Southbank Centre’s Gamelan Programme offers something to suit everybody: from family, school and group workshops to regular classes and performances. No previous musical experience is necessary to play the gamelan and enjoy its wonderful sounds.

Southbank Centre is home to a beautiful Javanese percussion orchestra known as gamelan, and throughout the year there are many chances for you to hear and to have a go at playing it.

In 1987, Southbank Centre was privileged to receive a beautiful Javanese percussion orchestra called gamelan. This was a remarkable gift from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia to the people of Great Britain as a gesture of friendship. As in the case of many important gamelan ensembles, the gamelan was named ‘Kyai Lebdha Jiwa’ or ‘The Venerable Spirit of Perfection’.

Founded by Alec Roth, Southbank Centre Gamelan Programme has since reached out to thousands of people and provided many opportunities to learn about and play these amazing instruments. The gamelan programme is facilitated by a core group of expert tutors, many of whom have lived and studied in Indonesia and have a wide knowledge of Indonesian Arts and culture as well as a prolific background in Western music. There are now over one hundred gamelans in the UK and a thriving gamelan community in which our tutors play a vital role.

Southbank Gamelan Players, Ensemble in Residence at Southbank Centre, have an international reputation for the performance of traditional Indonesian music as well as new music for gamelan and exciting collaborations with musicians and dancers across a variety of art forms.

Gamelan is both a rewarding musical and social activity. Playing the gamelan can inspire self-confidence, improve coordination and listening skills, encourage team-building and be a great opportunity to try something new or develop your playing skills in a relaxed and friendly environment.

Learn to play the gamelan, see performances of gamelan, or find out more about these beautiful instruments here.

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Get in touch

For more information about gamelan at Southbank Centre, please phone us on 020 7921 0767 or send an email

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What is gamelan?

The term gamelan refers to the ensemble of percussion instruments on which traditional gamelan music of Java and Bali is played. A complete Javanese court-style gamelan comprises two sets of instruments, one for each tuning system: sléndro (a five-tone scale) and pélog (a seven-tone scale). Within each of these tunings are three pathet, a Javanese concept referring to both mode and mood. No two gamelans are tuned exactly alike; each ensemble is unique and may often be given a name.

How does it work?

The layout of the gamelan reflects the role of the different instruments in the music. In the middle of the gamelan, the balungan (or ‘skeleton’ melody) is played on the bronze metallophones (saron family and slenthem).

The balungan is punctuated by the larger gongs (gong ageng and kempul) and the horizontally-mounted gongs (kenong, kethuk and kempyang) at the back of the gamelan.

At the front of the gamelan a selection of more complex instruments embellish the melody - the two bonang (double rows of gong chimes mounted on a frame), gendèr (multi-octave metallophone), rebab (fiddle), gambang (xylophone), siter (plucked zither) and suling (bamboo flute). A complete ensemble also includes a gérong (male chorus) and pesindhèn (solo female vocalist). The whole gamelan is co-ordinated by the drummer in the centre of the ensemble, playing a selection of kendhang (double-headed drums).

What is it used for?

Traditionally, gamelan music is used in Java for a number of different artistic and cultural purposes. The gamelan can often be found at religious ceremonies, palace rituals and many occasions including weddings, funerals, coming of age ceremonies, village cleansing rituals, celebrations to mark the birth of a new child or important events and birthdays.

The gamelan is often used to accompany dance or shadow-puppet plays and other theatrical forms. Gamelan is also played during klenengans - occasions where communities and local musicians get together to perform for enjoyment or to mark a particular social event.

In addition to ancient traditional gamelan music, popular genres co-exist (Campursari, Keroncong and Dangdut) which are vocal oriented and can sometimes incorporate Western instruments - keyboards, trumpets and drums - with Western tuning.

Southbank Gamelan Players, Ensemble in Residence at Southbank Centre, was founded in 1987. Collaborating with dancers, puppeteers and composers from Indonesia, Europe and the USA, the group has established an international reputation for its performances of traditional Javanese repertoire and its championing of new music for gamelan

The group has commissioned and collaborated with a wide range of musicians including Björk (MTV Unplugged)Alec Roth and Salvatore Sciarrino (ISCM World Music Days).

Notable performances have included the BBC Proms (1998) with artists from STSI Surakarta, an all-night wayang kulit with Ki Purbo Asmoro (2007); collaborations with contemporary choreographers and dancers including Mark Morris Dance Group (Edinburgh Festival)Wayne McGregor and Kenneth Tharp; new British gamelan music at the International Gamelan Festival in Malaysia (2009); and an Arts Council England tour (2010) of Southbank Centre commission Rubber Time, a collaboration between Indonesian composer Rahayu Supanggah, SbGP and electronica duo Plaid.

They premiered SENDRATARI, a Javanese dance-drama featuring shadow-puppetry and multi-media choreographed by Matheus Wasi Bantolo and featuring artists from ISI Surakarta at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in July 2013.

Organise a team-building away day with a difference and play the gamelan at Southbank Centre. Work together and get creative in this workshop, which is designed to improve co-ordination and develop how your team communicates with each other.


£957 +VAT for a two-hour workshop for up to 20 participants
Additional rooms and catering can be booked separately as part of your team-building experience


Contact Sophie Ransby, Gamelan Manager
Tel: 020 7921 0767

This unique experience will teach participants how to play the gamelan and all its parts and how they have to work together for a final performance at the end of the session.

No prior musical knowledge or experience is necessary. Comfortable clothing is advisable.