Improvisation: Thang, and Thai Muscial Structure

John Garzoli, Bussakorn Binson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Despite its centrality to Thai musical thought and practice, Thai and English-language scholars have been reluctant to use the term ‘improvisation’ to describe Thai music. This reluctance stems from a number of interrelated factors, including the incommensurability of terms and concepts in the Thai and Western musical systems, scholars’ lack of familiarity with Thai and/or Western musical structure, and the improvisatory practices associated with them, especially jazz, which is thought to exemplify improvisation, and lack of
clarity in understanding the Thai musical concepts of prae, plae, and thang that underpin Thai musical thought and provide the context in which improvisation can, and in some cases must, occur. By laying out some general principles associated with improvisation, especially Pressing’s concept of the ‘referent’, and describing how these relate to Thai musical structure, thought, and practice, we clarify uncertainty about Thai music’s structure and performance processes. We show that in learning to perform, Thai musicians develop intimate knowledge of their musical system and the stylistic qualities of all instruments. Their
training teaches them to think in terms that mirror the logic of the musical system and enables them to improvise in stylistically appropriate ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalMusicology Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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