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A 12-stringed gayageum

The gayageum or kayagum is a traditional Korean zither-like string instrument. It has 12 strings, though some more recent variants have 21 or other numbers of strings. It is probably the best known traditional Korean musical instrument.[1] Its body is made of Paulownia wood.


According to Samguksagi ( the three kingdoms history book), the first gayageum was made for King Gasil in the 6th century.[2] This was after he observed a Chinese musical instrument. He ordered a musician named Wu Ruk to compose music for this new instrument. The original name was gayago. It was further improved by Wu Ruk.


Sanjo gayageum player

There are two types. The beobgeum gayageum is 160cm long by 30cm wide by 10cm deep. Its body is made of a single piece of paulownia wood. The resonator chamber is hollowed out of the wood body. It is used in court music.[3]

The sanjo gayageum is about 142cm long by 23cm wide by 10cm deep. The soundboard is made of paulownia, but the sides and back are of a harder wood such as chestnut or walnut. It is used in folk music.[3]


The player usually sits cross-legged. The gayageum is played put on the player’s knee (usually the right knee). One hand plucks the strings to make a sound. The other hand decorates the sound by pressing, shaking, and vibrating the strings.


  1. Jan. 11, 2007,Korean Instruments Seoul Metropolitan Government
  2. Thomas Rossing, The Science of String Instruments (New York: Springer, 2010), p. 192
  3. 3.0 3.1 Emerging Intelligent Computing Technology and Applications, eds. De-Shuang Huang; et al. (Berlin; New York: Springer, 2009), p. 213

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