Traditional Korean music includes combinations of the folk, vocal, religious and ritual music styles of the Korean people. Korean music has been practiced since prehistoric times. Korean music falls into two broad categories. The first, Hyangak, literally means The local music or Music native to Korea, a famous example of which is Sujechon, a piece of instrumental music often claimed to be at least 1,300 years old. The second, yangak, represents a more Western style.

Korean voice

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 cycles.

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

Pansori (판소리) is a long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and 1 drummer. In this traditional art form, sometimes rather misleadingly called 'Korean Opera', 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 world.

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

  • Pungmul

Pungmul (풍물) is a Korean folk music tradition that is a form of percussion music that includes drumming, dancing, and singing. 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 overseas. It is based on Pungmul musical rhythmic patterns and uses the same instruments, but is faster and usually played while sitting down.

  • Sanjo

Sanjo (산조) is played without a pause in faster tempos as one of the most popular genres of traditional Korean music. 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 ajaeng. 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 creativity.

  • Jeongak

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 society. 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 sijo.

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 dances. 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 instruments.[39] The best-known piece of jeongak is Yeongsan hoesang of 9 suites which has now had only instrumental notes.

  • Nongak

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 skill.

  • Shinawi

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 region. 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 kut. The format of this genre is comparatively loose with several dancers being united and dispersed on the stage.

  • Salpuri

Salpuri (살풀이) is a shamanistic ritual dance, conducted as exorcism of bad ghosts. 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 way.

Court/Ritual music

  • Aak is an imported form of Chinese ritual music.

The word Aak is the Korean pronunciation of two hanja characters, which indicate the equivalent form of yayue in Chinese and gagaku in Japan. 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 China. Aak is considered a special type of court music in specific ritual ceremonies at very rare concerts, such as the Sacrifice to Confucius in Seoul.

  • Dang-ak is a combination of Korean and Chinese influences.

Dangak or Tangak refers to the music which came from the Tang dynasty. 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 rituals. 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 1116.

  • Hyang-ak is a Pure Korean form.

Hyangak literally means The local music or Music native to Korea of which one example is Sujecheon, a piece of instrumental music as old as 1,300 years. Hyangak firstly appeared as early as during Silla period with four ensemble stringed instrument with woodwind instruments similar to the oboe, called a piri. 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 ancestors.

Contemporary music

Korea is a vibrant environment for contemporary music, and produces a wide array of styles. The country has produced internationally prominent soloists and acts such as Psy, BoA, Rain, IU, Epik High, Wonder Girls, 2AM, 2PM, Blackpink, TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls' Generation, SHINee, EXO, Big Bang, 2NE1, Seventeen, Momoland, Twice, GOT7, BTS, Monsta X, The Boyz, and NCT, with the music becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Blackpink has made history on the Billboard's charts, as, among other feats, the all-female quartet debuts the highest-charting hit ever by a K-pop girl group on the Billboard Hot 100, with "DDU-DU DDU-DU" opening at No. 55 (on the chart dated June 30). Their music, though often electronic pop, hip-hop and/or R&B in essence, is generally grouped under a genre called K-pop, which emerged during the 1990s and has since become increasingly and continuously popular as part of the Korean Wave.

Traditional Instruments

Traditional Korean instruments can be broadly divided into three groups:

  1. String
  2. Wind
  3. Percussion

Percussion folk instruments include jing (large hanging gong), kkwaenggwari (hand-held gong), buk (barrel drum), janggu (hourglass drum). Percussion court includes the pyeongjong (bronze bells), pyeongyeong (stone chimes), chuk (square wooden box with mallet) and eo (tiger-shaped scraper).