A Gong is any one of a wide variety of metal percussion instruments. The term is malayu-javanese in origin but widespread throughout Asia. The instrument itself appears to have origins in the bronze drums of China, cymbals of central Asia, and perhaps even in European bell-casting techniques.

Gongs are broadly of two types. Suspended gongs are more or less flat, circular disks of metal suspended vertically by means of a chord passed through holes near to the top rim. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on cushions. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other alloys in use.

Types of gong

Suspended gongs are played with beaters. In general, the larger the gong, the larger and softer the beater. Large gongs may be 'primed' by lightly hitting them before the main stroke, greatly enhancing the sound. Keeping this priming stroke inaudible calls for a great deal of skill. The smallest suspended gongs are played with bamboo sticks, or even western-style drumsticks.

Bowl gongs may be played in many different ways, not all of them strictly percussion. The rim may be rubbed with the finger, for example, or the gong may be struck with a beater. Bowl gongs are used in temple worship, especially in Buddhism.

Traditional suspended gongs

Chau gongs

A 10" Chau GongBy far the most familiar to most Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams (not to be confused with tom-tom drums), have become part of the symphony orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.

The chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat except for the rim, which is turned up to makea shallow cylinder. On a 10" gong, for example, the rim extends about an half an inch perpendicular to the gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the manufacture of the gong, the rest of the gong is polished to remove this coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7" to 80" in diameter.

Karlheinz Stockhausen used a 60" tam-tam in his Mikrophonie #1.

Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which of them should bow down before the other.

Nipple gongs

Nipple gongs have a raised boss or nipple in the centre, often made of a different metal to the rest of the gong. They have a clear resonant tone with less shimmer than other gongs, and two distinct sounds depending on whether they are struck on the boss or next to it.

Nipple gongs range from in size from 6" to 14" or larger. Sets of smaller, tuned nipple gongs can be used to play a tune.

A Bau gong is a type of nipple gong used in Chinese temples for worship.

Opera gongs

An essential part of the orchestra for Chinese opera is a pair of gongs, the larger with a descending tone, the smaller with a rising tone. The larger gong is used to announce the entrance of major players, of men, and to identify points of drama and consequence. The smaller gong is used to announce the entry of lesser players, of women, and to identify points of humour.

Opera gongs range in size from 7" to 12", with the larger of a pair one or two inches larger than the smaller.

Pasi gongs

A Pasi gong is a medium-size gong 12" to 15" in size, with a crashing sound. It is used traditionally to announce the start of a performance, play or magic. Construction varies, some having nipples and some not, so this type is more named for its function than for its structure or even its sound.

Pasi gongs without nipples have found favour with adventurous middle-of-the-road kit drummers.

Tiger gong

A tiger gong is a slightly descending or less commonly ascending gong, larger than an opera gong and with a less pronounced pitch shift. Most commonly 15" but available down to 8".

Shueng Kwong

A Sheng Kwong gong is a medium to large gong with a sharp stacatto sound.

Wind gong

Wind gongs are flat and heavy, with a high pitched, heavy tuned overtone and long sustain. Played with a nylon tip drumstick they sound a bit like the coil chimes in a mantle clock. Some have holes in the centre, but they are mounted like all suspended gongs by other holes near the rim. They are lathed both sides and are medium to large in size, typically 15" to 22" but sizes from 7" to 40" are available.

Wind gongs are the type most commonly used by heavy rock drummers. Traditionally, a wind gong is played with a large soft mallet, which gives a completely different sound to a drumstick.

Modern orchestral gongs

As well as the tam-tam, there are a number of new gong types that were created during the 20th century specifically for orchestral use.

Planet gongs

A series of 14 tuned gongs by Paiste, ranging in size from 24" to 38".

Sound Creation gongs

A series of 13 theme gongs by Paiste, ranging in size from 11" to 60".

Gong - General

In older Javanese usage and in modern Balinese usage, gong is used to identify an ensemble of instruments. In contemporary central Javanese usage, the term gamelan is prefered and the term gong is reserved for the gong ageng, the largest instrument of the type, or for surrogate instruments such as the gong komodong or gong bumbu (blown gong) which fill the same musical function in ensembles lacking the large gong.

Gongs - General

The article below from a 1911 encyclopedia has been considerably updated but needs more and perhaps eventual merging with the above material

A gong (鑼 pinyin luo2; Malay language or Javanese language: gong-gong or tam-tam) is a percussion sonorous or musical instrument of Chinese origin and manufacture, made in the form of a broad thin disk with a deep rim, that has spread to Southeast Asia, a flat bell if you like.

Gongs vary in diameter from about 20 to 40 in., and they are made of bronze containing a maximum of 22 parts of tin to 78 of copper; but in many cases the proportion of tin is considerably less. Such an alloy, when cast and allowed to cool slowly, is excessively brittle, but it can be tempered and annealed in a peculiar manner. If suddenly cooled from a cherry-red heat, the alloy becomes so soft that it can be hammered and worked on the lathe, and afterwards it may be hardened by re-heating and cooling it slowly. In these properties it will be observed, the alloy behaves in a manner exactly opposite to steel, and the Chinese avail themselves of the known peculiarities for preparing the thin sheets of which gongs are made. They cool their castings of bronze in water, and after hammering out the alloy in the soft state, harden the finished gongs by heating them to a cherry-red and allowing them to cool slowly. These properties of the alloy long remained a secret, said to have been first discovered in Europe by Jean Pierre Joseph d'Arcet at the beginning of the 19th century. Riche and Champion are said to have succeeded in producing tam-tams having all the qualities and timbre of the Chinese instruments. The composition of the alloy of bronze used for making gongs is stated to be as follows: Copper, 76.52; Tin, 22.43; Lead, 0.26; Zinc, 0.23; Iron, 0.81. The gong is beaten with a round, hard, leather-covered pad, fitted on a short stick or handle. It emits a peculiarly sonorous sound, its complex vibrations bursting into a wave-like succession of tones, sometimes shrill, sometimes deep. In China and Japan it is used in religious ceremonies, state processions, marriages and other festivals; and it is said that the Chinese can modify its tone variously by particular ways of striking the disk. Gongs may have been used on towers in place of place.

The gong has been effectively used in the orchestra to intensify the impression of fear and horror in melodramatic scenes. The tam-tam was first introduced into a western orchestra by François-Joseph Gossec in the funeral march composed at the death of Mirabeau in 1791. Gaspard Spontini used it in La Vestale (1807), in the finale of act II., an impressive scene in which the high pontiff pronounces the anathema on the faithless vestal. It was also used in the funeral music played when the remains of Napoleon were brought back to France in 1840. Meyerbeer made use of the instrument in the scene of the resurrection of the three nuns in Robert le diable. Four tam-tams are now used at Bayreuth in Parsifal to reinforce the bell instruments, although there is no indication given in the score. The tap.i-tam has been treated from its ethnographical side by Franz Heger.

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