Gongs are broadly of three types. Suspended gongs are more or less flat, circular discs of metal suspended vertically by means of a cord passed through holes near to the top rim. Bossed gongs have a raised center boss and are often suspended and played horizontally. Bowl gongs are bowl-shaped, and rest on cushions and belong more to bells than gongs. Gongs are made mainly from bronze or brass but there are many other alloys in use.
Large flat gongs may be 'primed' by lightly hitting them before the main stroke, greatly enhancing the sound and causing the instrument to "speak" sooner, with a shorter delay for the sound to "bloom". Keeping this priming stroke inaudible calls for a great deal of skill. The smallest suspended gongs are played with bamboo sticks, or even western-style drumsticks. Contemporary & avant-garde music, where different sounds are sought, will often use friction mallets (producing squeals & harmonics), bass bows (producing long tones and high overtones), and various striking implements (wood/plastic/metal) to produce the desired tones.
By far the most familiar to most Westerners is the chau gong or bullseye gong. Large chau gongs, called tam-tams (not to be confused with tom-tom drums) have become part of the symphony orchestra. Sometimes a chau gong is referred to as a Chinese gong, but in fact it is only one of many types of suspended gongs that are associated with China.
The chau gong is made of copper-based alloy, bronze or brass. It is almost flat except for the rim, which is turned up to make a shallow cylinder. On a 10" gong, for example, the rim extends about a half an inch perpendicular to the gong surface. The main surface is slightly concave when viewed from the direction to which the rim is turned. The centre spot and the rim of a chau gong are left coated on both sides with the black copper oxide that forms during the manufacture of the gong, the rest of the gong is polished to remove this coating. Chau gongs range in size from 7" to 80" in diameter.
The earliest Chau gong is from a tomb discovered at the Guixian site in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. It dates from the early Western Han Dynasty.
Traditionally, chau gongs were used to clear the way for important officials and processions, much like a police siren today. Sometimes the number of strokes on the gong was used to indicate the seniority of the official. In this way, two officials meeting unexpectedly on the road would know before the meeting which of them should bow down before the other.
Nipple gongs have a raised boss or nipple in the centre, often made of a different metal to the rest of the gong. They have a clear resonant tone with less shimmer than other gongs, and two distinct sounds depending on whether they are struck on the boss or next to it. They most often are tuned to various pitches.
Nipple gongs range in size from 6" to 14" or larger. Sets of smaller, tuned nipple gongs can be used to play a tune.
A Bau gong is a type of nipple gong used in Chinese temples for worship.
Opera gongs range in size from 7" to 12", with the larger of a pair one or two inches larger than the smaller.
Pasi gongs without nipples have found favour with adventurous middle-of-the-road kit drummers.
Played with a nylon tip drumstick they sound a bit like the coil chimes in a mantle clock. Some have holes in the centre, but they are mounted like all suspended gongs by other holes near the rim. The smaller sizes (7"-12") have a more bell-like tone due to their thickness and small diameter.
Another type of drum is the "slit gong" or slit drum. The people of Vanuatu in particular, cut a large log with 'totem' type carvings on the outer surface and hollow out the centre leaving only a slit down the front. This hollowed out log gives the deep resonance of drums when hit on the outside with sticks.
A gong (Chinese: 鑼; pinyin: luó; Malay language or Javanese language: gong-gong or tam-tam) is a percussion sonorous or musical instrument of Chinese origin and manufacture, made in the form of a broad thin disk with a deep rim, that has spread to Southeast Asia - a type of flat bell.
Gongs vary in diameter from about 20 to 40 inches, and they are made of bronze containing a maximum of 22 parts of tin to 78 of copper; but in many cases the proportion of tin is considerably less. Such an alloy, when cast and allowed to cool slowly, is excessively brittle, but it can be tempered and annealed in a peculiar manner. If suddenly cooled from a cherry-red heat, the alloy becomes so soft that it can be hammered and worked on the lathe, and afterwards it may be hardened by re-heating and cooling it slowly. In these properties it will be observed, the alloy behaves in a manner exactly opposite to steel, and the Chinese avail themselves of the known peculiarities for preparing the thin sheets of which gongs are made. They cool their castings of bronze in water, and after hammering out the alloy in the soft state, harden the finished gongs by heating them to a cherry-red and allowing them to cool slowly. These properties of the alloy long remained a secret, said to have been first discovered in Europe by Jean Pierre Joseph d'Arcet at the beginning of the 19th century. Riche and Champion are said to have succeeded in producing tam-tams having all the qualities and timbre of the Chinese instruments. The composition of the alloy of bronze used for making gongs is stated to be as follows: Copper, 76.52; Tin, 22.43; Lead, 0.26; Zinc, 0.23; Iron, 0.81. The gong is beaten with a round, hard, leather-covered pad, fitted on a short stick or handle. It emits a peculiarly sonorous sound, its complex vibrations bursting into a wave-like succession of tones, sometimes shrill, sometimes deep. In China and Japan it is used in religious ceremonies, state processions, marriages and other festivals; and it is said that the Chinese can modify its tone variously by particular ways of striking the disk.
The gong has been effectively used in the orchestra to intensify the impression of fear and horror in melodramatic scenes. The tam-tam was first introduced into a western orchestra by François Joseph Gossec in the funeral march composed at the death of Mirabeau in 1791. Gaspare Spontini used it in La Vestale (1807), in the finale of Act II, an impressive scene in which the high pontiff pronounces the anathema on the faithless vestal. It was also used in the funeral music played when the remains of Napoleon were brought back to France in 1840. Meyerbeer made use of the instrument in the scene of the resurrection of the three nuns in Robert le diable. Four tam-tams are now used at Bayreuth in Parsifal to reinforce the bell instruments, although there is no indication given in the score. The tam-tam has been treated from its ethnographical side by Franz Heger. In more modern music, the tam-tam has been used by composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in Mikrophonie I (1964-65) and by George Crumb. Crumb expanded the timbral range of the tam-tam by giving performance directions (in Makrokosmos III: Music For A Summer Evening, composed in 1974) such as using a "well-rosined contrabass bow" to bow the tam-tam, producing an eerie harmonic sound, while Stockhausen exploited amplification (via hand-held microphones) of a wide range of scraping, tapping, rubbing, and beating techniques using unconventional implements (plastic dishes, egg timer, cardboard tubes, etc.).
A gong is played in the song "What Is and What Should Never Be" by Led Zeppelin. The gong is also the last instrument played in the live version of "Whole Lotta Love". John Bonham also used a gong in the piece Moby Dick Bonham also used a gong in the songs Stairway to Heaven, Dazed and Confused, and Kashmir .
A gong is also played at the end of the song "Dream On" by Aerosmith.
In The Addams Family television show, the sound of a chau gong (activated by a bell pull) would summon Lurch the family butler. Upon appearing, Lurch would utter his basso profundo catchphrase, "You Rang?"
A gong was the titular feature on The Gong Show, a television variety show/game show spoof that was broadcast in the United States from 1976 until 1980. The gong was used to signal the failure of an act by the show's panel.
Roger Waters used a gong on stage with Pink Floyd in concerts from 1967-1973 on A Saucerful of Secrets and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. The latter was when the gong would burst into flames during live performances.
The Flaming Lips's 2007 stage show prominently featured a gong during the performance of the song "Mountain Side", where Wayne Coyne would fire a streamer gun at the gong in sync with the accents. Coyne also used the gong in a performance of "Race For The Prize" on the BBC show "Later with Jools Holland" in 1999.
An eerie gong sounds in WWE superstar The Undertaker's entrance music as well as in the older versions.
In the British military "gong" is slang for a medal.
The "sun gong" used in the annual Paul Winter Winter Solstice Celebration held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York is claimed to be the world's largest tam tam gong at 7 feet in diameter. (See the text for #1 image )