15 Traditional Filipino Instruments You Should Know About

Each and every country has a unique take on music. Some use specific instruments that they invented themselves or adapt ones that originated from other countries.

While not exactly known for it, Filipinos happen to be very musical people. They value music and dance dearly. In fact, most of their traditional musical instruments are still used to this day!

Most of them have been modified to fit the modern days, but they’re still very much the same. That said, let’s talk about the 15 most notable Filipino instruments in more detail. Read on!

1. Kubing

First on our list is the Kubing, the Filipino version of a jaw harp. It’s mostly made of bamboo, though some are made of metal. It can be considered one of the more popular traditional instruments of the Philippines.

While this particular instrument is popular throughout the Philippines, it might be known by different names, depending on the region. For example, it’s called Kubing in areas like Maranao and southern Mindanao. But other people from different areas, like the Tagalogs, call it Barmbaw.

Kubing is played by placing it between the lips and plucking the end. The tempo and rhythm of the plucking will create different notes and sounds. Check out the video above on how to play it.

Kubing was an important part of Filipino culture. The ancestors used it to communicate, particularly during courtship, and still use it to this day. Males used it more frequently, though, in short-distance courtships.

2. Kulintang

Our next instrument is Kulintang, which the people of Maguindanao, Tausug, and Marano are very proud of.

The instrument consists of a row of pot gongs that normally come in a set of 5-9. These gongs are laid horizontally on a frame in a particular order. The gong with the lowest pitch is on the player’s left side, and the highest pitch is on the right. The player uses two wooden sticks to hit the gongs and create sound.

Traditionally, the Kulintang was made with bronze. But this material has long since been abandoned. Ever since World War II, Kulintang was exclusively made of brass.

Did you know that Kulintang is a very important instrument in celebrations? It is used for entertainment when there are festivals, weddings, and other ceremonies. In ensembles, you’ll see kulintang just a foot or two from the ground. This means that the player is usually seated.

Not only is Kulintang important in ensembles. It is also a valuable heirloom that can be passed down through generations. One of the most popular Kulintang players is the Filipino-American Danongan Kalanduyan.

3. Kudyapi

Also called Kutyapi or Kutiyapi, Kudyapi is 4-6 feet long and made primarily of wood with two strings. One string is used for the melody and the other is used as a drone.

It also has eight frets that traditionally were held on the neck of the lute. They were then attached together using hardened beeswax.

This instrument was introduced to the country by the Maranao and the Maguindanao people of the southern Philippines.

Kudyapi actually holds some of the greatest historical and cultural value of traditional Filipino music. It is usually played during festivities like weddings or courtships. Sometimes it is used for entertainment. Like Kubing, Kudyapi is usually played by males when singing love songs.

The female version of Kudyapi is called Korlong. It resembles a zither and is played like a harp.

One of the most famous Kudyapi players is Samaon Sulaiman. He is a Filipino musician and a recipient of the National Living Treasure award.

4. Tongali

Quite simply, Tongali is a type of nose flute, which, you’ve guessed it, is a woodwind instrument played primarily through the nose.

It actually has a very interesting history. A long time ago, farmers used this instrument, believing that the rice grew much better while listening to its sound.

This is typically played by the residents of the northern parts of the Philippines. But more specifically, by the people of the Luzon and the Kalinga regions.

Tongali has three to four holes where the fingers are placed. There’s one hole midway where the thumb is placed to change the tone of the flute. There is also one hole located at the back. This is where your left or right nostril is placed to play the music.

The air flows from this hole and out of the midway hole. This, and the fact that Tongali is made of bamboo, results in a sad sound that’s meant to mimic a human voice.

However, Tongali is used for celebrations such as courtship, festivals, and the planting season.

5. Gambal

Our second percussion instrument on this list is the Gambal (Gimbal) or Gadang. This is a very famous Filipino instrument typically used to encourage warriors at times of battle. More often, the Gambal is accompanied by other instruments, such as gongs.

Times have changed, and Gambal is not exactly used for the same purpose. But these drums are still played in some areas of the Philippines.

Gambal is typically made out of hollowed tree trunks as well as deerskin for the drumheads. To play it, you have to strike wooden sticks across the drumhead. Or use your hands.

This instrument was originally invented by the Lumad group. This is an Austronesian Indigenous group of people that come from the southern part of the Philippines. The area, in particular, is called the Visayas.

6. Dabakan

Another percussion instrument is the Dabakan. This usually serves as a supportive instrument in a group setting or in a Kulintang ensemble. The Dabakan is positioned to the right of the Kulintang player (watch the video above). Its purpose is to keep the tempo of the entire ensemble in check.

The Dabakan is typically shaped like a goblet or like an hourglass. It is not taller than two feet and not wider than one foot.

It’s made of wood carved out of the trunk of a tree, traditionally a coconut or a jackfruit. The drum heads are made of animal skin, mostly goatskin or deer hide. Two sticks are used to produce high-pitched sounds.

The Dabakan can also be an accompaniment for Kudyapi. Aside from that, it is very important in Kasorondayong. Here, two Dabakan players face each other and play the instrument in an interlocking rhythm.

It’s been said that the name ‘Dabakan’ is derived from the Middle Eastern name Darbuka. This is another instrument that is also shaped like a goblet.

7. Luntang

The traditional Luntang is very similar to a xylophone and traditionally used by the Maguindanaon people. This is also called “kwintangan kayo” by the Yakan. It has 5 horizontal logs that are organized according to pitch in ascending order.

Just like the xylophone, you have to beat those logs using two wooden sticks. It can either be played by one or two people sitting on either side.

The Maguindanaon mainly uses Luntang for self-entertainment. A farmer plays it to keep himself awake or drive birds away from the rice fields.

Luntang was also used as a form of communication a long time ago. Thanks to its reverberating sound, it’s the perfect instrument for long-distance communication.

Aside from that, the Yakan people used Luntang for courtship rituals. Yakan people are indigenous Filipinos from the southern parts of the Philippines.

8. Bungkaka

Up next is Bungkaka, a percussion instrument made from bamboo. This is also called a bamboo buzzer, used mainly in Ifugao and Kalinga in the Philippines.

The instrument is made from a length of bamboo where the bottom end is the node. The upper half consists of two tongues facing each other. The bottom serves as the resonator chamber.

To play the instrument, the player strikes the tongues on the bottom of the palm, creating a buzzing sound. To create variation in the sound produced, the player can cover and uncover a hole at the bottom using the thumb.

Usually, Bungkaka is played in a group. It is believed to drive away bad spirits in mountain trails.

9. Gangsa

Now we have Gangsa, a flat-shaped and hand-held gong made of brass, bronze, or iron. An ensemble of Gangsa consists of five to six of this instrument.

Gangsa is often used throughout the Philippines, including the Cordillera region. It can be played in two ways: “pattung” and “toppaya.”

In pattung, the player either stands or keeps in step with the dancers. They hold the instrument with one hand and strike it using a padded stick with the other hand. In toppaya, the player places the Gangsa on their lap and plays it with their hand.

Gangsa originated from the northern tribes of the Philippines. It is usually played during rituals, feasts, and gatherings.

10. Babandil

Our next instrument is Babandil (also spelled as Babendil), which consists of one huge gong made out of either bronze or brass. To play this instrument, you have to strike it with either your hand or a wooden stick made of rattan or bamboo.

While it might be similar to the anatomy and the shape of the Gangsa, it produces a completely different sound. Perhaps it’s because of its sunken boss. When struck on the rim, it produces a sharp clanging sound that’s heard over other instruments.

Babandil is also different from Kulintang as the former is bigger. This particular Instrument often fills the role of the “timekeeper” in any ensemble it is a part of. What this means is that it keeps time among all the other gong instruments. No wonder though as this instrument possesses a distinctive sound.

11. Kulintang A Tiniok

The Kulintang A Tiniok is an instrument that, from afar, might look slightly similar to the modern xylophone. But it is a metallophone, meaning it has metal bars instead of wooden ones.

It’s made out of 8 small knobs or metal plates that are placed above a wooden rack. One of the most ardent users of the Kulintang A Tiniok is the Maguindanaon people. The name of the instrument means “kulintang with string.” The Maranao people refer to this instrument as saronay.

The metal pieces of this instrument were traditionally made out of brass. But these days, they’re made of tin cans.

This instrument is mainly used for self-entertainment at home. It is also used to train beginners before using the Kulintang. In the video above, we can see Kulintang master Danongan Kalanduyan teaching a student.

12. Tongatong

The next instrument on our list is Tongatong. It consists of bamboo cut into different lengths. Considered a percussion instrument, the Tongatong is played in a rather unorthodox way: by hitting it against the ground.

The instrument creates different sounds when the player covers and uncovers the open end of the tube. Check out the video on different ways to play the Tongatong.

Tongatong was traditionally played by the people of Kalinga. In ancient times, people used this particular instrument to communicate with spirits and ghosts during house blessings. This was also used as part of rituals. However, in modern times, it can be part of an ensemble.

13. Gandingan

In a Kulintang ensemble, there is a set of four large hanging gongs. The gongs can be hung on a tree limb or on a sturdy wooden stand. This is called Gandingan, or “talking gongs,” which the Maguindanaon people used.

Gandingan is different from other gongs in that the set has a shallow boss and thin rims. The diameters range between 1.8 to two feet and five to eight inches, from smallest to largest gongs.

To play this instrument, the player stands behind the gongs holding two mallets. These are called balu, which are wooden and wrapped in rubber at one end. The balu is used to strike the knobs to create sound.

In the ensemble, Gandingan’s main purpose is to be a secondary instrument to Kulintang. But when used solo, it is used for communication or warnings across distances. It can also be used to send messages, usually romantic ones.

In the video above is Kulintang master Danny Kalanduyan sharing a few words about this instrument.

14. Agung

Another part of the Kulintang ensemble is Agung. This is a pair of large, wide-rimmed gongs responsible for the bass register for the whole ensemble. The Maguindanao, Maranao, and Tausug people are just some of those who use this instrument.

The gongs are hung vertically and serve as a supportive instrument in the ensemble. They are shaped like a kettle and heavy at 13 to 16 pounds. To play the instrument, the player uses balus to strike the knob.

In the olden days, males used the instrument to interact with unmarried women. The Islamic customs that Maguindanao and Maranao people followed prohibited dating between the opposite sexes. Thus, the men saw music as an opportunity for interaction with women.

The Agung is also used for other purposes. It can be used to warn others of danger, and tell the time and important occasions. For instance, the sultan would use the Agung to announce the start of fasting during Ramadhan.

The video above shows Agung, along with Kulintang, played at a wedding celebration.

15. Diwdiw-as

Last but not least, we have Diwdiw-as. In some cases, it is also called diwdiwas, dw-dew-as, or dad-ayu. This indigenous instrument from Kalinga and Bontoc is similar to the panpipes.

Diwdiw-as consists of five to eight pipes of different lengths tied together at the bottom. What makes it different from other wind instruments such as flutes is that Diwdiw-as has no holes to create pitches.

But the instrument creates different sounds due to the varying lengths of the pipes. The shorter pipes create a higher pitch.

The way this instrument is played is simple. All you need to do is blow across the top, and each one of those pipes will provide a different sound.

Usually, this instrument is used for entertainment, as you can see from the video above, or when resting after work.

Summing Up Our List Of Instruments From The Philippines

As the list above showed you, the Philippines has an incredibly rich musical background. The Filipinos were able to create their own instruments or improve the ones they borrowed from other countries.

These traditional instruments always have a profound effect on Philippine culture. And the Filipinos have successfully managed to preserve their traditions by continuing to play these instruments to this day. Indeed, doing so adds to the country’s identity and appeal.

Photo of author
Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then, he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.