Courtesy of Arthur Ka Wai Jenkins

The tam-tam is a huge, round dish of metal – a kind of gong. Tam-tams come from the Far East and Central Asia.

Some 20th-century composers have experimented by getting the percussionist to do unusual things with a tam-tam. The American composer John Cage had it lowered into water: that makes quite an eerie sound!

A player of the tam-tam, courtesy of Tony Morrell

A player of the tam-tam

To play it

You strike it with a beater that has a large, padded head.

You can even scrape it with a bouncy ball to make it sound like a dinosaur!

The sound

The tam-tam makes a loud, fantastically rich, exotic, colourful, echoing sound.

In Indonesia there are orchestras called ‘gamelan’ orchestras. Gongs feature a lot here. All the instruments are very rich and echoey.

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 A tam-tam is a kind of…

a. Drum
b. Gong
c. Triangle

 Which of these composers used a tam-tam?

a. Mahler
b. C.P.E. Bach
c. Handel

 What is a tam-tam made of?

a. Plastic
b. Metal
c. Wood

 How is it normally played?

a. It is struck with a beater
b. It is shouted at
c. It is tickled with a feather

 What shape is a tam-tam?

a. Square
b. Circular
c. Hexagonal

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Selected Tam-Tam Extracts

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No. 2, ‘Resurrection’: V. Im tempo des scherzo (‘In the tempo of a scherzo’) (extract)

The tam-tam is quickly followed by a cymbal clash for real drama.

Performers: Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra; Antoni Wit

Taken from Naxos 8.550523–24