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Korea Drums: The Instrument Of Modern Folk Music

Sep 10, 2008
Drums have been a part of Korean culture for approximately two thousand years. Paintings from the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 BCE - 668 CE) still exist that depict drums being used to accompany dancers. Although only two types of barrel drum, or "buk" in Korean, are depicted in those paintings, modern Korean culture boasts over a dozed different types of drums of varying construction, size and sound. In ancient Korea, the drum transcended social barriers and was used by peasants, religious figures and nobility alike. Today, the Korean drum has withstood the test of time and is as omnipresent within the culture as ever.

In Korea, there are two types of undecorated buk used in traditional folk music. The sori-buk, which is used to accompany pansori music, has a tacked head, while the pungmul-buk has a laced head and accompanies pungmul. While pansori music and its drums feature satires and love stories, pungmul music has its roots in the collective labor of farming culture, although today it is also used in political protests. The sori-buk is played with both an open hand and a drumstick simultaneously, while the pungmul-buk is with only a single stick. Both types of music and the drums that go with them can be seen in cultural festivals in modern Korea.

The folk music of Korea, which makes such thorough use of drums, is quite varied. However, its songs are generally simple and bright, although those of certain regions are more complex than those of others. Folk music is still popular in Korea today, posing a striking contrast to the classical court music, which has nearly died out. Today, it can usually only be heard through performances associated with government-sponsored organizations.

Another prominent type of drum in Korea is the janggu, sometimes called seyogo. This instrument, like the talking drum of Africa, is shaped like an hourglass and had heads on both sides. These heads produce sounds of different pitch, although unlike those of its African cousin, once the drum is made, these pitches cannot be altered. When the two sides and pitches are played simultaneously, it can often represent a harmony between opposing or different forces, such as man and woman. This instrument, like the buk, has existed in Korea for at least two thousand years. Historical records indicate that it was used both in the field, like the pungmul-buk, as well as in the royal court of ancient Korea. This variety of use is in keeping with the instrument's flexible nature and potential for complex rhythm. The janggu can be played with sticks, bare hands or both at once.

As previously mentioned, there is a wide variety of drums in traditional Korean music, far beyond the buk and the janggu. The galgo for example, is similar in shape to the janggu, having two heads and mimicking an hourglass, but it is played with two sticks and its heads are thinner. There are also many different kinds of buk, ranging from the jingo, the largest of the barrel drums, to the yonggo, which has a dragon painted on its shell and is commonly used in traditional Korean military music, to the sakgo, a long barrel drum suspended from a wooden frame.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for drums, buk, Korean drums, janggu , sheet music, guitar tabs, and home theater audio.
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