See also: List of gamelan varieties
There are a wide variety of gamelan ensembles, distinguished by their collection of instruments and use of voice, tunings, repertoire, style, and cultural context. In general, no two gamelan ensembles are the same, and those that arose in prestigious courts are often considered to have their own style. Certain styles may also be shared by nearby ensembles, leading to a regional style.

The varieties are generally grouped geographically, with the principal division between the styles favored by the Balinese, Javanese, and Sundanese peoples. Balinese gamelan is often associated with the virtuosity and rapid changes of tempo and dynamics of Gamelan gong kebyar, its best-known style. Other popular Balinese styles include Gamelan angklung and kecak, also known as the "monkey chant." Javanese gamelan was largely dominated by the courts of the 19th century central Javanese rulers, each with its own style, but overall is known for a slower, more meditative style than that of Bali.

Outside of the main core on Java and Bali, gamelans have spread through migration and cultural interest, and while sometimes the original styles are copied, new styles sometimes result as well. Malay gamelans are designed in ways that are similar to the Javanese gamelan except that the tune is higher. The gamelans were traditionally played in the royal Malay palaces of Pahang (Gamelan Pahang), Riau, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu. Gamelan is also related to the Philippine kulintang ensemble. There is also a wide variety of gamelan in the West, including both traditional and experimental ensembles. See gamelan outside Indonesia for more information on these styles.

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