Traditional Korean music includes both the folk, vocal, religious and ritualmusic styles of the Korean people. Korean music, along with arts, painting, and sculpture has been practiced since prehistoric times.[1]

Two distinct musical cultures exist in Korea today: traditional music (Gugak) and Western music (yangak).

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


Korean music history is divided into three periods: ancient, medieval, and modern. The first period, or the ancient one, dates from the ancient tribal states to the foundation of Goryeo dynasty. The distinguishing characteristics of this period can be found in the development of akkamu(music, songs, and dance) comprising the kamu (singing and dancing) orangmu (music and dance) performed in the worship rites of heaven and earth of the ancient society, the introduction of some instruments from Central Asia during the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.-668 AD), and the development of hyangakki (indigenous instruments) in each of the Three Kingdoms. Thus, in southern Manchuria, music and dance developed in worship rites and rituals such as the Yonggo of the Buyeo state, theDongmaeng of the Goguryeo state, and the Much’on of the Ye tribal state, while in the Samhan, the Kip’ungje provides an example of song and dance in connection with an agricultural ritual. Thus, the religious song and dance tradition of the ancient society of southern Manchuria and Korean peninsula became the root of the indigenous music, hyangak of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla during Three Kingdoms period. The concept of akkamu is also discussed in the music section in the Korean Samguk Sagi. With the rise of royal authority, the advent of Three Kingdoms brought about the creation of royal music institutions to support the cultural life of the royal and aristocratic families, and of palace musicians and dancers specializing in the songs, dances, and instrumental music supported by those institutions. Another historical development and outcome of these trends in the ancient period was the introduction of the music of the Three Kingdoms to the Japanese court of the music ofBaekje (Kudaragaku in Japanese), of Goguryeo (Komagaku), and of Silla (Shiragigaku).

Buddhist and shamanistic dancing, and shamanistic drum music are extant, as well as a melodic dance music called sinawi.

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

[edit] Korean Folk music

Korean folk music is varied and complex, but all forms maintain a set of rhythms (called 장단; Changdan) 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 limited. 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.

[edit] Pansori

Pansori is a long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and one drummer. In this traditional art form, sometimes rather misleadingly called ‘Korean Opera’, a narrator may play the parts of all the characters in a story, accompanied by a drummer. The lyrics tell one of five different stories, but is individualized by each performer, often with updated jokes and audience participation. One of the most famous pansori singers isPak Tongjin (hangul: 박동진).

The National Theatre of Korea provides monthly opportunities to experience traditional Korean narrative songs or pansori.

Where: National Theatre of Korea, Seoul City Hall, South Korea

[edit] Pungmul



Main article: Pungmul

Pungmul is a Korean folk music tradition that is a form of percussionmusic that includes drumming, dancing, and singing. Most performances are outside, with dozens of players, all in constant motion. Samul Nori, originally the name of a group founded in 1978, has become popular as a genre, even overseas. It is based on Pungmul musical rhythmic patterns and uses the same instruments, but is faster and usually played while sitting down.

[edit] Sanjo

Sanjo is played without a pause in faster tempos. It shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. 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 such as Kim Chukp’aYi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki.

[edit] Chŏngak

Chŏngak means literally “right (or correct) music”, and its tradition includes both instrumental and vocal music, which were cultivated mainly by the upper-class literati of the Joseon society. The Yongsan hoesang is the main repertoire of instrumental chongak tradition and the most representative chamber ensemble of Korea. The title is derived from a Korean Buddhist chang with the short text ‘Yongsan hoesang pulbosal,’ which literally means “Buddha and Bodhisattvas meet at the Spirit Vulture Peak.” The Korean Buddhist music with the texts notated in the fifteenth-century manuscript Taeak Hubo was a vocal work accompanied by an orchestra.

[edit] Nongak

Nongak, means “farmers’ music” and represents an important musical genre which has been developed mainly by peasants in the agricultural society of Korea. The farmers’ music is performed typically in an open area of the village. The organization of nongak varies according to locality and performing groups, and today there are a great number of regional styles.

[edit] Shinawi

Shinawi, means in broadest sense, the shamanistic music of Korea which is performed during a Korean shaman’s ritual dance performance to console and to entertain deities. In this sense of word, the term is almost identical with another term, shinbanggok (lit. ‘spirit chamber music’), which indicated general shamanistic music performed at a folk religious ceremony known as kut.

[edit] Salp’uri

Salpuri is a dance for soul cleansing and literally means : “to wash away bad ghosts”. Salpuri’s modern movements represent the shown human hopes and aspirations.[2]

[edit] Court/Ritual music

Korean court music preserved to date can be traced to the beginning of the Joseon Dynasty in 1392. It is now rare, except for government-sponsored organizations like 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 Korean and Chinese influences, and is called Dang-ak.

[edit] Aak

Aak was brought to Korea in 1116 and was 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. Aak is played only at certain very rare concerts, such as the Sacrifice to Confucius in Seoul.

[edit] Dang-ak

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

[edit] Hyang-ak

By far the most extant form of Korean court music today, hyangakincludes a sort of oboe, which is a small bassoon, called a piri and various kinds of stringed instruments.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Traditional instruments


Bells and Piri.

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

The gayageum (12-string zither) 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).




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