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Title: P'ansori - Korea's Epic Vocal Art and Instrumental Music--Scene from Heung Boo-Ga (p'ansori); Kim So-hee, voice, Kim Yoon-duk, puk. Label: Nonesuch Explorer Series. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 9 72049-2. Track: 1.

Contextual Associations

The puk is a barrel-shaped double-headed membranophone of the Korean people. It has two primary contemporary contexts of usage: as the sole accompanying instrument in the narrative vocal art form called p'ansori, and as an instrument in the ensemble for farmers' music called nongak and p'ungmul. The puk used in these two contexts differ in terms of their details of construction, especially in regard to the means by which the drum's heads are attached to the shell. The drum pictured here is the type used for nongak.


The shell of this shallow barrel drum is made from interlocking slats of wood. Its point of greatest circumference is exaggerated with an attached ridge of wood. Each of the two heads is constructed from cow skin the edge of which is lapped around a heavy cord that is enclosed with stitching. Several holes are punched into the membrane just inside this stitching. The heads are attached to the shell and held in tension with a long and heavy cord. The cord is first threaded through a hole near the edge of one head, and then through a hole on the opposite head. After repeating this around the entire circumference of the heads a ‘V’ lacing pattern results. The tension on the heads is then further increased by looping the cord around pairs of laces at the point at which they pass over the raised wood ridge on the drum's shell. This results in the ‘Y’ lacing pattern seen in the image on this page. The tautness of the heads is set at the time of manufacture and cannot be easily adjusted by the performer. One thick wooden stick beater is used to strike the drum. 

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

For farmers' band music and dance, the puk is hung from a cloth shoulder strap in front of the drummer and tilted to one side. This allows the drummer to also dance while striking the drum with either one or two heavy wooden beaters. The basic sound produced by striking the head or heads is the onomatopoeic name of the drum: ‘puk.’ Another timbre can be produced by striking the drum shell with the beater. Nongak music is structured around named rhythmic patterns articulated most clearly in the gong rhythms but reinforced and elaborated upon by the puk players.


The earliest written document mentioning the use of percussion instruments (although not specifically the puk) in line dances for festivities is from 1319, although some scholars argue that many of the activities accompanied by nongak stretch much further back in time. (Howard, pp. 929-930). However, the puk is not mentioned in any early manuscripts, so its origins remain a matter of speculation. The version of the puk used to accompany p'ansori is thought to have descended from the yonggo, which is a drum with tacked-on heads used in historical military music.

Bibliographic Citations

Howard, Keith. 1995. Korean Musical Instruments. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

________. 2002. "Nongak (P'ungmul Nori)." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.7. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yoshiko Takumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 929-940.

Killick, Andrew P. 2002. "Musical Instruments of Korea." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v.7. ed. Robert C. Provine, Yoshiko Takumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 821-831.

Provine, Robert C. 1984. "Yonggo," NGDMI v. 3: 886.

Song Kyong-rin. 1973. "Korean Musical Instruments." in Survey of Korean Arts: Traditional Music. Seoul: National Academy of Arts, pp. 28-76.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: South Korea

Formation: Korean

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.222.11 membranophone--individual double-skin barrel drum, one skin used for playing

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - barrel

Number and function of membranes: two, one for sounding and one for resonance

Membrane design: framed with pliant rope hoop

Membrane attachment: framed membrane hoop connected by lacing to framed membrane hoop

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking with one handheld beater

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


11 in. depth of shell 15 in. diameter of shell openings .8 in. height of ridge around shell circumference 13 in. length of beater

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin

Entry Author

Roger Vetter