Traditional Musical Instrument Masters' Knowledge and Technique

2125 views · 11-16-2018 · codjs0910

Main contents

A musical instrument master is a person who possesses the ability or skill to make traditional musical instruments such as Gayageum, Geomungo, Janggu, Buk, Danso.

Geographical location

In Korea, the musical instrument production by masters is protected and designated as an intangible cultural asset so that their techniques can be transmitted to the next generations. Just like other items of intangible cultural assets, musical instrument masters have trained orally and made instruments on the basis of the masters’ experiences. Currently, there are about 60 to 70 kinds of Korean traditional musical instruments. Gayageum and Geomungo are the most popular among them.

Communities involvement

Traditional Korean string instruments are played by plucking or rubbing strings with fingers. The most well-known and currently actively transmitted instruments are Gayageum, Geomungo, Ajaeng, and Haegeum. Gayageum has twelve strings on a Paulownia wooden board. Geomugo has six strings and makes a sound by hitting them with a bamboo stick instead of fingers. The Korea government has recognized the masters who make these instruments as intangible cultural heritage musical instrument masters and has been protecting them so that the making techniques can be handed down successively through generations. ‘Traditional sound’ from the past that is far from now reinforces the identities of the present masters. The ambiguous border between tradition and creation, for instance, imitation, improvement, or creation, is regarded as ‘the revival of tradition.’ This lets us realize musical instrument masters’ individual values and differences in their production regarding what it is to produce instruments desirably and properly. The serial process of making instruments-material selecting, drying, parts and sound body making, natural painting, pattern and decoration, the assembly-reveals the special wisdom, artistic sense, and personality of the masters whose know-how has accumulated.

Practices related to ICH safeguarding

The musical instrument production by masters is regarded as the highest skills in string instruments in Korea. Artisans who are not recognized yet as intangible cultural assets, though they are a small number, open their studios in different regions in the country making their musical instruments and selling them to musicians. The techniques of musical instrument production by masters are preserved by the government. The government subsidizes a certain amount of training expenses every month and holds annual public events to publicize traditional culture to the general public.

About a practitioner

The constant change of Korean traditional music is made by interacting with various factors such as the needs of the performers, the experiences and the skills of the instrument masters, the new music to be composed in the age, the new styles of playing music, and the different places for performance. However, musical instrument masters consider the sensory as the most important skills. Every master has their own basic principles to keep and they try to transmit them, which is acknowledged as values of tradition and critical points as intangible cultural heritage assets. In order for the instrument masters to continue to make instruments, there must be musicians who play the instruments. Musicians in national or private educational institutions such as the National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts and the music department of universities buy the instruments as well as local amateur musicians who regularly hold concerts.


In Korea, the musical instrument production by masters was designated as the national intangible cultural asset No. 42 on February 24 in 1971. The municipal governments have also designated the masters as intangible cultural assets since then.