Who doesn’t love a good bit of music? I generally like to listen to something while working. Let’s not forget that music is also a great way to learn Thai. I don’t have any particular genre I enjoy, though. Anyway, all this got me thinking - what are the names of instruments in Thai?
There are many people out there who are extremely talented and can play instruments and make their own music. How cool is that? In dedication to them, as well as all the other talented people and language learners, we will cover the Thai names of popular instruments, plus some traditional Thai ones. Let’s get into it.
I am by no means an expert on Thai music, but I thought it was worth introducing before talking about the names of instruments in Thai. Music in Thailand is just as varied as anywhere else. You will find all the usual instruments you are likely familiar with like guitars, pianos, and more. There are plenty of rock bands and pop stars that hail from the country and play these instruments like anywhere else.
However, you may notice that some music has a different, more distinctively Thai sound. This is because they include the use of traditional Thai instruments. While you will usually hear them in traditional songs, some popular songs also make use of their unique sounds.
Each region of the country has its own small cultural differences, which can also be seen in the music they make and enjoy. There is a lot of history that plays into that. Just know that traditional music from different parts of the country will sound different as they make use of different instruments.
There are quite a few different traditional Thai instruments. In fact, there are too many to cover here now. They are split into different categories based on the type of instrument (e.g. string, percussion, and wind) and how they are played (e.g. plucked, struck, etc.).
A wood carving showing some traditional Thai instruments in use
Anyway, if you want to make music, you are going to need some instruments.
Right away, you should notice that there is a trend in the naming of some of these. Thankfully, it is a trend that makes learning the names of instruments in Thai much easier.
I think everyone is familiar with the guitar. In Thai, it is called a ‘gii dtaa’ (กีต้าร์). Yes, it is essentially the same pronunciation as in English, but with a bit of a Thai accent.
Here is another popular choice for people looking to learn. Once again, the Thai name is almost the same as in English, as Thais call a piano ‘bpiia no’ (เปียโน). As you can see, it uses the 'bp' sound that the Thai language is well known for, though it can be difficult to pronounce properly.
The violin is often thought of as a romantic instrument. It is known as ‘wai oo lin’ (ไวโอลิน) in Thai. Pair it with your knowledge of Thai love words for a perfect date.
Here is where things start getting interesting among the names of instruments in Thai. The Thai word for flute is, as you may expect, ‘floot’ (ฟลูต). However, this is used specifically for the western style flute.
If you were to search for the Thai word for flute online you would see ‘khlui’ (ขลุ่ย) as the answer. The name khlui is given to traditional Thai flutes/wind instruments, of which there are quite a few. The most popular is the ‘khlui phiang aw’ (ขลุ่ยเพียงออ).
Muay Thai fans should be able to recognize the music made by the ‘pii’ (ปี่). This oboe-like wind instrument has a very distinctive sound. Most often, it is used as the backing music for Muay Thai fights.
The music that plays during Muay Thai fights is called ‘sarama’ (สะระหม่า) and consists of the pii as mentioned, alongside cymbals and drums.
Speaking of percussion instruments, the 'ranat' (ระนาด) is also worth mentioning. These are large, rounded percussion instrument that is not too dissimilar from a xylophone. They also sound very similar, though something about the large trough shape of the ranat gives it a unique sound.
The large keys are made from wood or something similar like bamboo. They have been around for a few hundred years, originating in the area of modern day Myanmar.
Why not end things on a more traditional instrument? The phin (พิณ) should sound very familiar to anyone who has listened to music from the Isaan region of Thailand. It is a small, two or three-stringed instrument that is apparently related to the lute. It is played using a plucking motion.
This instrument has very strong links to the Isaan and Laos communities in Thailand. If you happen to know any, there is a fair chance that they may own one, or at least have tried playing it before.
What is it that people do with instruments? That’s right - they play them. The word 'play' in Thai is ‘len’ (เล่น). Here are a couple of sentences you can use to show off your ability to play:
chan len gii dtaa bpen
ฉัน เล่น กีต้าร์ เป็น
I can play the guitar
ter len bpiia no bpen
เธอ เล่น เปียโน เป็น
She can play the piano
Another common thing for instrument players is practice. To say this in Thai, you use the word ‘fook’ (ฝึก).
chan fook len gii dtaa tuk wan
ฉัน ฝึก เล่น เปียโน ทุกวัน
I practice playing the guitar every day
While the topic of instrument names in Thai may not be too important for some, it does provide some insight into the culture of the country. Thailand has developed its own music scene, which exists alongside the more global acts we are all familiar with. In that way, Thai instruments have continued to be used outside just traditional songs. Keep an ear out for these instruments next time you are listening to something and practice using this new knowledge.
If you are looking to increase your Thai knowledge further, then you should try out the Ling Thai app. It offers some great lessons that keep things engaging so you are more likely to continue your learning all the way to fluency.