Traditional Music: Korean Flutes

A man playing a korean flute.
Korea has numerous traditional flutes. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Korea has a rich musical history and its flutes make up one of the important parts of its musical and cultural legacy. The Koreans have developed a number of flutes, which can be categorized into transverse and end-blown flutes.

Transverse flutes

Transverse flutes are those that are held horizontally when the user plays them. The user typically blows across a specific hole in a direction that is perpendicular to the instrument’s length. The following are some of the popular transverse flutes used in Korea:

  • Daegeum: This is a bamboo flute that has a buzzing membrane that gives the instrument a peculiar timbre. In 1971, the Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea called the solo performances of daegeum sanjo (scattered melodies) as one of the Important Intangible Cultural Properties of Korea. A myth associated with daegeum states that it was created by a king at the instruction of a dragon to ensure peace in his country.
Daegeum flutes have a unique timbre.
A daegeum has a unique timbre. (Image: Stephano Labarca via Wikimedia Commons)
  • Sogeum: This instrument is similar to daegeum except that it does not have a buzzing membrane. Theoretically, the instrument should be able to sound all 12 notes. But in actual play, only 8 notes are used. The remaining 4 notes are not played due to several restrictions. A sogeum is rarely used as a solo instrument.
  • Ji: The Ji is a flute that has a protruding notched blowhole. The instrument has five finger holes, four of them located in the front and one in the back. The name Ji is derived from the Chinese word “chi.” It is mostly used in Korean court music or Confucian ritual music.
  • Dangjeok: This instrument is actually of Chinese origin, coming from the Tang Dynasty. The name dangjeok roughly translates into “Tang transverse bamboo flute.” Classified as an aerophone, the dangjeok produces a bright and clear sound when blown. The instrument has seven holes to control pitch and a single hole through which air is blown into it. Of all the Korean traditional instruments, dangjeok boasts of having the highest pitch. The instrument is often played together with a xylophone and Korean lute.

End-blown flutes

End-blown flutes are played by the user directing the airstream against the upper end of a tube, which in most cases tends to have a sharp edge.

  • Danso: Danso flutes used to be made exclusively from bamboo. Imported from China in the 19th century, these flutes are now made of plastic. The danso is derived from a Chinese flute called the “xiao” and is often used as an educational tool in primary schools. It has five holes in total, one thumb hole in the back, and four finger holes. The danso has a playing range of two octaves, ranging between high G and low G.
The danso comes from a Chinese instrument.
The danso comes from a Chinese instrument. (Image: GNU FDL via Wikimedia)
  • Tungso: This is kind of a bigger version of the danso. However, it has a buzzing membrane as seen in daegeum flutes. The instrument is usually played as an accompaniment to Korean dances like “Bukcheong.” The danso is a thick instrument, usually made of aged bamboo.
  • Hun: What makes the hun stand out from the rest of the flutes is that it is typically not made from bamboo. Instead, a hun is made of ceramic or baked clay. It is globular in shape, with numerous finger holes and a blowing hole at the top. In Japan, there is a similar instrument called a “tsuchibue,” which roughly translates as “clay flute.”

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  • Raven Montmorency

    Raven Montmorency is a pen name used for a writer based in India. She has been writing with her main focus on Lifestyle and human rights issues around the world.