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Music of Korea

The first evidence of Korean music is ancient, and it has been well-documented by surviving written materials since the 15th century. In the beginning of the 20th century, the presence of the Japanese brought commercial recording technology to Korea. Korea was split, after World War 2, into North and South Korea. North Korean culture, including music, was repressed by an autocratic government which allowed only light, state-sponsored music. South Korea initially embraced Western pop music, but has since revitalized ancient musical traditions.

Pop music

Korean pop music is a big industry, as it is throughout most of Asia. Karaoke (noraebang) is popular as well.


Ppongtchak is the oldest form of Korean pop, having developing during the Japanese occupation before World War 2. It retains elements of
Japanese music, which has led to some criticism from nationalists.

T'ong guitar

Heavily influenced by American pop music, t'ong guitar developed in the early
1970s as a Korean version of folk singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. In the 1980s, t'ong became a form of soft rock ballad that earned critical scorn.

Norae Undong

In the late
1970s and early 1980s, a form of Korean rock music with politically and socially aware lyrics was invented by pioneers like Kim Min-ki. It soon earned the name Nore Undong (New Song Movement).

Folk music

folk music is varied and complex, but all forms maintain a set of rhythms and a loosely defined set of melodic modes.


P'ansori is long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and one 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 p'ansori singers is Pak Tongjin.


Nongak is a rural form of
percussion music, typically played by twenty to thirty performers. A smaller band version of nongak became very popular in Korea in the late 1970s, and some bands, like Samul Nori, even found some international success.


Sanjo is entirely instrumental that shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the karagum or ajaeng. Famous practitioners include Kim Chukp'a, Yi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki.

Classical music

classical music can be divided into three types: courtly, aristocratic and religious.

Court music

Modern orchestral court music began its development with the beginning of the Choson Dynasty in
1392. It is now rare, except for government sponsored organizations like the National Center for the Korean Traditional Performing Arts.

There are three types of court music. One is called aak, and is an imported form of Chinese ritual music, and another is a pure Korean form called hyangak; the last is a combination of Chinese and Korean influences, and is called tanguk.


Aak was brought to Korea in 1116, and very popular for a time before dying out. It was revived in 1430, based on a reconstruction of older melodies. The music is now highly specialized, and uses just two different surviving melodies, and is played only at certain very rare concerts, such as the Sacrifice to Confucius in Seoul.


Modern tangak, like aak, is rarely practiced. Only two short pieces are known; they are Springtime in Luoyang and Pacing the Void.


By far the most extant form of Korean court music today, hyangak includes a sort of
oboe called a p'iri and various kinds of stringed instruments.

Artistocratic chamber music

Originally designed for upper-class rulers, to be enjoyed informally, chongak is often entirely instrumental, usually an ensemble playing one of nine suites that are collectively called Yongsan hoesang. Vocals are mainly sung in a style called kagok, which is for mixed male and female singers and is accompanied by a variety of instruments.

Religious music

religious music is based off Buddhist and native shamanistic beliefs. Buddhist and shamanistic dancing, and shamanistic drum music, are extant, as is a melodic, jazzy dance music called sinawi.