stone chimes

Music of Korea

Traditional Korean music includes both the folk and court music styles of the Korean people.

See Music of South Korea and Music of North Korea for contemporary Korean music.


Korean music is based on Buddhist and native shamanistic beliefs. Buddhist and shamanistic dancing, and shamanistic drum music, are extant, as is a melodic, dance music called sinawi.

Traditional Korean music can be divided into at least four types: courtly, aristocratic, scholarly, and religious.

Folk Music

Korean folk music is varied and complex, but all forms maintain a set of rhythms (called Jangdan) and a loosely defined set of melodic modes.

Because the folk songs of various areas are categorized under Dongbu folk songs, their vocal styles and modes are diverse. Therefore, currently scholars are attempting to categorize the Dongbu folk songs further based on different musical features. These songs are mostly simple and bright. Namdo folk songs are those of Jeolla Province and a part of Chungcheong Province. While the folk songs of other regions are mostly musically simple, the folk songs of the Namdo region, where the famous musical genres pansori and sanjo were created, are rich and dramatic. Some Namdo folk songs are used in pansori or developed by professional singers and are included as part of their repertories. Jeju folk songs are sung on the Jeju Island. They are more abundant in number than any other regional folk songs, and approximately 1600 songs are transmitted today. Jeju folk songs are characterized by their simple and unique melodic lines and rich texts.


Pansori is a one-man operatic form accompanied by a barrel headed drum. The singer executes dialogue and narration, acting and singing. The performance of a complete Pansori takes 4-8 hours. It requires a heavy hoarse vocal timbre like that used for any other Korean vocal Music. It is obtained through long training including shouting in remote areas until one develops a hoarse throat condition. The Pansori singer usually stands on performing area holding a fan and a handkerchief in each hand as symbolic props. The drummer provides the required rhythmic patterns and also inspires the singer by providing exclamations in such a way that there is a link between the music of the singer and the drummer.


Nongak is a rural form of percussion music, typically played by twenty to thirty performers. A smaller band version of nongak became very popular in Korea in the late 1970s, and some bands, like Samul Nori, even found some international success.


Sanjo is played without a pause in faster tempos. The tempos increases in each movement. The general style of the sanjo is marked by slides in slow movements and rhythmic complexity in faster movements. Sanjo is entirely instrumental music that shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the gayageum or ajaeng. Famous practitioners include Kim Chukp'a, Yi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki.

Court music

Korean court music preserved to date can be traced to the beginning of the Choson Dynasty in 1392. It is now rare, except for government sponsored organizations like the The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts.

There are three types of court music.

One is called Aak, and is an imported form of Chinese ritual music, and another is a pure Korean form called Hyang-ak; the last is a combination of Chinese and Korean influences, and is called Dang-ak.


Aak was brought to Korea in 1116, and very popular for a time before dying out. It was revived in 1430, based on a reconstruction of older melodies. The music is now highly specialized, and uses just two different surviving melodies, and is played only at certain very rare concerts, such as the Sacrifice to Confucius in Seoul.


Modern dangak, like aak, is rarely practiced. Only two short pieces are known; they are Springtime in Luoyang and Pacing the Void.


By far the most extant form of Korean court music today, hyangak includes a sort of oboe called a piri and various kinds of stringed instruments.

Aristocratic chamber music

Originally designed for upper-class rulers, to be enjoyed informally, chongak is often entirely instrumental, usually an ensemble playing one of nine suites that are collectively called Yongsan Hwesang. Vocals are mainly sung in a style called kagok, which is for mixed male and female singers and is accompanied by a variety of instruments.

Traditional instruments

Traditional Korean instruments can be broadly divided into three groups: string, wind and percussion instruments.

The 12-string zither (gayageum) and geomungo (six-string plucked zither) are part of the string fold instruments. The haegum (two-string vertical fiddle) and the ajaeng (seven-string zither) is part of the string T'ang. Court string music also included use of the seven-string zither and the 25-string zither.

The daegeum (large transverse flute), piri (cylindrical oboe) and grass flute are all called wind folk. Wind T'ang includes the Chinese oboe, vertical flute and hojok or taepyongso (shawm). The saenghwang (mouth organ), panpipes, hun (ocarina), flute with mouthpiece, danso (small-notch vertical flute), and flute are wind court instruments.

Percussion folk instruments include jing (large hanging gong), kkwaenggwari (hand-held gong), buk (barrel drum), janggu (hourglass drum). The bak (clapper) and the janggu (hourglass drum) are the percussion T'ang instruments. Percussion court includes the pyeongjong (bronze bells), pyeongyeong (stone chimes), chuk (square wooden box with mallet)and eo (tiger-shaped scraper).


  • Provine, Rob, Okon Hwang, and Andy Kershaw (2000). "Our Life Is Precisely a Song". In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific, pp 160-169. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.
  • Korean Cultural Insights. "Traditional Arts". Republic of Korea. p 27. Korea Tourism Organization, 2007.

See also

External links

Search another word or see stone chimeson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature