The slek (Khmer: ស្លឹក) is a musical instrument of country people in Cambodia, made from the leaves of broad-leaf trees, including the sakrom and khnoung trees.[1][2] It is also known as phlom slek, "blow leaf."[1] To play a leaf, the musician curls the edge of a leaf into a semi-circle (along the leaf's long edge) and "places the arch between the lips", making sure that the leaf is touching both upper and lower lips.[1][2] The leaf vibrates in contact with them as the player blows air across it.[2] The player can control the pitch of the noise with his upper lip.[2][3]

An instrument of country people, it has been observed being played by herders riding their water buffalo in the rice fields.[1] While it is used to imitate sounds wild animals make, it can produce sustained sound, a sharp, high-pitched whistle.[1][2] Players can control the pitch and make songs, normally solo, but sometimes with other instruments.[1][3]

Variants in other places

While called slek in Cambodia, the instrument is used in other places under different names. In China, recorded knowledge of the wood leaf (木叶, Mù yè) as an instrument dates back to the Tang dynasty, 7th to 10th centuries A.D.[4] It is depicted in a sculpture at the tomb of Emperor Wang Jian of the Five Dynasties in Chengdu, Sichuan.[4] In modern times, plastic has been substituted for the leaf, and the instrument has been recorded and used in movie music.[4] With synthetic materials, the instrument does not wear out quickly while playing, and has a range of nearly 3 octaves.[4]

  • China, 樹葉笛 (Shùyè dí) tree leaf flute [5]
  • China, 草琴 (Cǎoqín), grass piano[5]
  • China, 木叶 (Mù yè) wood leaves[5]
  • Japan, 草笛, grass flute or grass whistle[5]
  • Australia, gum leaf [3]

See also


  1. Chinary, Ung (1978). Cambodia: Traditional Music, Vol. 1: Instrumental and Vocal Pieces (Media notes). New York City: Smithsonian Folklways Recordings. Retrieved 2 November 2018. [Website gives year released as 1975, but album cover is copyrighted 1978.] Link to the liner notes.
  2. Khean, Yun; Dorivan, Keo; Lina, Y; Lenna, Mao. Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia (PDF). Kingdom of Cambodia: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. p. 137.
  3. Stone, Aria (ed.). Ossie Cruze: Aboriginal Elder Plays Gum Leaf (Motion picture). Retrieved 2 November 2018. Starring Ossie Cruze...[from YouTube page: Ossie Cruze: Aboriginal Elder plays a gum leaf at Jigamy Farm, South Coast, NSW, Australia.] [Ossie demonstrates how to play a leaf, playing a scale and then putting the notes together to play a song.]
  4. "木叶的历史 [The history of wood leaves]". Retrieved 2 November 2018.
    Picture of the sculpture of wood-leaf player from the tomb of Emperor Wang Jian
  5. Flute with leaves Amazing Voice -Musical leaf by Khmer old man (Motion picture). Retrieved 2 November 2018. [From YouTube description. These are not all the name of the instrument; some (Whispering Hope, gospel duet) are the name of the song being played: 樹葉笛, musical leaf, 草笛, kusabue, 草琴, leaf, whistle, gospel duet, 木叶, 希望のささやき, 陳宏志, 微聲盼望, Whispering, Hope,leaflute. ]
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