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Sanjo gayageum.jpg
Korean name
Hangul 가야금
Hanja 伽倻琴
Revised Romanization Gayageum
McCune-Reischauer Kayagŭm

A gayageum is a traditional Korean zither-like string instrument, with 12 strings, although more recently variants have been constructed with 21 or other numbers of strings. It draws its name from the ancient Korean confederacy of Gaya, where it is said to have been invented. It is probably the best known traditional Korean musical instrument.


[edit] History

A musician playing a 12-string sanjo gayageum
A musician playing a 12-string sanjo gayageum

According to the Samguksagi (1145), a history of the Three Kingdoms, the gayageum is supposed to have been developed around the 6th century in the Gaya confederacy by King Gasil (also known as Haji of Daegaya) after he observed an old Chinese instrument. He then ordered a musican named Ureuk to compose music that could be played on the instrument.

The gayageum was then further improved by Wu Ruk during the reign of Jinheung in the Silla Dynasty. However, according to CCAIS (2005), excavations in Kwangsan, Jeolla-namdo Province have found some fragments of a gayageum dating from the 1st century BC. Besides that, some ancient writings that contradict the Samguksagi also speak of a different origin of the instrument.

The ancient gayageum of King Gashil was called by several names, including beopgeum (law-zither, 법금), pungnyu (elegance, 풍류), or jeong-ak (right music, 정악) gayageum. It is normally associated with court music, chamber music, and lyric songs, for which it provides the accompaniment. This type of gayageum has a wider spacing between the strings and plays slower tempo music such as Yeongsan-hoesang and Mit-doduri.

The sanjo gayageum is believed to have evolved in the 19th century with the emergence of sanjo music, literally means scattered melodies, a musical form involving some improvisation. For the sanjo gayageum, the closer spacing of the strings and shorter length of the instrument enables a musician to play the faster passages required for sanjo (Choi 2005). The sanjo gayageum is now the most wide spread form of gayageum.(KCMPC 2001). All traditional gayageum use silk strings, although, since the late 20th century, the silk strings may be replaced with nylon strings.

Modern versions of the gayageum, with have a greater number of strings, often use nylon-wrapped steel strings, similar to those used for the Chinese guzheng (Choi 2005). Brass strings have also been introduced to produce a louder sound, which is preferred for accompanying dance (Park 2004). To play modern music, gayageum with a greater number of strings have been developed, increasing the instrument's range. Gayageum are available with 13, 17, 18, 21, 22, or 25 strings (Choi 2005), although instruments with more strings are also available on custom-made of gayageum with 25 strings

[edit] Construction

The beobgeum gayageum (pictured) is 160 cm long by 30 cm wide by 10 cm high. Its body is made from a single piece of paulownia wood. The resonator chamber is hollowed out of the piece of paulownia. The sanjo gayageum is about 142 cm long by 23 cm wide by 10 cm high. It has the soundboard made of paulownia, but uses a harder wood such as chestnut or walnut for the sides and the back, so the resonator chamber is made of both (Choi 2005) (KCMPC 2001).

On the soundboard, Anjok (movable bridges) support the strings. These bridges may be moved to adjust the tuning. The strings enter the top of the body, and underneath are Tolgwae (tuning pegs). At the other end, the strings are wound around free floating pegs, looped through holes at the bottom of the instrument, and then the strings are all tied in a coil (Choi 2005) (KCMPC 2001).

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