Also:       danso      

Title: Traditional Korean Music--Ch’ŏngsŏng-gok for tanso solo; musicians of The National Center for Korean Performing Arts. Label: Buda Records. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 3016605. Track: II-6.

Contextual Associations

The tanso is an end-blown notch-flute aerophone of Korea. Its name is comprised of the components tan (‘short’) and so (‘pipe’). Howard states that “The tanso is considered an easy instrument to play, suitable for school use, and an appropriate training instrument to be mastered before a student progresses to the majestic taegŭm” [a classical side-blown flute]. (p.46) That said, the tanso does have a place in both Korean court/aristocratic and folk traditions as both a solo (listen to the audio clip) and ensemble instrument.


The body of a high-quality tanso is made from a variety of dark bamboo called ojuk, a stalk of which is cut from the top of its root bulb, leaving a slightly flared bell. Pictured here is a student model made from the straight stalk of a lighter-colored variety of bamboo without the root-bulb flare. It has a slightly tapering bore with a 0.6-inch diameter at the blowing end and a 0.4-inch diameter at the distal end. A U-shaped notch is cut into the front-side of the blowing-end rim. Four fingerholes and one thumbhole are drilled into the wall of the instrument; the thumbhole is positioned closest to the blowing end of the tube, while the four fingerholes on the front side are unequally gapped (the distance between the middle two holes being greater than the distances between the upper two and lower two holes). Several clear plastic bands meant to discourage the bamboo from splitting mark this specific instrument as of recent origin and inexpensive manufacture.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The tanso player holds the instrument vertically at a 45-degree angle or greater with both hands, left hand on top. The thumb and two fingers of the left hand operate the thumb- and top two fingerholes, while the remaining two fingerholes are manipulated with fingers of the right hand. The open, notched end of the instrument is placed against the lower lip, leaving a small opening unobstructed. The player’s focused airstream is directed against the sharp edge of the notch, which in turn sends pulses of air pressure into the bore of the instrument that respond to the length of the tube, creating audible wave patterns. The acoustical length of the tube at any given moment is determined by which of the thumb- and fingerholes are covered. At its full acoustical length (15.4 inches) this flute sounds approximately a G-flat4. The tanso has a practical range of approximately two octaves (A-flat4 to A-flat6). A subtle playing style best brings out the flute's soft, pure tone quality. Microtones and wide vibrato produced by breath control, embouchure manipulation, and slight movements of the fingers are characteristic inflections heard in tanso performance. 


The tanso reached Korea by the early 19th century, having been known in China (as the duanxiao) since the 1st century CE. Some old tanso made from jade exist, but these must be considered exceptional. The basic bamboo tanso has undergone almost no change over its history until recently when instruments began to be made from plastic and, in North Korea, an ‘improved’ model with additional fingerholes and some keywork was developed.

Bibliographic Citations

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

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

Provine, Robert C. 1984. “Tanso.” NGDMI v.3: 524.

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)

421.141.12 aerophone--open single notch flute: airstream directed over the edge of a notch at the top of the tube; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - tapering with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: notched cut in rim at end of tube or in opening of vessel

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: overblowing at consecutive partials

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length of standing wave within cavity with fingerholes and by selecting partials through overblowing


15.4 in. length

Primary Materials


Entry Author

Roger Vetter