Gongs have been around for thousands of years: since people first learned to make large flat sheets of metal. Certainly the ancient Greeks and Romans had gongs, but it is in China, where they are known as Tam-Tams, that they have continued to be used for music and ceremonies right up to the present day.
The first gongs to be played in European orchestras were imported from China. Since then they have become a standard part of the orchestra's percussion kit because of the fantastic effects you can create with them. They can also be incredibly loud!
In India small cymbals have been used for accompanying dances and as part of religious rituals for at least two thousand years. Known as talam or manjira, they are made out of thick brass or steel and produce a long, clear ringing sound.
Dance Guru Rajee Narayan says, "Good talams are hard to find and expensive as each of them is hand-cast. A good talam should resonate for at least five seconds after it is struck."
Like many simple instruments there is a lot more to playing them well than many people imagine. Listening to the audio clip on this page will give you an idea of how they can be used in interesting rhythmic ways.
In European music these small, thick cymbals like talam or manjira are very similar to crotales and were also known as antique cymbals. They were first used by Berlioz in his Romeo and Juliet of 1839. Debussy also used antique cymbals in his Prélude a l'après-midi d'un faune (1894) and Ravel asks for six pairs to be used in Daphnis and Chloe, each pair playing a different note.
The metallophone is similar to other instruments such as the glockenspiel and vibraphone and it has become very popular for use in schools. The name, metallophone is really just a made up word to describe this type of instrument. The origins of metallophones are actually in Indonesia where there are many different types with names such as slentem, gender and saron. although the metal bars can be made of iron, copper or bronze, most Indonesian musicians agree that bronze is the best. For hundreds of years they have been played in large groups along with various gongs and drums to form what are called Gamelan orchestras.