In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Thailand

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Doctoral Dissertations
  • Textbooks and Reference Works
  • Issues in the History of Thai Classical Music
  • Education and Thai Classical Music
  • Assessments of the Status of Thai Classical Music
  • Rituals and Ceremonies Associated with Music in Thailand
  • Northern Thai Music
  • Music of Ethnic Minorities in Thailand
  • Social and Political Analyses of Thai PopularMusic

Music Thailand
Pamela A. Moro
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0156


The musical traditions of Thailand are diverse, reflecting a nation that has been shaped by manifold flows of people, culture, and resources across history. While this bibliography focuses on English-language works that are available globally, music researchers within Thailand have produced an important body of work as well, often based on local ethnographic study, or on the researchers’ experiences as culture bearers. Some of these Thai-language works are referenced in the publications included here, especially those by Thai authors writing in English. The music associated with royal and noble courts, and with religious life, is commonly referred to as Thai classical music. During the 20th century, this music came to be identified as part of the nation’s official cultural heritage, supported by government institutions, the educational system, and the royal family. Today, the music is also embraced and supported by Thai living abroad. Thai classical music is the most thoroughly documented music in the nation, and most scholarship on the music of Thailand, whether in the form of academic publications or graduate theses, focuses on it. Researchers have utilized a variety of scholarly approaches to document Thai classical music, including comparative analysis, laboratory study, analyses of musical structures and performance practices, history, and ethnographic fieldwork. The worldview associated with Thai classical music is articulated in ritual practices that have been the subject of several scholarly studies. The traditional music of northeastern Thailand—part of a musical system shared with Laos—has also received significant scholarly attention, though from a small number of prolific authors. The most popular genre of commercial music from northeastern Thailand, pleng luk thung, has been the subject of analyses focusing on political economy, the social significance of lyrics, and the identity and prestige status of the region. Sparser are studies of northern Thai music—itself a distinctive tradition—and the music of ethnic minorities. Commercial genres of Thai popular music outside the Northeast have been the subject of recent social and political analyses.

General Overviews

General overviews of Thai classical music are available through a small number of book-length works, outside of the Thai-language literature. Most are extensions of doctoral dissertations. The standard work most frequently cited by subsequent writers is Morton 1976, while Duriyanga 1990 offers a concise English-language overview by a Thai author. Swangviboonpong 2003 is the most complete descriptive analysis of Thai vocal music, and includes an exceptionally detailed bibliography of Thai-language scholarship. Myers-Moro 1993 introduces basic elements of Thai music but emphasizes the social context of performance. While the title of Wong 2001 might lead readers to expect a narrowly focused work, the book is an important historical and ethnographic overview of Thai classical music and related performing arts.

  • Duriyanga, [Phra] Chen. Thai Music. 6th ed. Bangkok, Thailand: Promotions and Public Relations Sub-Division, Fine Arts Department, 1990.

    Government-issued booklet introduces basics of Thai music and musical instruments to English-language readers, often using vocabulary from Western music theory. First edition was published in 1948. Important because it is frequently cited by other authors.

  • Morton, David. The Traditional Music of Thailand. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

    Pioneering, oft-cited account of the Thai classical tradition, based on research in the late 1950s and late 1960s, with emphasis on instrumental music. Documents musical fundamentals, instruments and ensembles, modes, and compositional forms and techniques. For the mid-20th-century period, this is the most important study of Thai music by a scholar working in Western ethnomusicology.

  • Myers-Moro, Pamela. Thai Music and Musicians in Contemporary Bangkok. Center for Southeast Asia Studies Monograph 34. Berkeley: Center for Southeast Asia Studies, University of California at Berkeley, 1993.

    Based on research in 1985–1986, this extension of a doctoral dissertation adds to the account of music principles given in Morton 1976, and includes chapters on the social organization of musicians, religious cosmology and ritual, and the social and institutional contexts of Thai classical music as it reemerged in the last decades of the century.

  • Swangviboonpong, Dusadee. Thai Classical Singing: Its History, Musical Characteristics, and Transmission. SOAS Musicology Series. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

    Detailed analytical description of Thai vocal music, extending a PhD thesis from the University of London. The bibliography and audiography are especially valuable because they include thorough lists of Thai-authored/recorded works, not easily accessible to readers of English, with vocabulary transliterated and translated.

  • Wong, Deborah. Sounding the Center: History and Aesthetics in Thai Buddhist Performance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

    Detailed, theoretically insightful account of the ritual for honoring teachers and deities (wai khruu) and how it regulates the transmission of musical knowledge among Thai master musicians. Based on ethnographic research and Thai-language historical sources, this work extends a 1991 doctoral dissertation. Appendices include lists of deities, ritual repertory, instruments, and commercial recordings.

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