Alternative title

Janggo, Janggu

Physical description

The changgo is an hourglass drum that is the most widely played of all Korean instruments, and most basic in the sense that it is the one percussion instrument on which a complete changdan (rhythmic cycle) is played out. Its body is usually made of paulownia wood (odong namu), although pottery, metal, ceramic, and plastic bodies also exist, and its heads are made of animal skin. In earlier times, the hourglass-shaped body of the drum was sometimes made by conjoining two or three separated pieces (bowl-shaped parts connected in the middle by a third module), but these days, the body is made of one whole piece.

The skins of the changgo are attached to its hollow body by a rope that is looped alternately through the eight metal hooks around the rim of either head. The tension of the drumheads of the changgo can be adjusted by moving leather straps that encase the ensuing V-shape laces. The gungpyon (or pukpyon), usually placed on the left side when the changgo sits horizontally, is covered with cowhide or deer hide, producing a low tone. The chaepyon (right side), is covered with dog hide or horsehide, and usually produces a higher tone.

The changgo has been standardized into two types: larger, heavier ones used in court and orchestral music, and smaller, lighter ones used in the genre of p’ungmul nori (farmer’s band music, sometimes known as nongak). Larger changgos may measure over 60 cm (23-24 in) in length and have a diameter of over 30 cm (11½ to 12 in); smaller ones are approximately one third less. Changgos used in court music were usually painted red, the royal color, while changgos used in folk music are the natural wood color as they are rarely painted (except for oil or varnish).

Musical, Cultural, and Social Contexts

With its flexibility in sound production and capacity to produce complex rhythms, the changgo is significant throughout many genres of Korean music. It is the instrument that maintains the changdan (rhythm cycles), the most important element upon which Korean music is based and structured. Much like the piano in western music, the changgo is the most widely used accompanimental instrument in almost every form of court and folk entertainment, music, and dance, and shamanistic music. The only types of music in which the changgo is not normally used are p’ansori, Buddhist music, Confucian shrine music, and military processional music.

While the changgo has been an indispensable instrument in providing a rhythmic foundation for many ensembles in Korean traditional music (associated most often with the kkwaenggwari, ching, and puk), it has in the past decades also become known as a “solo” instrument, gaining popularity for the dynamism and virtuosic technique required to play increasingly complicated rhythm patterns. The changgo is sometimes referred to as the sul-changgo when it is performed as a feature instrument, tied to the body as in p’ungmul nori, with accompanying dance movements. Sul-changgo rhythms can be complex, but it is the genre of samul nori (literally, “play of four things”) that helped give the changgo its reputation as a “flashy” instrument. Led by Kim Duk Soo since the late1970s, the genre of samul nori has seen a wide following, especially among Korean youth, as the concert-stage adaptation of traditional p’ungmul. Though it showcases the four basic Korean percussion instruments, the changgo has especially fast patterns that call for a high level of technical proficiency.

Historical background

The changgo was probably brought into Korea from the Middle East and Central Asia by way of China during the Koryǒ period (918-1392 A.D.), though a recent discovery of a mural painting dating back to the Koguryǒ period of the Three Kingdoms era (658 A.D.) have led some scholars to believe that the drum was in use much earlier.

Playing technique

In court music and in accompaniment situations, the changgo is played in a seated position on the floor. A thin bamboo stick is used to strike the chaepyon (usually the right side) around the rim of the head, while the gungpyon (left side) is struck in the center of the head with the bare hand. In p’ungmul nori performances, however, a round-headed wooden mallet is used to play on the gungpyon. Some rhythms in p’ungmul nori and samul nori (contemporary concert-hall adaptation of p’ungmul nori) will call for the performer to cross hands and use the wooden mallet to hit the opposite side (chaepyon) of the changgo. As p’ungmul nori is traditionally an outdoor, open-space activity, the changgo in such cases is tied to the player’s body, resting over one side of the hip with long pieces of cloth slung over the shoulder and around the waist.



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.




211.242.12 Individual double-skin hourglass-shaped drums, both heads played


Korean Drumming Ensemble


animal skin, paulownia wood, rope, metal


Hahn, Myung-Hee. 1998. A Study of Musical Instruments in Korean Traditional Music, translated by Park, Il-Woo, Seoul: The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts, Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

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)



“Changgo,” Wesleyan University Virtual Instrument Museum 2.0, accessed May 21, 2024,