Thesis Statement About Thailand Music

Writing thesis statements

Ernest Hemingway once wrote a short story in two sentences and 6 words. He, apparently, claimed it to be the best short story he ever wrote. In these two sentences we can find a whole world of drama. It reads:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

This “short story” can serve as an example of the kind of condensation a thesis statement should have. A thesis statement provides the core idea or argument that you spend the pages of your paper unfolding. In Hemingway’s statement we are not told what has actually happened but it contains a direction, a central idea, that will be unfolded throughout the story. Gordon Harvey from Harvard University points to this as well. He defines a thesis in the following way:

Thesis: your main insight or idea about a text or topic, and the main proposition that your essay demonstrates. It should be true but arguable (not obviously or patently true, but one alternative among several), be limited enough in scope to be argued in a short composition and with available evidence, and get to the heart of the text or topic being analyzed (not be peripheral). It should be stated early in some form and at some point recast sharply (not just be implied), and it should govern the whole essay (not disappear in places). [Our underlining].

Keeping Harvey’s definition in mind you can start working on creating your thesis. The following steps can help you do this.

  1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:
    • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience. A paper in music theory or history could be an example of an analytical paper.
    • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience. A paper in music education could be an example of an expository paper explaining a particular pedagogical approach to music, for example.
    • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided. A review of a musical performance would be argumentative.
    If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (ex. a narrative, reading journal, self-evaluation for example), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.
  2. Your thesis statement should be specific - it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
  3. The thesis statement usually appears somewhere in the first paragraph of a paper. You might want to avoid the somewhat formulaic “in this paper I argue that...“ though keeping that line in mind is a good idea because, basically, that is what you are saying.
  4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Different genres demand different thesis statements

Analytical thesis statement

This paper would present an analysis of the source material used. This could be a literature review, for example.

Example of an analytical thesis statement:

Chopin greatly admired the music of J.S. Bach, and his Preludes reflect the influence of The Well-Tempered Clavier.

This paper would discuss and analyze relations between Chopin’s Preludes and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Expository (explanatory) thesis statement

This paper would explain the material the thesis promises to explore.

Example of an expository thesis statement:

The approaches to teaching music to children developed by Orff, Kodaly, and Dalcroze are different and unique.

The paper would go on to explain, compare and contrast the three approaches.

Argumentative thesis statement

This paper would present an argument and present enough evidence to support the claim and convince a reader.

Example of an argumentative thesis statement:

Playing Mozart’s music on the fortepiano, the instrument as it existed in his own time, conveys a very different impression of his music than playing it on a modern piano.

This paper would go on to present evidence to support this claim.

Phi Faa Ritual Music of the Northeastern Part of Thailand

By Warawut Roengbuthra |Author bio & contact info| & Bussakorn Sumrongthong |Author bio & contact info|


This article describes the indigenous peoples belief underlying the Phi Faa or the Shaman's ritual. The research focused on the components of the Phi Faa ritual as well as its music and how they interact. This study was comprised of site visits to each of the fourteen provinces in the Northern Isarn region of Thailand where data was collected from each regional cultural center. It was found that Phi Faa rituals were mainly in the following seven provinces: Skon Nakorn, Mukdahan, Nakorn Phanom, Udonthani, Kalasin, Khon Khaen and Chaiyaphum. It was also determined that the musical instrument used the most often in this ritual was the khean (a mouth organ) and the rhythm of the lyrics were sung in the Isarn style named "Moh Lum". In the Phi Faa rituals, this style is specifically referred to as "Lamlong". In all the observed ailment rituals, Lamlong was sung by the medium and accompanied by the Khean to praise the ghosts as well as plead with them to come aid the people suffering from sickness. In addition, the Medium consulted oracles to discover the cause(s) of the sickness. Even though the melodies of each song among the seven provinces are more similar than different, the lyrics were completely different due to the medium's spontaneous or improvised delivery. One notable departure from the general pattern of the Phi Faa ritual was found in the Kalasin province which was made up of mostly instrumental music with hardly any singing of lyrics.

Phi Faa Ritual - The Musical Healer of Isan

In these regions, faith originated in fear of the natural phenomena and supernatural occurrences. In order to be safe from unexplained disasters, human beings often pray to the unseen beings whom they believe will be able to protect them. When they are out of danger, they rejoice and celebrate to thank the supernatural beings for protecting them. It is believed that by worshipping these beings, good luck will be granted. It can be said that fear and ignorance were the cause of faith and primitive faith later developed into religion.

The Thai people of the Northeast believe that a supernatural power resides in the sky. They call this being "Phi Faa" or "Phi Thaen", who is a very powerful ghost, and can grant them their wishes. The ghost is believed to have created the earth. He resides in the sky and is thus different from other lesser ghosts who reside in the trees and mountains and under the earth. He is closer to a god than a ghost. "Thaen" means a hierarchy of angels. The most senior and most respected is called "Thaen Luang" who is believed to be Indra. The Phi Faa or Phi Thaen is believed to be people's protector, but must be respected and feared. Human beings express their faith through rituals and the way these rituals are created tell us about their perception of the world and its creators.

Words in music or chanting are normally arranged in such a way to create beautiful sound. If music and words are professionally composed, rituals or religious ceremonies will accomplish their solemn and elegant purpose. Regardless of the kind of ritual, prayer, chant or dance, verse must be incorporated. This incorporation brings about solemnity in the ritual.

Because the Northeasterners are fun-loving people, when they are free from farming they like to sing and dance. In doing so, they need music of their own for these enjoyable occasions. Besides fun occasions, music is also used in rituals to create a sacred atmosphere. The verse used varies according to the type of ritual being performed. Music used in these rituals is also different according to the kind of god or spirit they are praying to. Music connects them to nature which according to the people's belief is their god. The rhythm of music engages us as well as creating peace and stability. It also gives people hope. Some rituals entertain while others heal people from illnesses. Each of the rituals, regardless of what type, unifies the people in the community.

Fig 1:

Because of their faith in these supernatural beings, people use rituals as a tribute to the gods and spirit which they respect. They pray to these gods for protection. The rituals are called "Lum Phi Faa" or "Moh Lum Song" which are performed for the purpose of healing illnesses. Another type of ritual involving Phi Faa is called "Liang Phi" or "Long Kuang", which is performed in a ceremony in which the art of performing Phi Faa is transferred to the next generation.

The rituals are practiced throughout the northeastern region. The 7 provinces which produce genuine mediums include Sakonnakorn, Mukdaharn, Nakorn Panom, Kalasin, Udornthani, Konkhaen and Chaiyapoom. People who live outside of these provinces usually hire mediums from one of these provinces to perform rituals in their home towns.

The Phi Faa rituals or "Moh Lum Song" have 3 main components

  1. The medium who conducts the ritual
  2. Song or"Lai Khaen"
  3. The musical instrument

Fig 2: Phi Faa rituals

The Ritual Performer

Normally the performer in this ritual is a woman. In the case of a male performer, the man needs to have female characteristics. Because the performer is required to sing, it is accepted that a female voice is more pleasing to the ear than a man's voice, and thus more suitable for the job. It is also believed that female gestures and mannerisms are more caring than that of a man's. Furthermore people feel women are better at taking care of the sick than men. The healing process needs a sweet, well-trained, professional voice that is able to express motherly love and tenderness. It is then obvious that naturally and biologically a female performer possesses qualities necessary for the performance of an effective ritual. These qualities can be summarized as follows:

  1. Nam Jai [being kind-hearted] Because women are more sensitive, naturally kind-hearted, personable. People are relaxed to be with them because they are friendly and generous and are normally ready to make those around them happy. They sincerely wish others happiness.
  2. Nam Kham [having sweet words.] Women are normally good at choosing their words. This exceptional quality is well-known among people. Women are likely able to use their words to achieve their purpose.
  3. Nam Mue [being skillful with their hands] The women's ability to move their hands and body in dancing is also exceptional. The body movements are all necessary for the job of the Moh Lum Song.
  4. Nam Nom [milk] This means the woman's motherly nature. The phrase "Mae Ying"is used as a title to refer to the women in the Northeast.

All these qualities are essential in the healing process. It is said that men do not possess these qualities so they are not able to do the job like women can. This might explain why men imitate women in order to perform the ritual.

Songs Used in the Ritual

The pitch of the songs which are used in the performance in each ritual ranges between mid and low. The pitch was chosen deliberately to facilitate the singer's attempts to reach the notes which are accompanied by music. Besides, the low pitch makes the ritual seem more sacred and thus creates credibility. The compatibility between the song used and the singer is very important. On this occasion the medium will perform a dance to pay tribute to the spirits. The music chosen can vary as long as it sounds rhythmic so as to invite the participants, including the patients who are not seriously ill to join in. This activity will take the patients' minds off their illness.

The Lai Khaen or melody used in each performance in the healing ritual usually has a slow tempo. It runs on consistently while accompanying the singing of the performer. The purpose of this ritual is to heal a patient, so the songs chosen normally do not have a quick tempo because they might over stimulate the patient and worsen his condition. The Lai Khaen that may be used are "Lai Malaengpoo Tom Dok Mai, (a carpenter bees smelling flowers) Lai Poo Thai, Lai Sudsanaen, Lai Poh Sai and Lai Soi. The playing technique on the Khaen may vary according to the individual musicians.

The Khaen music preceeds the singing but the singer may intercede at any point, after which the musician might follow the lead. The singer does not follow any particular pattern, but will follow the course of the song. She may drag a note on to the next bar or to the end of the song. When the ritual performer drags her voice to a designated note, the musician will add time to that note.

During the course of the song if the performer gets to the tonic note the vocalist will give it time and sings that note longer, the Khaen musician will take up that note and do the same thing. The singer may choose to highlight any note she feels like.

The following musical transcription offers a basic representation of the music produced by the Khaen. There are distinct discrepancies of techniques among players that will not be represented here since they are rather difficult to transcribe. To make it easy for readers to understand a basic transcription style has been adopted. The following notes are of 3 songs. Lai Malaengpoo tom Dok Mai, Lai Poo Thai and Lai Sudsanaen. The examples of Lais used with Phi Faa Ritual are as follows:

Fig 3: Lai Malaengpoo tom Dok Mai

- -6-66-3-3532353-666-6-2-2163212

Fig 4: Lai Phoo Thai Song

- - - --3-1-2-3-2-1-666-3-1-2-3-2-1
- - -3-2-1-2-3-5-6- - -3-2-1-2-3-5-6

Fig 5: Lai Sudsanaen

-212-3-35321-6-1- -1--6-5-3-123-2

Musical Instruments

The musical instrument used in the Moh Lam Song or Phi Faa rituals in the upper Northeast is the Khaen. The Khaen is the sole native northeastern musical instrument used in the healing ritual. The northeasterners compare the "Khaen doctor" or "Horse doctor" to a horse, the carrier of the gods because according to their beliefs this animal can take the spirits to far-away lands. It is also common knowledge among northeasterners that the Moh Lum (or singer) and Moh Khaen are inseparable. The Khaen player is expected to accompany the singer/chanter in the Phi Faa ritual as in the other types of rituals. The Lais or songs used depend on the ability of both the singer and the musician because some musicians are more talented than others. This fact also applies to the singers. Besides, the compatibility between the singer and musician is also an important factor for the success of each performance.

Only the music of the Khaen is present in the ritual. There are no other percussions nor rhythm makers used in the performance of the healing ritual. The music of the Khaen is very pleasing to the ear because the notes are played in octaves so there is a complete harmony. The music flows along in a slow tempo putting listeners in a happy mood. The harmonious music played in a low pitch relaxes the patient. This activity supposedly harmonizes the patient's bodily systems back in proper function. It also helps ease the pain and refresh the mind of the patient

The ritual performed on each occasion normally follows the same steps. These steps are closely knitted. The progress of the ritual and the steps can be identified by the singing of the verse provided that the listener knows the meaning of the language used by the singer. The songs used in the rituals of the 7 provinces in the northeastern part of Thailand are all different from each other. These differences mark the identities of each of the provinces as well as the individual song makers although the types of songs used are the same. The song makers all use the two types of songs named "Lum Long" (down the stream type of movement), and "Lum Tang Yao (horizontal movement). The Lum Tang Yao movement refers to the singing that has a slow tempo. The verse composed is specific to this type of movement which emphasizes more elaborate diction than the Lum Long movement. The Lum Long singing takes its name from the nature of verse singing. It is compared to the continuous flow of the stream. In this type of singing the song maker has to string her words together making as few pauses as possible. The verses used in these types of songs do not have any specific pattern. They are not pre-written and the song makers make up the verse while she sings. The verse she makes varies from ritual to ritual depending on the condition of the patient being treated.

Steps of the ritual

Basically each ritual follows these steps.

  1. Invitation of the gods or spirits
  2. Reason of the invitation
  3. A plea for assistance
  4. Foretelling the future
  5. Teaching, giving advice and guidance, asking for protection
  6. Consoling the patient
  7. Endorsing the patient in the care of the gods
  8. Lifting the spirit of the patient by calling out for the "kwan" of the patient that has fled the body of the patient
  9. Inviting the gods to descend to receive the offerings and to sing and dance
  10. Inviting the gods to leave

These steps of the ritual are closely related to the verse of the song. As has been mentioned, each step can be identified by the words being sung. However, in some provinces not all the steps are taken in performing each ritual. Since there are no strict rules about these steps, the singers often modify them to fit their purposes.

The verse in the Phi Faa ritual tells the patient about the cause of his illness. The verses are sung in the style of Lum Long or Lum Tang Yao praying for or recruiting assistance from the spirits. The spirits or the gods being prayed to are usually praised and appeased. The purpose of the singing is to ask for their protection. The singing runs smoothly on while being accompanied by the Khaen , the sole instrument used in the ritual. It is believed that the Khaen is the only means to communicate with gods. Without it, the ritual cannot continue.

Fig 6: Liang Phi or Long Kuang ceremony

Besides the healing ritual, there is another ritual called "Liang Phi" or "Long Kuang" which is performed for the purpose of paying tribute to the spirits. This performance also gives the elders an opportunity to pass on the art and culture of Isan to the next generation.

Instruments used in the Long Kuang ritual

The musical instruments used in this ritual consist of the Khaen, the Pin (a small guitar-like string instrument) and other rhythmic instruments that are available in the region.

As mentioned earlier, the Khaen is present in all the rituals concerning Phi Faa because it is believed that the Moh Khaen or the player of the Khaen is the communicant between human beings and the gods and other mysterious spirits. The Khaen acts as the main melody maker while the other instruments provide rhythm which helps bring out a desire to dance in the worshippers who hit the various percussion instruments to accompany the bouncing music. An interesting instrument which gives rhythm is called the "Moh".

Fig 7: Phi Faa and her Moh

The "Moh" is a shallow metal pot with a wide opening . It is carried around by two pieces of rope that are tied to both sides of the pot. The mouth of the pot is covered by a thin metal sheet. The performer hits the metal sheet at a faster tempo than the tempo used for the ching (small cymbals).

In Isan (Northeastern) music the Khaen is the main instrument for Phi Faa rituals. The music of the Khaen helps create the sacred atmosphere in the ritual and connects the Phii (ghosts) with the humans. The sound of the Khaen begins the ritual and leads it to its finish. The Khaen and the Lai chosen by the performer heals or helps ease the pain in the the patient. The Isan people are fun-loving. They love to sing and dance and to enjoy themselves. The lively music of the Khaen awakens in them the feelings of joy and temporarily makes them forget their illness. As a result the patient often recovers from his illness because he no longer feels that he is neglected. The music cheers up the patient bringing him new hope and a renewed desire to live. This ritual may be classified as an alternative medicine or the psychological treatment of a patient.

There are other Phi Faa rituals in Kalasin province that are not performed for healing purposes. Although they still sound sacred, they are performed solely for the enjoyment of the medium, the person conducting this type of ritual. The melodies used in these rituals are taken from contemporary country -type tunes. Globalization and modern information technology have brought new things and changes in the rituals of the Northeast. Anthropological theories such as the classic evolution theory explains that new music cultures develop from old music cultures. The Lais used in the old Phi Faa rituals were fun and inviting, but the degree of excitement they created was not high enough when compared to the rhythms of contemporary popular music. The people then adopted contemporary tunes because they are more familiar to the modern ear, although the same instrument is still used.

Because the traditional Lais are not acceptable for the performance of rituals in modern times, musicians have to adapt themselves to the new situation for their own survival and the survival of their music. This behavior corresponds to the theory which says that the adaptation of musicians stems from their struggle to survive and to continue to produce music. In this case when the musician faced opposition from the participants in the ritual for using traditional Lais, he needed to replace the old melodies in order to survive in the modern Phi Faa society in which Phi Faa rituals are still a way of life. The new music used may stimulate curiosity in the musicians and as a result create a new generation who will continue to produce music. This behaviour promotes continuation and growth in a music society.


Lai Khaen singing and the Khaen instrument are essential in performing the Phi Faa rituals because they bridge the gods and spirits and the humans together. They also create a sacred atmosphere for the ritual being performed. Most Lais used in the rituals are traditional Isan melodies with the exception of some that are performed only for the purpose of enjoyment. The instruments used are all Isan musical instruments such as the Khaen which is the main instrument in performing the healing ritual. The Isan people consider the Khaen player a carrier that brings to them the gods and spirits. In a Phi- treating ritual some rhythmic instruments may be used to create excitement in the music inviting people to join in.

However, Phi Faa rituals seem a symbol of the people's faith in the supernatural. Music plays an important role in this faith because it connects the people with the world of the supernatural. The ritual also plays an important role in creating communication between people, enables people to help each other in time of need. In a rural society such as the Isan community of Thailand people have strong faith and respect for the supernatural, but if they lacked music, communication between human beings and such a world would not take place. Music then is a very important asset for the community.

The Phi Faa is different than contemporary western music therapy where the therapist is viewed like a dentist that you go and visit for a tooth fix without any supportive foundation of traditional spiritual connections and beliefs. The Western music therapy tends to be based on brain wave studies supporting relaxation, alternate states and/or levels of consciousness. However, while both therapies have the similar goal of patient rehabilitation, the depth and breadth of Thai tradition and wisdom that supports the Phi Faa has no western equivalent. Essentially the Phi Faa differs from modern music therapy since it is comprised of the Isan symbolism, but the latter is viewed as an alternative medicine. Furthermore, where the Phi Faa ceremony was established from the belief of the Isan people and is automatically accepted by the society whereas Western music therapy has an "acceptance hurdle" to overcome.

In the current society some provinces have lost their own personal relationship and heritage of the Phi Faa ceremony and has to import it from adjacent areas. There was more need for basic medical clinics and doctors such that the poor provinces spent their time, focus and energy on developing health care and encouraging their children to go for a doctor rather than believing Phi Faa ceremony. This focus of health support decreased Phi Faa predominance in areas of limited resources. Because of the western medicine influences the support of the people was now shared between two entities: Music of the Phi Faa for connection to the spirit world and modern medicine for dealing with profound diseases and injuries. However the emergence of globalization has affected the rituals and caused them to decrease in number. If the community is strong culturally, it will be able to screen and to pick and choose what is compatible to their culture and reject what is not compatible. A strong effort should be made to preserve this valuable cultural heritage for the next generation and for the sake of further study.

Fig 8:


Desuenkok, Chob (Nov.2000). "Mae Ying" Moh Lum song/ Moh Lum Phi Faa: Healing aspect. [in Thai] Dhummatat Journal Year I, Bangkok, 93-96.

Paopan, Chaiyon (1990). Karn Lum Phi Faa in Boraboe district at Mahasarakam Province. (in Thai) Unpublished thesis, Thai Studies Department, Faculty of Social Humanities, Mahasarakam University.

Seangcharoen, Kritaya (2004). Moh Lum Phi Faa: the local healer.[in Thai] Unpublished thesis, Faculty of Nursing, Mahidol University Bangkok.

Sonsupi Mekala (1997). Phi Faa. [in Thai] Dok Ya Press Year VII Bangkok, 33-35.

To cite this page:
Roengbuthra, Warawut & Bussakorn Sumrongthong (2006). Phi Faa Ritual Music of the Northeastern Part of Thailand. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from

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