Since ancient times Koreans have been known for their passion for music. A third-century Chinese history tells of Koreans playing music while working, in festivals, in ancestral memorial rituals and funerals, and shamanic rites. Music enhanced efficiency and the ritual atmosphere.
The first Korean records of traditional music refer to autumn harvest festivals in the fifth century, The Koguryo Kingdom (37 B.C.-A.D. 668), the ceremony which honored Chumong, the kingdom's founder, and offered thanks for the autumn harvest; the spirit-invoking drums honoring the heavens in the Puyo Kingdom (4th century B.C.-A.D. 4th century); and the Ye Kingdom dance honoring the heavens. During these festivities, music was simple, using percussion instruments such as drums and bells. Later, many more elaborate musical instruments were introduced from China or developed in Korea.
Ritual music was played at various rites, Confucian, Buddhist, and shamanic. Each special event and ceremony had its own music, but, with the fall of the Choson Dynasty in 1910, most rituals were abandoned except for those held at Chongmyo, the royal ancestral shrine of the Choson Dynasty and Munmyo, the ancestral shrine honoring outstanding Confucians.
The term ka-ak refers to artistic songs of the chong-ak, or proper music tradition, cultivated by the literati of the Choson Dynasty. The oldest of these songs are long lyric songs based on three-stanza lyric poems. Kasa was long verses sung to a definite rhythm. They developed toward the end of the Koryo Dynasty. The shorter poems took their final form toward the end of the Choson Dynasty.
Folk music is sung by and for common people. It encompasses folk songs, farmers' music, and the popular music of professional musicians who handed down their skills and music from generation to generation.