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  Studying Gamelan

Though the wide varieties of Balinese compositions are generally attractive to Western ears, some formidable obstacles face Western students.

The rhythm defies Western music notation. Indeed, the whole Western concept of scales and keys, as well as the terminology, is alien to Balinese music. While a Westerner may discern two separate five-tone scales, a Balinese can recognize at least seven.

Learning to appreciate the music requires great concentration and ear training. Students are started off kindergarten style with big charts, and audible counting games accustom the class to the role of each instrument before they kneel behind the real thing.

Singing their parts along with the music, Westerners must adjust to rhythms that can't be wrestled into four beats per measure. Although the instruments appear simple, a number of tricks go into playing them.

One of the most difficult to learn is the mallet technique-the knack of striking the keys with a mallet in the right hand while dampening the keys with the fingers of the left a millisecond later.

This split-second timing at very high speeds sometimes takes years to master. Decide first on the style of music you want to study. The most popular choices for Westerners are the 'tingklik', 'gong kebyar', and gender 'wayang'.

Michael Tenzer, author of 'Balinese Music', advises students to learn the basic melodies on the gangsa first, as other instruments like the reyong and kendang are too abstract for the beginner. Bring a tape recorder so that you can hear the lesson and practice later.

Determining payment is awkward for a Balinese teacher because their instruction is usually given to a group and payment is made in favors or obligations rather than in coin.

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