The pin peat ensemble ពិណពាទ្យ

Last update: December 2, 2023

Origines of the pin peat

The question of the origins of instruments, orchestras or music is always controversial. This is no different for the pin peat ពិណពាទ្យ or phleng pin peat ភ្លេងពិណពាទ្យ. As most Khmers agree on its Siamese origin, others, more learned, see it as of Mon (Burmese) origin. As always, the truth often lies somewhere in between, since the instruments that make up the instrument have a variety of origins...

The oldest representation of a pin peat can be found on two frescoes in the central sanctuary of Angkor Wat (bakan). They may date back to the 16th century, although there is no scientific evidence to date them at present. An article on this subject is available here.

There is also a legendary origin with multiple variants. Let's take a look at Stéphanie Khoury's thesis*. For the sake of readability and consistency of the site, we have taken the liberty of replacing the transliteration of Khmer terms used in the thesis, may we be forgiven...

"According to some versions, Indra commissioned a chariot from his architect Braḥ Vessakam (Viśvakarman, to whom the Angkor Wat temple is also attributed), so that he could walk around his garden. The god was then so fascinated by the sounds produced by this chariot that he commissioned this architect to devise an orchestra capable of reproducing such sounds. Other versions refer to a cowherd (...)

« According to Chhea Davy, a pin peat master living in France, the sounds produced by the wheels of this cart were materialized by the two sets of circular gongs, the kong. The samphor drum represents the axle, while the circular piece at either end, holding the wheel, represents one of the two skor thom drums. The friction between these parts, generated by the movement of the carriage, is reproduced by the sralai oboe. The roneat ek xylophone is the yoke of the carriage, the key piece linking the carriage to the yoke and setting the carriage in motion. The roneat dek is the drawbar, and the roneat thung reproduces the sounds of the driver's seat. The chhing cymbals, meanwhile, recall the tinkling of the carriage's bells." » 

* Khoury Stéphanie. When Kumbhakār releases the waters. Theater, biṇ bādy music and ritual expression in Cambodia's lkhon khol. Thesis, January 2014.

The instruments

We have dedicated a page to each instrument or family of instruments. Here we only show their image with a link to the description.

Contemporary pin peat instruments

The pin peat is an ensemble with a variable structure, adapting to the availability of instruments, musicians and the functional framework. The minimum structure is five instruments/musicians expanding to ten.


Reduced ensemble (five instruments/five musicians)

The pin peat ensemble at Siem Reap's Preah Ang Chek Ang Chorm temple is the busiest in Cambodia, playing from dawn to dusk every day of the year. Several teams of musicians take turns. It is reduced to its simplest functional expression: xylophone roneat ek, large gong chime kong vong thom, barrel drum on stand samphor, pair of large barrel drums skor thom, large sralai thom oboe. Devotees offer this music to the two local deities. Musicians are paid in advance by devotees according to the number of pieces played.

Extended ensemble (ten to eleven musicians / ten to twelve instruments)


The set below is one of the most complete that can be found in Cambodia with: samphor, kong vong thom, sralai thom, sralai touch, skor thom, roneat ek dek, kong vong touch, chhing, roneat thung, roneat thung dek. In the video sequence below the sang na cylindrical drum is missing.

This sequence was filmed during the Pchum Ben festival in 2015, at Vat Reach Bo in Siem Reap, which is one of the most prestigious ensembles in the country. At the time of our filming, only a sralai oboe and a roneat dek lamellophone were being played. The two musicians were absent, but the orchestra continued without them, proof of the adaptability of this type of orchestral structure designed for this for centuries.

Tuning of instruments

Instrument tuning varies from one pin peat ensemble to another, although in recent years there has been a trend towards harmonization, linked to formal teaching at the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA). Only a few of the orchestra's instruments are tunable: xylophones roneat ek and roneat thung, gong chimes kong vong, samphor, drum skor sang na and, to a certain extent, drum skor thom. In the instrumental descriptions, we have described the tuning technique for each instrument.

Sralai oboes, roneat dek metallophones and chhing cymbals cannot be tuned.

Uses of the pin peat

The pin peat is a musical ensemble widely used in Cambodia. Its great acoustic virtue is its intrinsic sonic power, which a priori requires no amplification. However, Khmers love loudness and amplify, even over-amplify, to reach the space of "Communicate there".


Religious use

One of the most widespread vocations is to accompany Buddhist ceremonies, both inside and outside monasteries. The music performed is not strictly speaking religious, since the sacred texts are said or sung a cappella by the monks. On major holidays (Khmer New Year chaul chhnam thmey បុណ្យចូលឆ្នាំថ្មី, feast of the dead pchum ben បុណ្យភ្ជុំបិណ្ឌ, celebration of the end of the annual monastic retreat kathina កឋិន, funerals... ) the pin peat plays to welcome devotees, during the breaks granted by achar masters of ceremony and monks, or even during lunch. 

Although the music could hardly be described as "religious", it is nonetheless considered a sonic offering to the deities. The two most obvious examples are the orchestras that play once a week in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and daily at the Preah Ang Chek Ang Chorm temple in Siem Reap (see above). Devotees bring flowers and coconuts, burn incense and offer pieces of music to the local deities in payment for the musicians.


Theatrical performances

The pin peat is also used to animate various forms of Khmer theater: small shadow theater ខោនស្បែកតូច, large shadow theater Sbek Thom ខោនស្បែកធំ, lakhon khol masked theater ល្ខោនខោល or Khmer classical dance, which is a form of theater, of which the Ballet Royal du Cambodge is the most prestigious exponent.


Playing position

The pin peat instruments are placed on the floor inside the buildings, and on mats outside. Musicians sit on the floor (on mats) with their legs to one side, the cross-legged position being reserved for monks (the canonical Buddha position).

Prohibitions and obligations

One of the most important prohibitions is never to step over instruments. Belief aside, this is above all a question of common sense. Indeed, anyone who gets their feet entangled in the instruments risks falling and damaging them.

Before any ceremony, the Khmers perform a ceremony of homage to the Supernatural Masters, sampeah kru.

Pin peat music

Pin peat music is extremely elaborate. It is not written but learned by heart. It is contrapuntal polyphonic music in which each melodic instrument [oboe, xylophone(s), gong chime(s), metallophone(s)] play the same corpus, but in a different way. Each piece is made up of a skeleton on which improvisations learned by heart are built. This skeleton corresponds to a melody that musicians of the past knew how to sing, which is less and less the case since they learn by heart and by mimicry both the basic melody and the improvisation. Kinesthetic memory is preponderant, especially in the game of roneat. Indeed, during learning, it is not uncommon for the teacher to stand behind his student and hold his hands so that the latter memorizes the movement. In the performance of a piece, music masters improvise within improvisation. Thus, depending on the talent of the musicians in a given orchestra, either the pieces are always played in the same way, or one or more musicians bring variations which make an interpretation an ephemeral, non-reproducible sound object.

Pin peat music consists of suites of pieces led by the roneat ek player. In the case of musical offerings and when demand from devotees is high, musicians, for economic reasons, play short pieces linked together quickly and elegantly. The Krom Pleag Pin Peat Preah Ang Don Kal orchestra from Phnom Penh gives a brilliant demonstration here. It has a price list available to devotees who can purchase up to a hundred pieces of music. The unit is billed at 1 US$ (4000 Riel), without specifying the duration of each of them.

In the case of theatrical performances in which there is an element of improvisation, the responsiveness of the orchestra is essential. The skor thom drum characteristically punctuates the action.

Transmission of knowledge

Like most traditional instruments in Cambodia, the transmission of knowledge takes place from master to student. The case of the peat pine is, however, particular because it is a whole. In the majority of cases, the orchestras belong to monasteries and the students do not have an instrument allowing them to rehearse individually at home, with the exception of the oboes. Physical orchestras are generally financed by the village community or by wealthy Khmers.


The musicians

In the village setting, pin peat musicians are generally part of the village community as long as the monastery has a physical orchestra. Otherwise, the monastery must convene an external ensemble of its choice (instruments and musicians).

Musicians share their musical activity with another profession. Most of the time, they are farmers. Indeed, over the course of a year, opportunities to play remain quite rare (see above) and do not allow you to make a living from this art.


The masters

The masters (kru គ្រូ, term derived from the Sanskrit guru) can be part of the village community or come from another place sometimes located several tens of kilometers away. As part of our study (2021) relating to the peat pine of Wat Trach (prov. of Siem Reap), two teachers provide training for mixed students from the village community, the youngest of whom is around ten years old and the older about fifteen. These two teachers live in the city of Siem Reap and travel alternately to provide lessons five days a week for two to three hours. The masters know, for each musical piece, all the instrumental parts, different for each instrument.



The success of the Khmer teaching method used at Wat Trach (and in many other monasteries) is due to the quality of the casting of the children, their motivation and above all the frequency of rehearsals. Several techniques are used by masters to teach repertoire pieces:

  1. The teacher plays a melodic fragment immediately repeated by the student, as many times as necessary. Once the fragment is acquired, the master plays the next one then connects the two fragments, and so on. This is learning through auditory and, to a lesser extent, visual memorization.
  2. In case of difficulty (case of xylophones, gong chimes and drums), the teacher places himself behind the student, takes his hands and moves them. Then the student repeats alone. This process is repeated until the melodic or rhythmic fragment is acquired. This is learning through kinesthetic and, as before, visual memorization.

Qualities inherent in learning and practicing pin peat

Learning to play pin peat requires many qualities:

  1. A good short-term memory to reproduce melodic and rhythmic fragments.
  2. A long-term memory in order to restore the repertoire.
  3. A capacity for abstraction in order to be able to play in the hubbub of rehearsal sessions during which each musician works on his own part, independently of the others.
  4. A good ability to concentrate in order to listen to other musicians while playing your part, to which you can link a certain empathy.
  5. Agility and a capacity for bilateral dissociation in the playing of xylophones and gong chimes.
  6. Great patience to endure the long hours of waiting during certain Buddhist ceremonies or funerals which last from a whole day to a week.
  7. For oboe players, excellent physical resistance to play for hours with the continuous blowing technique.

Beyond these various qualities, some musicians develop a “musical intelligence” and a specific know-how to “improvise in improvisation” since their basic knowledge is already an improvisation on a traditional melody. Curiosity will push some to learn to play all the instruments in the orchestra and become a music master.



The motivation of students and families who let their child study is linked, if not to a certain taste or passion for music, but also to the prospect of substantial remuneration during performances.


From oral to written

As we have already mentioned, teaching is exclusively oral in rural areas. However, the development of schools and conservatories in urban areas shows a trend towards a move towards writing. The notes are named numerically or alphabetically, traditionally in an order going from the highest to the lowest, although some masters have followed an opposite logic influenced by the West. Although some Cambodian or foreign academics transcribe the various musical parts of a given piece, no one uses them for learning or performance. For the moment, these notations remain study and archive documents.

Pin peat through Buddhist painting

Buddhist painting sometimes presents, in illuminated works, on the inner or outer walls of the vihear or the sala of monasteries, pin peat groups with a variable structure depending on the inspiration of the artists and the space available on the support.

Scene from the Vessantara Jataka from a work containing drawings of the Khmer Reamker or Siamese Ramakien, and the ten birth tales on European paper, with captions in Khmer characters. There are five instruments, like the Preah Ang Chek Ang Chorm temple ensemble in Siem Reap presented above. Thailand or Cambodia, 1880. British Library. Gold 14859, ff. 182–3. Or 14859, ff. 182–3.

Pin peat orchestra belonging to the Reamker fresco of the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh (1903). From L. to R.: roneat ek xylophone, skor sang na drum, kong vong gong chime, skor daey drum, skor thom drum, chhing cymbals, skor samphor drum, sralai oboe, roneat thung xylophone.

Wat Chedei (Siem Reap prov.).

Other videos produced by Sounds of Angkor

Khmer New Year 2017 near Phnom Krom (Siem Reap)

Kaman កម្មាន. Lokru Vanh Moeun ensemble (Siem Reap).

Trah ត្រៈ. Lokru Vanh Moeun ensemble (Siem Reap).

Choeut Chhing ជើតឈិង. Lokru Vanh Moeun ensemble (Siem Reap).

Sathuka សាធុការ. Lokru Vanh Moeun ensemble (Siem Reap).