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
Listen to examples of the different
varieties of music you can hear in Thailand.
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Music originally played in the royal palaces
Traditional music of northeastern Thailand
Music of the northern region
Thai "country" music
Listening to Thai
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
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
Popular - Thai Sakon
“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 Ensamble – Bong Lang
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
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.
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.
rides in a nice car. The wife waits at home.
goes out on the town. The wife washes the dishes.
lives in a beautiful condo. The wife lives in a
eats eggs and chicken. The wife eats fish sauce and
It’s not fair
and it’s time to file for divorce.
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
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