Gugak The Korean Traditional Music Culture

Gugak literally “national music” refers to Korean traditional music and other artworks including songs, dances, and ceremonial performances. This culture also becomes the world cultural heritage. The development of music in Korea began in the early 15th century, during the reign of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

During the reign of King Sejong, Korean music was served as the subject of serious study and continued development. So, it was formed a system of notation mensural. King Sejong’s efforts to reform music not only created a distinctive Korean notation system but also formed a special ritual music composition to be performed during the Royal Ancestral Rite in Jongmyo Shrine.

Gugak The Korean Traditional Music Culture


The term “Gugak” was first used by Jangagwon, a government agency was in charge of music at that time. Jangagwon’s aim at that time was to distinguish Korean traditional music from foreign music. Along with the development of Korean music, Korean society also developed various musical instruments which could be divided into three categories. They are:

  • Wind instruments such as piridaegeum, dans0, and taepyeongso
  • String instruments such as gayageum, geomungo, haegeum, ajaeng, and bipa
  • Percussion instruments such as bukjanggupyeonjongpyeongyeong, kkwaenggwari and jing

Uniqueness of Gugak as Korean Traditional Music

One of the unique aspects of this Korean traditional music is the musicians becomes the main of the show. They can do improvisations during the performances either by a soloist or ensemble. The basic rhythm of the music is called jangdan (which means tempo or accent) and they follow the pattern of the music.

Gugak The Korean Traditional Music Culture

An artist is allowed to improvise individually using existing musical patterns as the foundation. The most commonly used patterns are jinyang (slow), jungmori (medium), jungjungmori (medium-fast), jajinmori (fast) and hwimori (very fast).

Refers to the mode in Korean Traditional Music, there are many modes for example in Pansori. The music depends on the nature of the melody itself. Two important and fundamental modes are called gyemyeonjo (sad style) and ujo (majestic).

If you want to see the Gugak show, you can visit the National Gugak Center and The National Theater of Korea. Both places are the best places to see the Gugak show live.


Gugak or Korean traditional music becomes the world cultural heritage. Until today, Gugay tradition is still performed and you can see this show in the National Gugak Center and The National Theater of Korea.

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