Korean folk music

Korean folk music

Korean culture spans two countries each found on a peninsula protruding from the northeast corner of China. From 668 to 1910, Korea existed as a single kingdom, though today, it is divided into North Korea and South Korea which share a common language and culture.

Korean culture has a long history quite distinct from those of its more recognized neighbors China and Japan. In Korea, more than its immediate neighbors, rhythm plays an important role in nearly every music style. In fact, one of Korea's great musical contributions to eastern Asia was the chongganbo notation system, which used a grid to denote precise performance indications and rhythms.

As a more global cultural outlook emerged in Korea over the last fifty years, attention shifted away from traditional musical forms and toward a more Western-oriented sound. A long history of formal court and aristocratic music traditions have largely fallen away from the public interest. Compounding this dilemma is that many Korean folk styles are tied to ceremonies that are no longer relevant or practiced. Despite this, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a growing interest in Korean folk music, mainly in South Korea, and the government has done its part to encourage and increase awareness in folk music. In addition, immigrant communities in places like the United States have helped to keep fading traditions alive.

p'ansori and Sanjo

Folk music in Korea may be performed both by amateur and professional musicians. p'ansori is one of the most refined folk styles and one that requires years of training from its performers. In p'ansori, a singer is accompanied by a barrel-shaped drum called a puk, and the two performers tell one of five folk stories that can last several hours.

Sanjo, another virtuosic form, is partly descended from p'ansori and pairs the hourglass changgo drum with a melody instrument. Each melody instrument has a long tradition taught to performers at schools by professional teachers. Sanjo performances are comprised of fast and slow movements, in which semi-improvised ornamentation is important.

Nongak and samulnori

Nongak is a loud outdoor music often referred to as "farmers' music" that originated in the countryside but has since spread throughout the peninsula. Initially it was music to accompany the repetitive tasks of farming, but professional ensembles later emerged, touring the country to perform Nongak.

samulnori is a more recent offshoot of Nongak created in the late 1970s by a group of musicians that has since exploded in popularity both in Korea and abroad. Though based on Nongak, in a normal performance samulnori uses only four instruments-changgo, kkwaenggwari, puk, and ching-and is performed indoors. (The world "samulnori" literally means "playing of four objects.") In addition, the musicianship is far more virtuosic than the farmer's music, and new songs are continually composed.

min'yo (Folk Songs)

Traditional folk songs in Korea are called min'yo. min'yo usually have a verse and refrain form, and solo improvisation is a common feature of many of them, particularly in a group performance setting. Some folksongs are performed throughout the Koreas, but there are regional differences in terms of rhythms, melodies, and vocal styles. Unlike the professional folk styles like p'ansori, Sanjo, and Nongak, many min'yo folk songs still retain much of their regional character.


There are over 60 classified instruments used in Korean music, though in reality only about a quarter of these are played with any frequency. Koreans place their instruments into three categories: percussion, strings, and wind.
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Philharmonic Stirs Emotions in North Korea

by edsdesk

Published: February 27, 2008
PYONGYANG, North Korea — As the New York Philharmonic played the opening notes of “Arirang,” a beloved Korean folk song, a murmur rippled through the audience. Many in the audience perched forward in their seats.
The piccolo played a long, plaintive melody. Cymbals crashed, harp runs flew up, the violins soared. And tears began forming in the eyes of the staid audience, row upon row of men in dark suits, women in colorful high-waisted dresses called hanbok and all of them wearing pins with the likeness of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder

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Shotakovich's concerto for piano, trumpet and strings, is full of clever references to Haydn and Beethoven, and the play between the piano and trumpet reflect a variety of styles such as neo-Classical, jazz, Jewish folk music and more.

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Shostakovich's concerto, for piano, trumpet, and strings, is full of references to Haydn and Beethoven and byplay between the piano and trumpet reflecting a variety of styles – from neo-Classical to jazz to Jewish folk music.

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