Korea Traditional Musical Instruments

National Gugak Center

String instruments, wind instruments, percussions 

String Instruments
Traditional Korean string instruments are made of paulownia wood and some other materials. They are categorized on the basis of the basic technique used to produce the sounds, such as plucking, pulling, or hitting. For example, the gayageum and geomungo mainly produce sounds when the strings are plucked. On the other hand, the ajaeng produces sounds when the strings are pulled with a bow. The yanggeum makes sounds when the metal strings are hit with a stick.  


The gayageum makes sounds when the strings are plucked and strummed. The soundboard, which is made of paulownia wood, has twelve movable bridges that support twisted silk strings. There are the pungnyu gayageum for literati music, the sanjo gayageum for folk music, and the modified gayageum for modern music. They come in different materials, sizes, or numbers of strings.


The geomungo is a six-string zither with three movable bridges and sixteen convex frets. The modernized geomungo increases the strings and uses nylon strings. The instruments are widely arranged in traditional music from solo performance to an orchestra.


The haegeum has a rodlike neck, a hollow wooden sound box, and two silk strings, and is held vertically on the performer’s knee.


The ajaeng has seven or eight strings made of twisted silk, and is played by means of a slender stick made of forsythia wood or horsehair. The larger one has seven strings, called a daeajaeng, is used for court orchestral music, while the smaller soajaeng has eight strings and is used for folk music or solo performances.


The yanggeum is played by striking the metal strings with a thin bamboo stick. One set of string consists of four strings and in total fourteen sets are placed on two frets on a trapezoid sound box.

Wind Instruments
Most of Korean wind instruments are made of bamboo. They are classified differently based on the musicians' posture and the direction the instruments are facing. The piri, danso, taepyeongso are vertical instruments, while the daegeum and sogeum are transverse flutes.  


The piri is a Korean double reed instrument made of bamboo. Sound is made when air is blown into the bamboo cylinder pipe through the thin bamboo reed.


The daegeum has a mouth piece with a closed end and a membrane hole. The membrane is collected from the inside of the reed stem and it produces a unique buzzing sound of the daegeum.


The Danso has five finger holes and a U-shaped mouth hole.


The saenghwang is a free reed mouth organ with a windchest made of dried gourd.


The taepyeongso is a double reed instrument. It has a conical wooden body with a metal mouthpiece and a cup-shaped metal bell, called the dongpallang.

Korean percussive instruments are made of metal, animal skin, wood, bamboo, and stone. They are also divided into two kinds, one with different pitches and the other without pitches. The pyeonjong and the pyeonggyeong are the most popularly shown melodic percussive instruments, while the bak, jwago, janggu, kkwenggwari, jing and buk have no pitches.  


The bak is made of six hard wood boards that are tied together at one end to make a fan shape when spread out. The bak is sounded once when the music starts or significant changes occur in rhythmic patterns.


The janggu is an hourglass-shaped drum made of animal skins and has a wooden body.The janggu is used in court or classical music and played with one stick and one hand, while two sticks are used for folk music and the janggu dance.


The jwago is a drum hung on the wooden frame, and the musician always plays it while sitting on the floor. It is arranged in orchestra or wind ensembles in order to cue the first beat or to intensify the sound of the janggu.


The pyeonjong consists of sixteen bronze bells hung on a wooden frame, and it is played with a stick made of cow horn. Each bell has a different pitch. The thicker the bell the higher the pitch.


The pyeongyeong consists of sixteen stones hung on a wooden frame, and it is played with a stick made of cow horn. Each stone has a different pitch. The thicker the stone, the higher the pitch.


The soribuk is played with both an open left hand and a stick made of birch that is held in the right hand.
It has tacked heads that are different from the ones used in the percussion quartet with laced heads.

Credits: Story

○ Curator+Publisher: Gugak Archive
○ 「My Friend: Korean Traditional Instruments」 (National Gugak Center, 2015)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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