter and more restrained musical style, is accompanied by either a classical ensemble or a single saung gauk.

See also

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