In general, Burmese traditional music can be divided into different categories according to the type of functions that it serves. These categories are Classical Traditions, Mahagita and Folk Traditions.

Classical traditions

Burmese classical music ensembles are divided into two main kinds – Outdoor and Indoor ensembles.

Outdoor music ensemble, which was often used to mark significant ceremonies in the royal courts such as the royal ploughing ceremony, can either be known as “sidaw” or “sidawgyi”. The outdoor music ensemble usually consists of hnegyi (large double reed pipe), sidaw (a pair of drums), si (bell), wa (clapper) and gandama (double-headed drum). Today, saung (harp) and pattala (xylophone) were also commonly used in classical music.

On the other hand, indoor ensemble usually refers to the chamber music ensemble which consists of a female singer and various traditional musical instruments such as the saung, pattala, migyaung (zither), palwe (flute) and tayaw (fiddle).

An example of Indoor Classical Ensemble – “In Concert: Hsaing Waing Ensemble with Kyaw Kyaw Naing”,


Mahagita is an exquisite collection of Burmese classical songs (thachin gyi). The collection can be divided into several types of songs that serve different functions such as:

Byaw”, for joyous celebrations or Buddhist festivals;
Bein-maung”, music for fighting scene;
music for the performance of martial art or showcase of abilities;
Oziand Doe-bat”, music that embraces the atmosphere for the scene of the feast in the country;
Pat pyo”, royal court music;
Myin gin”, music for
the dance of horsemanship during the royal time;
Nat chin”, music used to worship the nat (Burmese spirits);
Yodaya”, music from the Ayutthaya;
Yé-ginor Si-daw“, music for the scene of court;
lwan chin”, music of longing;
Talaing than”, music from the Mon people;
Bole”,  music for sorrow.

An example of “Byaw” tune – “Yay Kin and Byaw Tune (Special Occasion Theme)”,

By being the kind of Burmese classical music commonly played by locals during religious and joyous festivals, Byaw is hence part of the Burmese folk traditions.

Folk Traditions

Hsiang Waing is the name of the traditional Burmese folk ensemble that is commonly used in Burmese folk traditions. A typical Hsiang Waing folk ensemble includes a series of drums and gongs such as as Patt Waing (a set of 21 tuned hanging drums in a circle), Hne (oboe), Kyi Waing (small bronze gongs in circular frame), Maung Hsiang (larger bronze gongs in rectangular frame) and Si and Wa (bell and clapper). (For more details, see Instruments)

Examples of Burmese folk traditions in which Hsiang Waing is commonly used are monastic festivals, religious rituals for the spirits (Nat Pwe) and Burmese theatre (Puppet show).

Nat Pwe

Nat commonly refers to spirits that are being worshipped by devotees in Burma and Pwe means a play or performance in Burmese language. Hence, Nat Pwe is a kind of spiritual ceremony that involves Nat Kadaws (spiritual intermediaries) to dance to the music played by Hsiang Waing folk ensemble in order for the spiritual possession of the Nat into their bodies. During the spiritual possession, Nat Kadaws can then communicate with the Nat to become fortune tellers for the devotees.

An example of Nat Pwe – “NAT PWE: a spiritual ceremony in Myanmar/Burma”,

Burmese theatre (Puppet show)

Until today, Hsiang Waing has been an important part of the whole puppet or marionette show in the Burmese theatre. The marionettes are about 50 centimetres tall and they are manipulated by the puppeteers from above through strings. The expressions and moves of these marionettes are usually enhanced by the kind of music played by the Hsiang Waing ensemble in the background. For example, the music beats will tend to be fast and exciting when it comes to fighting scene.

An example of Burmese Puppet Show in theatre – “Burmese Puppet Performance by Mandalay Marionettes Theater”,


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