The music of Burma has similarities with and is related to many other musical traditions in the region, including Chinese music and Thai music.
Traditional music from Burma is melodious, generally without harmony, and usually in 4/4 time (na-yi-se) or 2/4 (wa-let-se) or 8/16 (wa-let-a-myan). There are "the segments combined into patterns, combined into verses, combined into songs [that] make Burmese music a multileveled hierarchical system...The Burmese musician manipulates the various levels of the hierarchy to create the song..."
Orthodox Theravada Buddhism frowns upon music as being decadent, but the Burmese monarchy as well as infusion of different regional music styles, created several classical traditions of Burmese music. The oldest influences may perhaps come from China, which shares a similar pentatonic musical scale as classical Burmese music. Other influences include Mon music (called Talaing than or "sounds of the Talaing [Mon]"), particularly in the Mahagita, the complete body of classical Burmese music. A prevailing one is called Yodaya, which is essentially a class of Burmese adaptations to songs accompanied with the saung gauk and come from the Ayutthaya kingdom (modern-day Thailand) during the reigns of Bayinnaung (1551-1581) and Hsinbyushin (1753-1776), which brought back a variety of cultural traditions including the Ramayana. The primary indigenous form is called thachin.
Burmese classical music ensembles can be divided into outdoor and indoor ensembles. The outdoor musical ensemble is the sidaw also called sidawgyi, which was an outdoor ensemble in royal courts used to mark important ceremonial functions like the royal ploughing ceremony. It consists of a hnegyi, a large double reed pipe and sidaw, a pair of ceremonial drums, as well as the si and wa, a bell and clapper and the gandama, a double-headed drum. Today, sidaw music is played at festivals. Other instruments used in classical music include the saung (a harp) and pattala (a xylophone). The indoor form is the chamber music ensemble, which is basically a female singer accompanied by a traditional ensemble consisting of the saung, pattala, migyaung, (a zither), palwe (a flute) and in the past, included the tayaw (a fiddle) and hnyin (a small mouth organ).
Translated as "great music" in Pali, the Mahagita is an extensive collection of Burmese classical songs, called thachin gyi. The collection is divided into several different types of songs, including the following: kyo, bwe, thachin gan, the oldest repertoires; pat pyo, royal court music; lwan chin, songs of longing; lay dway than gat; myin gin, music that makes horses dance; nat chin, songs used to worship the nat, Burmese spirits; yodaya, music introduced from Ayutthaya, Talaing than, music adapted from the Mon people and bole, songs of sorrow.
Burmese music includes a variety of folk traditions. A distinct form called the byaw, is often played at religious festivals and is sung to the beat of a long and thin drum, with occasional interruptions by the beating of a larger drum.
The traditional folk ensemble, typically used in the nat pwe, Burmese theater and art, and festivals is called the hsaing waing. Although its origin is unknown, it is believed to have come from the Ayuthaya kingdom, or in the least been heavily influenced by the Ayuthaya gong and drum ensembles in the 18th century through repeated invasions by the Konbaung dynasty and has many similarities to other Southeast Asian ensembles. The ensemble is made up of a series of drums and gongs, including the centerpieces, which are the hne (double reed pipe) and pat waing or hsaing wan (set of 21 tuned drums in a circle). Other instruments in this ensemble include the kyi waing (small bronze gongs in a circular frame) and maung hsaing (larger bronze gongs in a rectangular frame), as well as the si and wa (bell and clapper) and the recent addition of the chauk lone bat (a group of six drums which have gained currency since the early 20th century). Hsaing waing music, however, is atypical in Southeast Asian music, characterized by sudden shifts in rhythm and melody as well as change in texture and timbre.