Alternative title


Physical description

The kkwaenggwari is a small, brass gong that has a diameter of approximately 19 to 22 cm (7½ to 8½ in), and a rim of approximately 3 to 4 cm (1½ in). It is played with a wooden mallet with a bare wooden disc attached at the tip. The length of the mallet may vary, depending on the purpose of the music, but it is thinner than the mallet used for the ching (large gong). The kkwaenggwari is sometimes known as the sogŭm, literally “small metal.” Nowadays, the kkwaenngwari is made of a combination of copper and zinc, its tone much clearer when the percentage of copper is higher (60-70%). Kkwaenggwaris with a larger percentage of zinc produce a lower, darker tone that does not resonate as well.

Musical, Cultural, and Social Contexts

There are two types of kkwaenggwari that are identified as male and female. The su-kkwaenggwari (male) is a higher pitched instrument, while the am-kkwaenggwari (female) produces a smoother, lower-pitched tone. Because of its sound penetration, the su-kkwaenggwari is usually used as the lead instrument in farmer’s band music. The am-kkwaenggwari is sometimes used by the pusoe, the “2nd leader,” and complements the sound of the su-kkwaenggwari that is played by the sangsoe. As a pair, the two kkwaenggwari reflect the principle of ŭm-yang (yin-yang) that represents the balance between dark and light.

Historical background

The origins of the kkwaenggwari are not certain. However, it seems to have been in use by the time of the unified Silla Dynasty of Korea (668-935 A.D.), though some scholars believe it to have emerged during the Koryŏ period (918-1392 A.D.) The kkwaenggwari is used as the lead instrument in shamanistic music, in p’ungmul nori (farmer’s band music), and in the contemporary concert hall adaptation of p’ungmul nori known as samul nori.

Along with the changgo (hourglass drum), ching (large gong), and puk (barrel drum), the kkwaenggwari is one of the four basic instruments in p’ungmul nori and samul nori percussion ensembles.

Playing technique

The kkwaenggwari is held in one hand with varying grips (loose or firm) that allow for a contrast in tone and articulation as it is struck with the mallet. In addition to varying the grip of the kkwaenggwari, the player can also manipulate tone production by damping the gong with the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, which produces different sounds that mark rhythmic cycles and signal changes in rhythm patterns as well as tempi. Unlike the ching (large gong), its rhythmic technique and patterns are complex. The lead kkwaenggwari player, known as the sangsoe, functions as the head of an ensemble (usually a percussion ensemble) and leads the others in the accompanying dance movements as well as the music.


Traditionally, Korean percussion instruments used a notational system called the Chǒngganbo, which can be traced back to the fifteenth century. The Chǒngganbo is a framework of vertical and horizontal lines that intersect to create small boxes that are read in columns (top to bottom, right to left), with icons or symbols representing various strokes placed within each box, one box being equal to one beat. In ensemble music, one column would carry the notation for one instrument, and one line (i.e. one segment from top to bottom) would denote one rhythmic cycle. Chǒngganbo also allows for subdivision of beats within one box if necessary. The Chǒngganbo system is still in use today, although Korean percussion instruments also use western staff notation. The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts in Korea uses and prints materials in both systems.




111.241.1 (Individual) gongs


Korean Drumming Ensemble


Diameter: 19 to 22 cm (7½ to 8½ in)
Rim: 3 to 4 cm (1½ in)


Brass, or copper and zinc


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Howard, Keith. 1988. Korean Musical Instruments: A Practical Guide, Seoul, Korea: Se-Kwang Music Publishing Co.

--------. 1995. Korean Musical Instruments, New York: Oxford University Press.

Killick, Andrew. 2002. “Musical Instruments of Korea.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 7. East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea, edited by Robert Provine, Yoshihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben, New York: Routledge, 821-31.

Lee, Hye-Ku. 1981. Essays on Traditional Korean Music, translated and edited by Robert Provine, Seoul, Korea: Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch.

Pratt, Keith. 1987. Korean Music: Its History and Performance, London: Faber Music Ltd.

Sŏng, Kyŏng-rin. 1973. “Korean Musical Instruments.” In Survey of Korean Arts: Traditional Music. Seoul, Korea: The National Academy of Arts.


Hae Joo Kim (2005)



“Kkwaenggwari,” Wesleyan University Virtual Instrument Museum 2.0, accessed May 21, 2024, https://wesomeka.wesleyan.edu/vim2/items/show/41.