Thai Language Blog

How are Thai musical notes written? part 1 Posted by on Mar 23, 2013 in Beginner, Culture, Intermediate

When I was in grade school I had about ~5 years of formal musical training, most of it on the clarinet. I’ve taken several months of Thai instrument classes recently and it’s definitely been a ‘Thai’ experience I’d like to share. As not all my readers can read sheet music, or has musical experience, I’ll quickly review how western music works first. And then we’ll move into how to read Thai sheet music.


For those who cannot read western sheet music, here is a basic summary. Refer to the image of sheet music above.

In the top row, at the far left, you’ll see two numbers (in this case 6 and 8). These numbers, whatever they may be, represent the speed that the entire musical piece should be played at.

You then see a bunch of horizontal lines on each row. The lines define the pitch of each note – higher lines are for higher notes. Notes above those lines are an octave higher, and notes below are an octave lower. An octave, meaning eight, are the 8 key notes (do re me fa so la ti do).

A hollow white note is a long note, a dot above a note makes a note have a very short sound, notes that are connected by a curved line have a smooth transition sound between them, long curvy lines are crescendos and decrescendos, etc. etc. The list goes on. And to coordinate the orchestra, a conductor is up front directing. He has various hand motions that help everyone keep the same beat, to when to start and end songs, to know if the group is playing too loud or too soft, etc.

The point I’m making is that western sheet music is filled with information describing exactly how a piece is played. Every little detail is defined and nothing is left to guesswork.

But quite the opposite is true with Thai sheet music!

A typical Thai song would look something like this:


And that’s it. Just a string of notes with no accompanying information.

Each letter represents a note, corresponding to:

which sounds just like:

do re me fa so la ti

to be continued . . .

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  1. Matt:

    A Thai music teacher gave me a little bit more detailed version of this, but maybe he was breaking it down to be more simple. I would really like to learn some more so I can go back and impress him. Great post by the way. There’s not much about this on the internet.

    Looking forward to another post.