Primary instruments


The kkwaenggwari is a small, brass gong that has a diameter of approximately 19–22 cm (7–8 in.), and a rim of approximately 3–4 cm (1 in.). It is played with a wooden mallet with a bare wooden disc attached at the tip. The length of the mallet may vary, depending on the purpose of the music, but it is thinner than the mallet used for the ching (large gong). The kkwaenggwari is sometimes known as the sogŭm, literally “small metal”. Nowadays, the kkwaenggwari is made of a combination of copper and zinc, its tone much clearer when the percentage of copper is higher (60–70%). Kkwaenggwaris with a larger percentage of zinc produce a lower, darker tone that does not resonate as well.


The changgo is an hourglass drum that is the most widely played of all Korean instruments, and most basic in the sense that it is the one percussion instrument on which a complete changdan (rhythmic cycle) is played out. Its body is usually made of paulownia wood (odong namu), although pottery, metal, ceramic, and plastic bodies also exist, and its heads are made of animal skin. In earlier times, the hourglass-shaped body of the drum was sometimes made by conjoining two or three separated pieces (bowl-shaped parts connected in the middle by a third module), but these days, the body is made of one whole piece. The skins of the changgo are attached to its hollow body by a rope that is looped alternately through the eight metal hooks around the rim of either head. The tension of the drumheads of the changgo can be adjusted by moving leather straps that encase the ensuing V-shape laces. The gungpyon (or pukpyon), usually placed on the left side when the changgo sits horizontally, is covered with cowhide or deer hide, producing a low tone. The chaepyon (right side), is covered with dog hide or horsehide, and usually produces a higher tone. The changgo has been standardized into two types: larger, heavier ones used in court and orchestral music, and smaller, lighter ones used in the genre of p’ungmul nori (farmer’s band music, sometimes known as nongak). Larger changgos may measure over 60 cm (23–24 in.) in length and have a diameter of over 30 cm (11–12 in.); smaller ones are approximately one third less. Changgos used in court music were usually painted red, the royal color, while changgos used in folk music are the natural wood color as they are rarely painted (except for oil or varnish).


The word puk in Korean is the generic term for the word “drum,” and there are several kinds of puks in Korean music. However, the most common are the p’ungmul puk used in farmer’s band music, and the sori puk used to accompany p’ansori singing (Korean traditional narrative storytelling). The puk is a shallow, double-headed barrel drum with a wooden body made of paulownia or poplar, and heads made of deer hide, horsehide, or cowhide, although cowhide is most common. The size of the puk varies from region to region and according to purpose (sori puks may by larger than the puks used in farmer’s band music), but the heads generally range from 35–40 cm in diameter (13–15 in.). They are approximately 20–25 cm deep (7–9 in.). The skins of p’ansori puks are permanently nailed around the body of the drum, while the skins of the p’ungmul puks are attached to each other by lacing leather strings across the body of the drum.


The ching is the larger of two gongs used in Korean percussion music. It is made of brass and ranges in size from approximately 35–40 cm (13–16 in) in diameter, with an inward-sloping rim of approximately 8–10 cm (3–5 in) deep. It is approximately 3 mm thick. The size of the ching varies according to its usage: the ching used in p’ungmul nori (farmer’s band music) is usually smaller than the ching used in court, Buddhist, or ritual music, in which cases it is sometimes referred to as the taegŭm (literally, “large metal”), as opposed to the kkwaenggwari, the small gong, which is sometimes known as the sogŭm (“small metal”).

Additional instruments



Content adapted from the Virtual Instrument Museum of Wesleyan University of Middletown, Connecticut.

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