The Burmese classical/theatrical orchestra is called the s'ain 'ensemble'. Its instruments can be divided into two kinds depending upon whether they have fixed or variable notes. This Burmese theatre orchestra is part of the reserve collection at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter. Select an instrument to find out more about it: some you can even record yourself playing!
Characteristics of Burmese Music
Burmese music is completely different from western music. Burmese music relies heavily on melody, ornamentation and rhythm. Notes are occasionally played simultaneously played, but harmony in the western sense is not used.
The tempo Burmese music is marked by "Si" (a brass instrument that makes a sound like a triangle) and "Wa" (clappers) (a bamboo instrument that makes a sound like castanets).
The commonest timing is 4/4 and is called "Nayee Se". The second most common timing is 2/4 and is called "Walat Se".
In combining instrumental music and singing, the instruments are not an accompaniment to the voice. Both are equally combined. The vocalist and instrumentalists have to keep in tune and time with each other. As long as the singer and instrument are in tune with each other both can create innovations within the frame of their tune.
Burmese musicians do not use sheet music. Music is simply played from memory and displays great skill in improvising on set melodies, as in jamming. Burmese musicians must be able to vary the style every time they play.
The Burmese Orchestra
The Burmese classical/theatrical orchestra is called the s'ain 'ensemble'. Its instruments can be divided into two kinds depending upon whether they have fixed or variable notes.
The fixed notes include the ci: wain (gong circle); Maun: s'ain (gong chime): and patala (xylophone).
The moveable note instruments are the hne (oboe); saun:gau? (harp); pa? wain (drum circle) and the various string instruments.