Korean Traditional Music

Korean Traditional Music

Hwang Byeong-Ki

Let’s talk about traditional Korean music.

“What?” you say. “What the heck do you know about traditional Korean music?”

Well, it turns out that traditional Korean music is pretty awesome. Don’t confuse it with K-pop – Korean popular music, which is even more horrible than the Western pop music it mimics.

No, Korean traditional music can be up to 2,000 years old. There are many genres under this umbrella. They all have their similarities and use similar instruments – drums, especially the jangu; big stringed zithers that sit on the player’s lap, like the Gayaguem; and flutes. Interestingly, men usually play the flutes and women play the stringed instruments.

I lived in Korea for two years, and at that time the Seoul Arts Center gave cheap performances on the weekend. What’s more, they also gave free lessons. I’m a guitarist, so I chose the Gayaguem, which other than having strings doesn’t have too much in common with the guitar. The course was the most basic introduction to this quite complex instrument, a course designed for musicians and non-musicians alike.

Later I found a teacher who gave me private lessons. She introduced me to really good, modern traditional Korean music, groups like the Seoul Gayaguem Trio and the SookMyung Gayaguem Orchestra, of which she was a member.

The undisputed master of modern Gayaguem music is Hwang Byeong-Ki. When you listen to his music, think about Asian art with all its blank space. The music is similar. The spaces are as important as the notes.