Korean music

Korean music includes both folk and classical styles from the countries of North and South Korea.

See Music of South Korea and Music of North Korea for more.


1 Modern world music
2 References
3 See also
4 External links

Folk music

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


Pansori is long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and one 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 p'ansori singers is Pak Tongjin.


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 entirely instrumental that shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the kayagum or ajaeng. Famous practitioners include Kim Chukp'a, Yi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki.

Classical music

The fine range of Korean symphonic orchestras have been bolstered by noteable performers, and soloists, as well as highly skilled orchestra directors.

Internationally known Korean composers of classical music include such notables as: Lee Soo-in, who specializes in music for children, and his famous ""Song of My Homeland".

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

Court music

Modern orchestral court music began its development with the beginning of the Choson Dynasty in 1392. It is now rare, except for government sponsored organizations like the National Center for the 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 hyangak; the last is a combination of Chinese and Korean influences, and is called tangak.


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 tangak, 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 hoesang. 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 music of Korea

Korean music is based on Buddhist and native shamanistic beliefs. Buddhist and shamanistic dancing, and shamanistic drum music, are extant, as is a melodic, jazzy dance music called sinawi. Traditional Korean instruments can be broadly divided into three groups: string, wind and percussion instruments. The 12-string zither and the six-sting zither is part of the string fold instruments. The two-string fiddle and the seven-string zither is part of the string T'ang. String court include seven-sting zither and the 25-sting zither. The large transverse flute, small flute, Korean cylindrical oboe and grass flute are all called wind folk. Wind T’ang includes the Chinese oboe, vertical flute and conical oboe. The mouth organ, panpipes, globular flute, flute with mouthpiece, small-notch flute and flute are wind court instruments. Percussion folk instruments include large gong, small gong, folk drum, sound drum and folk hourglass drum. The clapper and the hourglass drum are the percussion T'ang instruments. Percussion court includes the bronze bells, stone chimes, square wooden box with mallet and tiger-shaped wooden instrument.

Western Christian imported music

With the importation of Christianity, the evangelical use of music for prosletizying has led to many choirs, both within and without churches, and the importation of many traditional American styles of Christian folksongs sung in Korean.

Modern world music

Korean traditional instruments have been integrated into western percussion, and are beginning a new wave of Korean world music since 1998. Traditional instruments are amplified, and sampled, with traditional songs rescored for new age audiences.


  • Provine, Rob, Hwang, Okon and Kershaw, Andy. "Our Life Is Precisely a Song". 2000. 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

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