Korean Sanjo


My field recordings of Korean Sanjo 1966

Chulhyun gum sanjo

The Chulhyun gum (steel string zither) is in fact an adaptation of the steel guitar, or Hawaiian guitar. It is played with short plectrum and a glass rod slides over the strings. The performer plays a version of sanjo that she learned from her teacher. This is an unusual but interesting form of Sanjo performance.

Komungo Sanjo played by Han Gap-duk

Athough Sanjo is more often played on the Kayagum, there are a few players of sanjo on the old court instrument, the komungo. Han Gap-duk was one of the best of these.The komungo naturally adds a number of creaking, sliding and snapping sounds in the course of its performance and these add to the special character of a sanjo heard on the komungo.

Kayagum Sanjo by Kim Byung-ho

By 1966 there were few Kayagum players who could still improvise their own sanjo on the spot. My recollection is that the Famous Shim Sang-gun (see below) was no longer alive. KIm Byung-ho was a member of the teaching staff at the National Classical Music Institute (kugnip Kugak Won). He still improvised excellent sanjo

Kayagum Sanjo by Won Ok-hwa

Won Ok-hwa was an excellent kayagum player who devoted herself to the performance of a very special version of Sanjo that she had learned from one of the old great matsters. Kang Te-hon. Evidentally, the old kayagum players of those times, each of whom improvised his own version of sanjo, were known to be eccentric. Kang Te-hon was something of a mystic and wanderer and was reputed to have been addicted to heroin. His sanjo style is tight, clipped and restrained and yet is moving and powerful as can be witnessed in this great performance by Won Ok-hwa. I am now these many years later mytisfied by the break in the performance and have tried to sequence the two takes as best I could.

These recordings were all made during 1966 in Korea as a part of my field work there under support of the JDR 3rd Fund.


Korean Sanjo by Shim Sang-gun, an old pre WWII recording

Many years ago, it may have been 1954 or 54, I was an undergraduate in anthropology at San Francisco State. I was interested in learning more about music of just about everywhere in the world. I was able able to obtain from a fellow student, whose name I have now forgotten, two 78rpm records from Korea. One of them was the incredible Sanjo played by the master kayagum player, Shim Sang-gun. Two sides of a 78. I immediately found them incredible. Later I learned who Shim Sang-gun was, one of the great improvisers of the South Korean genre known as Kayagum Sanjo.

While I was in Japan during the year 2003, I discovered in the archives a collection of 78 masters made by Japanese companies in Korean before the end of World War II. Among these I found the original masters of Shim Sang-gun's Kayagum Sanjo, two 3 minute recordings of " chung-jun mori", probably recorded in 1928 and in addition tow further sections, a Chinhyangjo and a Kuktkori, more than likely recorded later in the mid 1930s. These are all treasures, among the last living recordings of performers who still improvised sanjo, The Sanjo style is today played almost exclusively by people who ossified the performances of Sung Gum-yeung.

I am including all of the oldest Shim Sang-gun recordings here. Please note that the Chinhyangjo and Kuktkori sections were recorded later and are tuned at a different pitch than the others, I am attaching a later, perhaps mid1960's recording by the Korean Broadcasting System.

Much to my surprise I discovered in this collection, a number of recordings of Shim Sang-gun singing and accompanying himself on the kayagum in a form of music called Kayagum Pyong Chang. I have included these her as well.



Chung jung mori (1) (1927)

Chung jung mori (2 ) (1927)


Kayagum Pyong Chang

1. Mongyuga part one

Part Two

2. Shim, the blind man begs for milk for a baby

part two

3. Golpae Taryon

part two



Tanga:Shimcheongjeon: Sosang palkyung

part 2

part 3

part 4


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Robert Garfias