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Music of Korea

music of korea history, music of korea lyrics picture
Traditional Korean music includes combinations of the folk, vocal, religious and also ritual music styles of the Korean people Korean music, along with arts, painting and sculpture has been practiced since prehistoric times1

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


  • 1 History
    • 11 Proto–Three Kingdoms of Korea
      • 111 Samhan
    • 12 Three Kingdoms of Korea
      • 121 Goguryeo
      • 122 Baekje
      • 123 Silla
    • 13 North–South States Period
      • 131 Unified Silla
      • 132 Balhae
    • 14 Goryeo
    • 15 Joseon
    • 16 After Korean Empire
  • 2 Folk music
    • 21 Pansori
    • 22 Pungmul
    • 23 Sanjo
    • 24 Jeongak
    • 25 Nongak
    • 26 Shinawi
    • 27 Salpuri
  • 3 Court/Ritual music
    • 31 Aak
    • 32 Dang-ak
    • 33 Hyang-ak
  • 4 Traditional instruments
  • 5 Contemporary music
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


Proto–Three Kingdoms of Koreaedit

The Korean traditional music of proto-three kingdoms period is not known much, while some historical records of China write that people of Buyeo, Goguryeo, Dongye and Samhan drank and danced in their harvest festivals Those texts also say that Korean tribal states habitually worshipped to the heaven, dancing and drinking several days as an agricultural rite2


The oldest records about Korean music appear in the Chinese historical text, Records of the Three Kingdoms written by Chen Shou 233-297 It says that Mahan people made rituals in May and October without a cease of dancing for a few days The Annals of the Joseon Dynasty during Sejong the Great says that Samhan had its own style of music but without musical instruments3

Three Kingdoms of Koreaedit


The music history of Goguryeo is chiefly divided into three periods: the first is a period before external influence came through when geomungo, a traditional instrument was invented;4 second is normally around 4th to 6th century when Goguryeo started to form a relationship with Northern Wei; the final stage is from the end of 6th century until the collapse of the kingdom

Hwangjoga Hangul: 황조가; Hanja: 黃鳥歌 is a song from Goguryeo composed by King Yuri The song mainly tells a princess whom he loved5

According to the Samguk Sagi Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, written in 1145, the geomungo was invented by prime minister Wang San-ak by using the form of the ancient Chinese instrument guqin also called chilhyeongeum, literally "seven-string zither" After his death, the instrument was passed down to Ok Bogo, Son Myeong-deuk, Gwi Geum, An Jang, Cheong Jang, and Geuk Jong, while being widely spread over the kingdom

Archetype of the instrument is painted in Goguryeo tombs They are found in the tomb of Muyongchong and Anak Tomb No3


The only song of Baekje conveyed until now is Jeongeupsa en hangul: 정읍사, but since there are no specific relics such as the mural tombs of Goguryeo, it is quite difficult to grasp what it would be like It is evident that Baekje also celebrated a harvest festival in May and October similar to that of Goguryeo6

The music of Baekje was known to Southern Song and Northern Wei, while some music players were invited to Japan7 Notably, a man of Baekje named Mimaji en hangul: 미마지 learned music and dance in China and emigrated to Japan in 61289 In 2001, Emperor of Japan Akihito said the music of Baekje is the root of Japanese royal music, since Emperor Kanmu r871-896 himself was a descendent of King Muryeong r501-5237


The museum of Ureuk in Goryeong, Gyeongssangbuk-do where it demonstrates the development of music in Gaya and Silla

Before Silla unified three kingdoms, the music of Silla is represented by a traditional instrument, gayageum which was said that Ureuk from Gaya brought it in the reign of King Jinheung when his kingdoms were incorporated by Silla forces Although Samguk Sagi conveys 12 names of compositions Ureuk did, those are not fully inherited In 13th year of Jinheung, Ureuk taught gayageum, songs and dances to three disciples of Gyego, Beopji y Mandeok10

Later the famed scholar, Choi Chiwon who studied in Tang dynasty away from bone rank system of Silla chartered five poems of hyangak The local music which depict performing arts in Silla toward the end of its era These figures are found in history books, Goryeosa as a court ballet performance consisting of hyangak and dangak in subcategories of Korean music11

North–South States Periodedit

Unified Sillaedit

After unification, the music of Silla experienced the influx of diverse music from Baekje and Goguryeo with wider development of hyangak, especially in gayageum, geomungo, bipa of three string instruments and other three pipes12 Additionally, music from Tang dynasty was introduced under the reign of King Munmu The Buddhist chant, Beompae en hangul:범패 was widely adopted with variety of instruments, forming a unique art of Silla1314 During unified Silla, the royal institute of music en hangul:음성서 was established15



Taejo of Goryeo, the founder of Goryeo followed several customs of Silla which can be found in series of Buddhist celebrations such as Palgwanhoe and Yeondeunghoe However, the influence of Silla dramatically diminished in the middle of its period owing to the influx of musics from Song, establishing a strong influence on Korean court music13 A large banquet where performances handed down from Silla such as the sword dance was conducted16 Most of Goryeo songs were recorded in Akhak gwebeom after the 15th century of which features were the lyrics of Korean language, different from those of previous eras16

Goryeo court dance named jeongjae can be divided into two categories: native dances of hyangak jeongjae향악정재; Tang-derived dangak jeongjae 당악정재 Additionally, folk dances were practiced by monks and shamans17


As Yi Seong-gye founded Joseon in 1392, the itot batad dynasty adopted anti-Buddhism and pro-Confucianism which affected the musical pattern of Yeak 예악, 禮樂 Although some scholars like Jeong Do-jeon made several songs for celebrating the initial moments of Joseon, the notation followed the trends of Goryeo

Joseon periods saw considerable developments of its music during the reign of Sejong which were largely attributable to a musician Park Yeon18 Park firstly established an independent organ of music and created Korean-style notation including Jeonganbo en Hangul: 정간보 King Sejong himself also composed songs19 A son of Sejong, Sejo who killed his nephew, Danjong also recorded his own score in pitch pipe notation The two kings above are the only rulers whose musical records are now traceable20

Music and dance enjoyed favorable positions in the court banquets and also within elite yangban class The feasts hosted by high-rank officers involved in several entertainers like clowns and acrobats21 After the middle of its period, what-so-called middle men 중인, Jungin came to play diverse instruments mixing lyric poems and long cyclical songs21

A page of "Akhakgwebeom"

The process of compiling traditional Korean music continued until the reign of Seongjong with the publication of first independent musical text Akhakgwebeom22

Because of two mega-hit wars, the culture of Joseon went through series of hardship which resulted the loss of instrumental music and songs in court and also royal shrine23 The musical situation in the late Joseon can be described as declining contrary to its expansion period24

Ancestor worship ceremonies called Munmyo jerye and Jongmyo jerye were revived and performed annually, chiefly to commemorate the deaths of Confucian scholars and Korean kings25

The public enjoyed the genre of pansori, sanjo and namsadang-nori2126 Pansori first emerged as a common culture in the mid-Joseon Although it’s hard to grasp exact points of its evolution, the oral tradition of this genre came to be followed by musical experts only to expand its sphere not only to commoners but also to aristocrats27

In 1894, Joseon government dispatched ten court musicians to Boston Exposition in the United States to build an independent foundation28

After Korean Empireedit

Joseon was transformed into the Korean Empire with a view to organizing its sphere out of the external interruption, while the rituals of empires were revived and practiced Confucian court music to celebrate expansion of the nation However, the Japanese colonization of Korea in 1910 brought tremendous change inside and outside Korea with an influx of western music After the collapse, Korean court music found almost no way to make celebrations and rituals, which was replaced with marching songs Instead of pansori and gagok, the musical trends were largely changed into modern-style performances and classical music Followed by cultural suppression in the 1920s, Korean traditional music barely survived

Folk musicedit

Korean folk music or minyo, is varied and complex, but all forms maintain a set of rhythms called 장단; Jangdan and a loosely defined set of melodic modes owing to diverse instruments, while even drums were eligible to demonstrate variety of rhythmic cycles29

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 Jeju Island Jeju folk songs 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 판소리 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',21 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 is Park Dongjin hangul: 박동진 In 2003, Pansori was designated as intangible cultural property in UNESCO's Memory of the world30

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


Pungmul Main article: Pungmul

Pungmul:풍물 is a Korean folk music tradition that is a form of percussion music that includes drumming, dancing, and singing31 Most performances are outside, with dozens of players, all in constant motion Samul Nori, originally the name of a musical group founded in 1978, has become popular as a genre, even overseas32 It is based on Pungmul musical rhythmic patterns and uses the same instruments, but is faster and usually played while sitting down


Sanjo:산조 is played without a pause in faster tempos as one of the most popular genres of traditional Korean music33 It is entirely instrumental music, and includes changes in rhythmic and melodic modes during an individual work The tempo increases in each movement The general style of the sanjo is marked by slides in slow movements and rhythmic complexity in faster movements Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the gayageum or ajaeng31 Famous practitioners include such names as Kim Chukp'a, Yi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki Notably Hwang established new type of sanjo genre which involved in repertory of gayageum on the basis of aiming to identify and explain distinctive musical features and creativity34


Jeongak 정악, 正樂 or Chongak means literally "right or proper music", and its tradition includes both instrumental and vocal music, which were cultivated mainly by the upper-class literati of the Joseon society35 The instrumental branch has several versions of a lengthy chamber, chiefly Yongsan hoesang, while the vocal branch sometimes include the meaning of jeongga Right Song with a wide range of gagok, gasa, and sijo29

Although jeongak has things in common with court music but it can't be categorized as popular song since most public would never hear of these melodies by incorporating various court dances29 Vocals performed in jeongak are normally sung in a style of kagok 가곡, which is for mixed male and female singers and is accompanied by a variety of instruments36 The best-known piece of jeongak is Yeongsan hoesang of 9 suites which has now had only instrumental notes36


Nongak parade of several players

Nongak 농악 refers to "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 and involvement of many instruments Since Nongak involves in many types of dances and formation changes, the dancers and players have several types of artistic format due to their level of skill37


Shinawi or Sinawi 시나위, means, in the broadest sense, the shamanistic music of Korea which is performed during a Korean shaman's ritual dance performance to console and to entertain deities mainly from Korea's southwest region38 In this sense of the 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 kut39 The format of this genre is comparatively loose with several dancers being united and dispersed on the stage36


Salpuri 살풀이citation needed is a shamanistic ritual dance, conducted as exorcism of bad ghosts40 The style of this ritual dance is characterized simple and serene The long scarf with fluid lines express long lines of the arms and fingers of the dancer from corner to corner of the space, utilizing the vastness of space all the way41

Court/Ritual musicedit

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 Arts42

There are three types of court music2

  • Aak is an imported form of Chinese ritual music
  • Hyang-ak is a Pure Korean form
  • Dang-ak is a combination of Korean and Chinese influences


The word Aak is the Korean pronunciation of two hanja characters, which indicate the eqivalent form of yayue in Chinese and gagoku in Japan43 Since Confucius used this term to distinguish elegant and beneficial music from the melodies without harmony, it enjoyed favorable status during Joseon Derived from wider types of notations, Korea has maintained its melodies until now of which features were long lost in China43 Aak is considered a special type of court music in specific ritual ceremonies43 at very rare concerts, such as the Sacrifice to Confucius in Seoul44


Dangak or Tangak refers to the music which came from the Tang dynasty45 The instruments from Tang were imported During the 12th century, Korea received musical instruments as gifts from the Chinese ruler, which were used by the orchestra at Confucian rituals46 These influences provided Unified Silla with robust opportunities to develop its music culture after Korean performers' visits to China and vice versa Chinese performers visited Korea in 111647


Hyangak literally means The local music or Music native to Korea of which example is Sujecheon, a piece of instrumental music as old as 1,300 years48 Hyangak firstly appeared as early as during Silla period with four ensemble stringed instrument with woodwind instruments similar to the oboe, called a piri49 Pares and English indicate the texts of Goryeosa: The most significant dates for music hyangak indigenous music; other texts refer to this as sogak were 1114 and 1116, when the court received two gifts from the eighth Song emperor, Huizong Korea was fast becoming a Confucian state and kings had begun to observe Confucian rites to heaven, to agriculture, land and grain, and to royal ancestors50

Yongbieocheonga, Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven represents its uniqueness as hyangak, which was originally tuned to various notes and lyrics but the text was lost and purely instrument rhythm left

Traditional instrumentsedit

Traditional Korean instruments can be broadly divided into three groups:

  1. String
  2. Wind
  3. Percussion

The gayageum 12-string zither and geomungo six-string plucked zither are part of the string fold instruments36 The haegum two-string vertical fiddle and the ajaeng seven-string zither are part of the string T'ang Court string music also included use of the seven-string zither and the 25-string zither

Bells and Piri

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

Contemporary musicedit

Korea is a vibrant environment for contemporary music, and produces a wide array of styles The country has produced internationally prominent composers and singers including Big Bang, a boy group whose music has become a global phenomenon Their music, though hip-hop in its essence, can often be included genre called K-pop, which emerged during the 1990s and is somewhat slowly but surely taking over Western society with the Korean Wave

See alsoedit

  • List of Korea-related topics
  • Culture of Korea
  • Music of South Korea
  • Music of North Korea
  • Traditional Korean musical instruments
  • List of South Korean musicians
  • List of North Korean musicians
  • The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts
  • Gugak FM allocates lots of time for introducing traditional Korean arts
  • Han Terra
  • Geomungo
  • Music of Korea – Wikipedia book


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  4. ^ 《三國史記》 〈雜紙〉 1
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  • 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

External linksedit

  • A Study of Musical Instruments in Korean Traditional Music The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Republic of Korea, 1998
  • Kpop Radio PdmCommunity dedicated to Korean Culture, music and Korean music radio
  • Generacion Kpop Community websites dedicated to Korean music and Korean music radio
  • Culture & Arts in Korea: Trends in Music
  • Overview of Traditional Korean Music
  • Minyo Translation from Minsok Kyoyuk Jaryojip, published by Bongchon Norimadang
  • News articles about Korean Music

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