The Tradition of Korean Folk Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


The tradition of Korean folk music is rich and varied, with roots that go back centuries. From lively, upbeat folk songs to beautiful ballads, there is a wide range of music to enjoy. And, thanks to the popularity of Korean dramas and films, more and more people are discovering the joys of Korean folk music.

Introducing Korean folk music

Korea is a country with a long and rich history of traditional music. From ancient shamanistic rituals to modern pop songs, Korean music has always been an important part of the country’s cultural identity.

One of the most iconic genres of Korean music is folk music. Often featuring traditional instruments like the gayageum (a twelve-string zither) and the haegeum (a two-string fiddle), folk songs are often passed down from generation to generation, carrying with them the stories and traditions of Korea’s past.

Folk songs often deal with themes of love, loss, and nostalgia, and can be either sentimental or upbeat. They often tell stories of historical events or famous people, and are sometimes used as protest songs. Regardless of their subject matter, Korean folk songs are always moving and beautiful, providing a window into the heart of Korea’s culture.

The history of Korean folk music

Korean folk music is the traditional music of Korea. Folk music includes a wide variety of genres, each with their own set of instruments and songs.

The first folk music to develop in Korea was religious music, which was used in shamanistic rituals and ceremonies. Shamanistic music was characterized by its use of percussion instruments, such as the gongs and drums, and its use of vocalizations and chanting. This type of folk music eventually developed into what is known as “minyo,” or folk song. Minyo includes a wide variety of subgenres, such as work songs, children’s songs, love songs, wedding songs, and funeral songs.

In addition to minyo, another important type of Korean folk music is “pansori.” Pansori is a form of musical storytelling that is traditionally performed by a single singer and a drummer. The singer tells the story through song while the drummer provides accompaniment. Pansori stories are typically based on Korean folklore or legends.

Korean folk music has been influenced by foreign genres throughout history. During the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-1945), for example, Japanese pop music became popular among Koreans. Since then, various other genres have influenced Korean folk music, including American pop and rock music, which became popular in Korea after the Korean War (1950-1953).

The different types of Korean folk music

Korean folk music is diverse and includes everything from court music to religious music, Jeongga (traditional Korean vocal music),Sanjo (.a solo genre usually played on the gayageum zither), minyo (folk songs), Jongmyo jeryeak (ritual court music of the Joseon Dynasty) and more.

There are three main types of Korean folk music – pansori, jeongga and sanjo. Pansori is a type of musical storytelling where a singer tells a story with accompanying instruments. Jeongga is traditional Korean vocal music that is often performed at weddings and other special occasions. Sanjo is a solo genre usually played on the gayageum zither.

Korean folk music has been passed down from generation to generation and is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.

The instruments used in Korean folk music

Korean folk music is the genre of music that represents the traditional music of Korea. It includes a wide variety of music styles, from nostalgic ballads to dance tunes and agricultural work songs. Korean folk music is often based on simple melodies and rhythms, but can also be quite complex.

One of the most important aspects of Korean folk music is the use of traditional Korean instruments. These instruments provide the unique sounds that define Korean folk music and give it its characteristic flavor. Some of the most commonly used instruments in Korean folk music include the piri (a double-reed wind instrument), the gayageum (a zither-like string instrument), the ajaeng (a seven-string zither), and the haegeum (a two-stringed fiddle).

The lyrics and meaning of Korean folk songs

Korean folk songs, called minyo in Korean, are a genre of traditional Korean music. The lyrics and meaning of these songs often reflect the daily lives and experiences of the Korean people. Many of these songs are about love, loss, and heartbreak; others are about history or the changing seasons.

Minyo are typically sung by female vocalists, accompanied by traditional instruments such as the gayageum (zither) or the ajaeng (bowed zither). The songs often have a slow, mournful melody that reflects the emotions of the lyrics.

Although Korean folk songs may not be as well-known as other genres of Korean music, they are an important part of the country’s musical heritage. These songs offer a window into the lives of the Korean people and provide a glimpse into the country’s rich culture and history.

The significance of Korean folk music in Korean culture

Korean folk music is significant in Korean culture because it is reflective of the people’s history and values. The music is used to celebrate important events, convey feelings of love and loss, and promote community unity. It is an important part of the country’s heritage, and its importance has been recognized by UNESCO, which has proclaimed it a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

How Korean folk music is performed

Korean folk music is usually performed by a small group of musicians, with one person playing the lead instrument and the others playing a supporting role. The lead instrument may be a gayageum (zither), haegeum (fiddle), piri (oboe), or saenghwang (mouth organ). The music is often accompanied by drums and cymbals, and sometimes by gongs.

The musicians usually sit or stand in a circle, with the lead instrumentist in the center. The music is improvised, and the musicians often take turns playing the lead role. There is no set melody or rhythm, and the musicians follow the lead of the person who is playing the lead instrument.

The music is usually played for dancing, and the dancers often follow traditional patterns. The dances are sometimes acrobatic, and sometimes they involve props such as swords or fans.

The popularity of Korean folk music

While the popularity of Korean pop music, or K-pop, is now global, the origins of Korean music can be traced back to traditional folk songs. These songs often tell stories of the Korean people, their history and their culture. Folk music has been passed down from generation to generation and is still popular in Korea today. There are many different types of Korean folk songs, each with its own unique style and sound.

The future of Korean folk music

With the advent of globalization, Korean folk music is in danger of disappearing. To prevent this, the government has established the Korean Folk Music Preservation Society to promote and preserve the music. The society sponsors concerts and competitions, and offers scholarships to young musicians. It also works with Folklore Village, a living museum where people can experience traditional Korean life.


Since the 1960s, South Korea has undergone a musical renaissance. Korean folk music, which had been suppressed under the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), has been rediscovered and revitalized. Today, traditional Korean music is enjoyed by Koreans of all ages and is an important part of the country’s cultural identity.

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