Intro to Traditional Korean Instruments!

When someone says the words ‘Korean Music’, we think of K-Pop right? However, there’s so much more to music in Korea than that – more specifically, the more traditional pieces and the instruments used to play them. As this month’s theme for our CULTURE box is MUSIC, we are excited to tell you more about some of the coolest traditional Korean instruments!

가야금 (Gayageum)

Image Source: © Greg, A Musician Playing On A Gayageum, 02.08.17,

Image Source: © Greg, A Musician Playing On A Gayageum, 02.08.17,

This instrument is part of the string family, and is related to the Japanese koto and the Chinese guzheng among others. Traditionally, you would only find 12 strings on the gayageum but more strings have been added recently to play the more complex, contemporary pieces. To play it, you would sit cross legged on the floor and lay the instrument across your lap with the tail part resting on the floor. This instrument is very popular, and you might recognise it from the Korean historical drama ‘Arang and the Magistrate’, as it is played by the Jade Emperor.

장구 (Janggu)

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Image Source: 02.08.17,

If you’ve ever watched a traditional Korean musical performance, be it on the internet or live in person, you would definitely have seen this instrument being played. It’s an hour glass shaped drum which can be struck on both ends. Each end makes a sound of a different pitch, so when played together it sounds truly amazing!

단소 (Danso)

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Image Source: 02.08.17,

This wind instrument is like a recorder and flute in one! Although it commonly featured in Korean folk music, nowadays it’s often used in primary schools to encourage the pupils to get into music.

해금 (Haegeum)

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Probably one of the most unique looking instruments is the Haegeum, popularly known as the Kkangkkangi. However, despite its unusual design it’s actually the most widely used Korean traditional instrument. Featuring in both court music and madangnori (commoner’s music), you should definitely try and look out for this instrument the next time you hear some traditional Korean music.

So, what do all of these different instruments have in common? They all feature in fusion gugak of course! As the name suggests, it is the combination of popular western melodies with more traditional, Korean music. This could be anything from creating western sounding music with only traditional Korean instruments, or creating a new sound altogether with both traditional and more modern instruments.

If you want to hear more of Korean traditional instruments, why not learn more through Kdramas? Traditional instruments have been featured in several OSTs for dramas, as well as played an important part in the plot line too. Here are a few we recommend: Heartstrings, Arang, The Magistrate, Painter of the Wind and The Sound of a Flower. Do you know any K-dramas that feature Korean traditional instruments? Make sure to tweet us your recommendations!

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Image Source: 02.08.17,

Of course these are just a few of the amazing instruments that existed in Korean history. We hope that this has inspired you to hear some traditional Korean music and see if you can pick out which of the above instruments are being played throughout the piece. Happy listening!

Featured Image Source: © zenome, 02.08.17,

Natalie Mierswa

Writer and dreamer. German mind, American heart and Asian soul. Member of Kim Jongdae Appreciation Society and proud donator to the Park Jimin Jams Fund.



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