Korean folk music is varied and complex, but all forms maintain a set of rhythms and a loosely defined set of melodic modes.
Pansori is a long vocal and percussive music played by one singer and one drummer. The lyrics tell one of five different stories, but is individualized by each performer, often with updated jokes and audience participation. One of the most famous p'ansori singers is Pak Tongjin.
Nongak is a rural form of percussion music, typically played by twenty to thirty performers. A smaller band version of nongak became very popular in Korea in the late 1970s, and some bands, like Samul Nori, even found some international success.
Sanjo is entirely instrumental that shifts rhythms and melodic modes during the song. Instruments include the changgo drum set against a melodic instrument, such as the gayageum or ajaeng. Famous practitioners include Kim Chukp'a, Yi Saenggang and Hwang Byungki.
The fine range of Korean symphonic orchestras have been bolstered by notable performers, and soloists, as well as highly skilled orchestra directors. Internationally known Korean composers of classical music include such notables as: Lee Soo-in, who specializes in music for children, and his famous ""Song of My Homeland". Korean classical music can be divided into at least four types: courtly, aristocratic, scholarly, and religious.
Court music - Modern orchestral Korean court music began its development with the beginning of the Choson Dynasty in 1392. It is now rare, except for government sponsored organizations like the National Center for the Korean Traditional Performing Arts. There are three types of court music. One is called aak, and is an imported form of Chinese ritual music, and another is a pure Korean form called hyangak; the last is a combination of Chinese and Korean influences, and is called tangak.
Aristocratic chamber music
Originally designed for upper-class rulers, to be enjoyed informally, chongak is often entirely instrumental, usually an ensemble playing one of nine suites that are collectively called Yongsan hoesang. Vocals are mainly sung in a style called kagok, which is for mixed male and female singers and is accompanied by a variety of instruments.
Traditional music of Korea
Korean music is based on Buddhist and native shamanistic beliefs. Buddhist and shamanistic dancing, and shamanistic drum music, are extant, as is a melodic, jazzy dance music called sinawi. Traditional Korean instruments can be broadly divided into three groups: string, wind and percussion instruments.
Western Christian imported music
Main article: Korean Contemporary Christian music
With the importation of Christianity, the evangelical use of music for prosletizying has led to many choirs, both within and without churches, and the importation of many traditional American styles of Christian folksongs sung in Korean.
Modern world music
Korean traditional instruments have been integrated into western percussion, and are beginning a new wave of Korean world music since 1998. Traditional instruments are amplified, and sampled, with traditional songs rescored for new age audiences.