10 Musical Instruments of Mindanao (You’ve Never Heard Of)

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  • Mindanao is home to many unique and rare instruments
  • Many are in the percussion family
  • Listen to examples of each instrument
  • Also, check out our post on instruments from Pakistan

The Filipino musical culture is profound and varied. Some of the best music you’ll ever hear comes out of the Philippines, and best of all, the history behind them is fascinating.

In all honesty, you’ve probably never heard of these 10 amazing Mindanao instruments:

  1. Kubing
  2. Kudyapi
  3. Kulintang
  4. Tongali
  5. Gambal
  6. Buktot
  7. Dabakan
  8. Kulintang A Tiniok
  9. Babendil
  10. Luntang

Known for their love of music, it’s no wonder the Filipinos are so renowned for their passionate music that the traditional instruments used by their pre-Hispanic ancestors are so highly revered today.

The rest of this article will walk you through these 10 fascinating Mindanao musical instruments and their use.

10 Musical Instruments of Mindanao 

1. Kubing

The Kubing is a jaw harp made entirely from bamboo and is one of the more popular traditional instruments found across the Philippines. However, its design and name may change depending on the region.

In the southern region of Mindanao, groups like the Maranao call it the Kubing, while other groups like the Tagalogs refer to it as the Barmbaw.

In other regions, it’s referred to as the Kulaing, the Kniaban, Koding, and Aroding.

The instrument was used by the Filipino ancestors to communicate through song, often as a means of courtship, and is still used as such to this day.

In general, it is used more by males than females and is intended for communication with family or a loved one over a short distance.

It is played by placing the instrument between one’s lips and plucking the end to create different notes. The tempo and rhythm can adjust the dynamics of these sounds.

2. Kudyapi

Much like a lute, the Kudyapi is a stringed instrument often used by males in love songs.

It’s often connected with Meranao, Maguindanao, T’boli, and Manobo since their Lumads are well known for their performances with the Kudyapi.

The female version of this instrument is the Korlong, which can be most closely compared to a zither and is made from bamboo.

Traditionally, the Kudyapi is made with abaca fiber or horse hair strings, but more modern iterations use wires in the same manner as a guitar.

3. Kulintang

The pride and joy of Maguindanao, the Kulintang is a set of 5 to 9 gongs varying in size, pitch, and tone.

Each of these gongs is aligned side by side on a rack and arranged in pitch order, with the lowest-pitch gong located on the left and the highest-pitched one being on the right.

Two wooden sticks are used to strike the gongs and make sounds.

Before World War II, the gongs that create the reverberating sound of the Kulintang were made from bronze; however, due to dwindling resources and the wider availability of less precious metals, any Kulintang you see today will probably be made from brass.

The Kulintang also serves an expressive purpose. The rack used to hold and arrange the gongs is made with wood or bamboo and can be decorated to the user’s preferences.

Most Kulintangs played in ensembles boast intricate designs and beautiful colors. The Kulintang is quite low-profile, only sitting a foot or two above the ground.

As such, players of this instrument will usually be seated. This instrument is vital to several celebrations, festivals, weddings, and healing ceremonies.

Among the instruments on this list, the Kulintang is perhaps the most valuable regarding social value.

The intricate designs and ornate construction makes each Kulintang unique, and they are often viewed as important social property.

Not only does the Kulintang play an important role in the ensemble, but it is also considered a valuable heirloom that can be passed down through generations.

4. Tongali

The Tongali has a whole bunch of different names and designs across the Philippines, but its mournful, haunting sound is well-recognized in the region.

This flute has either three or four holes over which the fingers are placed. The wildest part about this instrument is that it’s played using the nose.

The hole in the back is designed so that air from the nose flows through it and exits out of the midway hole.

The result is a sad, mournful sound that is meant to mimic the sound of a human voice.

Despite the connotation, the Tongali is often used in a positive light, marking celebrations, festivals, special gatherings, in courtship, and during the planting season.

5. Gambal

In the percussion section of Mindanao instruments, one of the most popular is the Gambal, also referred to sometimes as the Gadang.

These simple instruments are played by different groups across the Philippines, but their purpose remains the same.

Traditionally, the Gambal was used among the Lumads in the Visayas as a way of preparing for war, accompanied by other instruments like gongs.

The drums were meant to boost the esteem of the warriors and are played by striking them with a wooden stick.

Traditionally, the Gambal is made using hollowed tree trunks and deer skins for the drumheads.

6. Buktot

Made from a coconut husk and string, the work Buktot means hunchbacked, which is a perfect encapsulation of the way the back of this instrument is arched.

Broadly speaking, the Buktot sounds like a ukulele and is played by strumming its four strings.

Much like other traditional instruments, the Buktot is either played by itself or with the accompaniment of other instruments as part of an ensemble accompanying an event.

7. Dabakan

A larger percussive instrument, the Dabakan, is often played in a group setting with other instruments and has a conical shape.

It is often no taller than 2 feet, nor wider than 1 foot.

Its intricate design boasts a range of details, and the drumhead is made from deer hide, goat skin, or carabao skin. However, traditional Dabakan users argue that the best drumheads are made from lizard or bayawak skin.

The body is made from jackfruit wood or coconut, making it as sturdy as it is beautiful.

8. Kulintang A Tiniok

Often played alongside the Dabakan, the Kulintang A Tiniok is a metallophone with eight metal plates on a wooden rack.

Each plate is knobbed and tuned to a certain note, and the Kulintang A Tiniok is native to the Maguindanaon people.

The Maaranao people have a similar instrument called Sarunay, which you might have heard of, given its growing popularity in the United States.

You may notice the similarities between the Kulintang and the Kulintang A Tiniok, simply because the latter means “kulintang with string.”

When made traditionally, the Kulintang A Tiniok is crafted with brass for the metal pieces, but modern ones can be made using simple tin cans.

9. Babendil

A gong instrument with great cultural significance, the Babendil is on the larger side and is bigger than most Kuintang gongs.

The sunken boss enables it to make a sharp clanging noise when strung on the rim or flange with a bamboo or rattan stick.

By and large, the Babendil is used to keep time among the gong instruments when played in an ensemble, and with such a distinctive sound, it’s no wonder this instrument is so commanding.

As it turns out, according to the Hornbostel-Sachs classification of instruments, the Babendil is not a gong at all.

Rather, it is technically a bell, given where it is struck, to play it properly.

A gong is struck directly on the boss, but given the sunken nature of the Babendil’s boss, it is rendered useless to this effect.

Traditionally, the Babandil was made from bronze, but the scarcity of this resource in Mindanao means that most modern Babendils are made from brass, iron, and tin cans.

The Babendil can be played either seated or standing, but for the most part, this instrument has fallen into disuse in most ensembles.

10. Luntang

The Luntang is a xylophone instrument widely used by the Maguindanaon people. It contains five logs in an ascending order arranged by pitch, and the strings below are vertically matched.

It’s similar to another instrument called the Kwintangan Kayo, used by the Yakan.

Much like a xylophone, the Luntang is played by striking the logs in a pattern to create music and can be played by one or two people.

A solo player usually uses it for entertaining themselves, such as a farmer keeping themselves awake and scaring birds away from the field.

Due to its reverberating sound, the Maguindanaon people often used it for long-distance communication, while the Yakan used it in select ceremonies like courtship rituals.

Wrapping Up

The art of music is alive and well in Mindanao, and every one of these instruments has a role to play in festivals of celebration, healing, planting, and courtship.

From the Kulintang centerpiece to the Dabakan supporting drum, all of the instruments on this list are influential in the progression of ancient Muslim folk songs and dancing called Estijaro, as well as Uruyan, a Mindanao folk song.

Before you go, check out our guide to the 9 Musical Instruments of India (You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)!