Musical Instruments of the Filipino Muslims

by Alane Michaelson
Filipino Muslims follow the teachings of Islam and the Koran.

Filipino Muslims follow the teachings of Islam and the Koran.

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Muslims make up 5 percent of the population of the Philippines. Although there is no racial difference between Muslims and other Filipinos, the group has a unique culture and set of traditions. Filipino Muslims play distinctive musical instruments for entertainment, but ritual religious songs are sung without accompaniment.


A kulintangan is an ensemble of gongs and drums. Filipino Muslim brass gongs are called kulintang and war drums are known as kagandang or dabakan; the spelling of instrument names varies from region to region. The kulintang is a set of eight bronze gongs on a horizontal wooden stand. Players strike the center of each gong with sticks made of soft wood. The dabakan is a large single-headed drum made of wood and shaped like a kettle. The drum is covered with goat or lizard skin and played with flexible sticks from a standing position. Other gongs and drums are sometimes included in the ensemble, including the babendil, agung and gandingan.


The kudyapi is shaped like a ship and is a large two-stringed instrument. Its strings are plucked, one making the melody and the second for a continual drone. This instrument is ornately carved and is used primarily by Filipino Muslims in west central Mindanao, the traditional homeland of this population.


The kubing is similar to the Western jaw harp, also known as a Jew's harp. Filipino Muslims believe if they could understand the language of music, the kubing would say words and tell stories. The kubing is made of bamboo and often ornately carved and painted. Like the jaw harp, the kubing is played by holding the frame of the instrument between the lips, against the front teeth, and plucking the center piece of wood.

Wind Instruments

The suling and saunay are wind instruments played by Filipino Muslims. The suling is a bamboo flute with four or five finger holes. The instrument is played by blowing over the mouth hole while controlling the sound with fingers on the holes, similar to a wood flute. The sahunay is a wind instrument similar to the clarinet, with a reed at the top and six finger holes. It is made of bamboo and coconut shells and is played by blowing into the reed while playing the finger holes.

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