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Thai Music

Thailand has a rich musical heritage.  Today, besides modern rock and popular music you can hear a large variety of music from the classical music that used to be reserved only for royalty to the music of the different regions to to the very lively Thai country songs.  The king himself is a jazz musician and composer.

His Majesty the King playing with Benny Goodman

Listen to examples of the different varieties of music you can hear in Thailand.

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Thai Classical

Music originally played in the royal palaces




Bong Lang

Traditional music of northeastern Thailand



Northern Thai

Music of the northern region




Thai "country" music



Listening to Thai Music

One of the hardest things to understand about another culture is its music.  When we settle into a foreign country we have our hands full learning a new language, acclimatizing to the weather, getting used to the food, and adapting to the culture.  Somewhere, usually as background noise, is the new culture’s music. 


There are many kinds of Thai music.  Here we describe a few.  You may be able to tolerate, and even come to like, these strange sounds.


Classical  - Thai Doem


Originally Thai doem was reserved for royalty and played in the palace.  It is the music we hear behind the elegant Thai classical dancers.  The Thai Doem orchestra consists of xylophone, flute, drums, two-string fiddles, small finger cymbals, and various other instruments.  The typical classical Thai piece is one long musical theme played three times.  The first “chun”, or movement, is played slowly.  The second movement is a repeat of the first but faster.  The third movement has the exact same notes but is faster yet and rather lively. 


Popular - Thai Sakon


The work “sakon” can be translated as “international”.  Much Thai popular music has somewhat of a western sound to it.  But many westerners find Thai popular music difficult to listen to.  One of the reasons why is that Thai rhyming schemes are so completely different from those of the west.  In western rhyming poetry and songs the final words of a line will quite often rhyme with the final words of another line.  It is what we have come to expect.  When Thai poetry, proverbs, and songs rhyme very often the final word in one line rhymes with one of the first words of the next line.  Our ears are used to hearing the rhyme in a different place and we probably don’t even feel the rhyme in Thai songs, but the Thais will.


Northeastern EnsambleBong Lang


Lately becoming very popular throughout all of Thailand this music sounds like a combination of Peruvian flute music and blue grass mandolin with bamboo harmonica and xylophone thrown in.  Not much singing but lots of animated musicians.  Often these songs are accompanied by lively folk dances.  It is very energetic music with a trance inducing beat. Bong Lang is great for doing aerobics to. 


Country - Lukthung


The Thai music that most western ears have no problem listening to is Thai country music or Lukthung.  It usually has a lively beat and lots of fun and racy lyrics and is great to dance to.  Quite often these songs are sung by a man and woman in call response style filled with lots of sexy word play about the Isan (the northeast of Thailand) people and their relationships.


You’ll know you are watching a Lukthung show when you see the singers backed up by a corps of lovely dancing girls dressed in costumes reminiscent of Las Vegas. These dancers are called hang krueang (loosely translated as “the singing star’s tail”).  They really make the show.


Because Lukthung is so easy for westerns to relate to there have been a number of Farangs who have become singing sensations in Thailand.  A few years ago, the half English, half Dutch, Kristy Gibson was a huge success singing Lukthung.  Besides being a Farang novelty, being tall, blond, beautiful, and a great singer didn’t hurt her popularity either.


The topics of luktung songs are also easy for us to understand.  One of Kristy’s songs, Sen Mia Noi (The Mistress’s Charms), has these lyrics.


The mistress rides in a nice car. The wife waits at home.

The mistress goes out on the town. The wife washes the dishes.

The mistress lives in a beautiful condo. The wife lives in a rented room.

The mistress eats eggs and chicken. The wife eats fish sauce and rice.

It’s not fair and it’s time to file for divorce.


     That’s not too hard to understand, is it?


So now it is time to go out and listen.  Ask a Thai friend if they have any Lukthung CDs, or better yet, karaoke videos – you’ll get to see the hang krueang dancing girls.  For your next aerobics workout try to find someone who has some Bong Lang CDs.  Or you can use the internet.    To listen to sample songs go to http://www.ethaimusic.com/lyrics/086.htm, click on the arrows (a couple of times), and you can see Kristy, read along with the lyrics in English and Thai, and see for yourself if you like Lukthung.