Things 1: Daegeum and Sogeum

June 4, 2007 § 27 Comments

The first in my series on things that I own. Don’t ask why, just receive.


The daegeum is a Korean wind instrument used in two very different types of music: jeong-ak (classical / court music) and minsok-ak (folk music). It is an instrument indigenous to the Korean peninsular and probably originated during the Silla dynasty (57 BC – 935 AD). It is the largest in the samjuk (three bamboo) family of instruments, which also contains the junggeum (medium-sized flute) and sogeum (small flute). It is made of a single piece of whangjuk (yellow bamboo), which has a valley-shaped ridge running along both edges. It has a total of eight holes: one chwigu (mouth-peice), one chonggong (over which is placed a resonant membrane made of dried bamboo under a brass cover) and six fingering holes. At least one tuning hole is also present at the end of the instrument. The daegeum varies in size and tuning, depending on which form of music is being played. The jeong-ak daegeum is the larger instrument (at 85-90cm), with the sanjo daegeum (used in minsok-ak) modified during the late Joseon dynasty (1392 – 1910) to around 75cm.


The sogeum is a smaller flute than the daegeum, typically 45cm in length. It lacks the resonant membrane of its larger sister, and is crafted from bamboo of a smaller diameter. It is pitched an octave higher then the daegeum and would be considered the equivalent to that of the piccolo in the western orchestral tradition. It has eight functioning holes and is played using seven fingers. The sogeum is primarily used in court music and julpungryu (traditional ensemble music).

My Story

On learning that our good friend Zoe (Hyun Shil) attended a traditional music high school and has played the daegeum since middle school, I got it into my head that I wanted to learn to play this beautiful instrument. When Zoe moved back to Korea after a short-lived stint as an American, I convinced her to teach me the sogeum. After a couple of weeks of deliberation (during which I played a plastic model), she finally selected the right instrument for me.

I named it Chu-kee. Well, Mi Kyeong helped me, and as far as I understood her reasoning, Chu-kee comes from the Chinese characters that represent bamboo, which sounds like the Korean word for generosity. Or something. It was a beautiful moment, and I should have written it down at the time.

Chu-kee and I got to know each other quite well. She was terribly difficult to deal with at the start and it was a while before she felt comfortable giving me her sound. However, I took Zoe’s advice and loved my instrument, talked to it, and let it get used to my body (which isn’t Korean). No one else was allowed to play her during this time, as a new instrument apparently forgets its master very easily. As well as physically learning to play the instrument, I had to learn to recognise the Chinese characters which represent the notes of the Korean scale, and how to interpret the way in which they are recorded on paper. Not being terribly proficient at reading music in the western tradition, I was scared at first, but I am slowly getting the hang of it. Chu-kee and I now have an understanding, and while it’s not everyday that I can achieve a convincing chung (the lowest note on the instrument), it’s coming along quite well.

A couple of months ago however, I convinced Zoe that what I wanted, more than anything, was to learn the sanjo daegeum. The world of Korean music is strange and confusing to the foreigner, but basically traditional music is divided into two different streams. There is the slow, meditative court music of the Joseon Dynasty which was reserved for the pleasure of the king, and is rarely played today. Then there is the music of the commoners (shaky-shaky music, in Zoe’s words), of which the realm of sanjo belongs. Sanjo is an instrumental theme and variations, that is often improvised, and which shifts between different melodic and rhythmical mode, and in Korea is classified as Important Intangible Cultural Property No.45. Its tuning is different from the court music (to which the sogeum belongs), and also, since the daegeum is markedly larger, heavier and harder to play than the sogeum, Zoe had serious misgivings about embarking on a path towards my dream.

I persevered, and eventually acquired my very own daegeum. It belonged to one of Zoe’s oldest friends, a boy she went to school with, and who had switched to the kayageum (a kind of zither) during the course of high school. It was expensive, but not as much as buying one new, and certainly not nearly as much as buying one second hand through the normal channels.

She is, as yet, unnamed, and I talk to her everyday to convince her that she really does want to let me play her, and that we can be the best of friends for a long time to come.

I hope it works out.

UPDATE: 11/03/2012

I wrote this post almost five years ago now, and for some reason I am suddenly getting a lot of traffic to it.

I am still playing my Daegeum. When I am not rehearsing for a show, she comes out every few weeks. I mostly improvise, or practice the 5 or 6 pages of the 120-page sanjo that I started learning all those years ago. My plan has been to teach myself the whole work, based on the few recordings I have, but there never seems to be enough time. She has become part of my ensemble of instruments employed for various projects, and my Korean friends assure me that I don’t sound half bad. I think I am helped by the fact that I spent some time learning Pansori (traditional opera) and have become obsessed with marrying Korean vocals with my physical dance practice, so Korean melodies and modes are constantly playing in my head.

I am going to try to post more about my experience of playing Daegeum later this week, with some scans of my fingering charts and maybe some sheet music. I am quite busy at the moment though, so I will see how I go.

UPDATE (11/08/2013)

Well, this is one of my most popular posts! Some people have asked me for a fingering chart for the Sogeum. You can search for these things on the internet, but I found one and am posting it here. I haven’t used it (I don’t have my flutes with me right now) but it seems right. I found it here.



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§ 27 Responses to Things 1: Daegeum and Sogeum

  • I edit The Flutist Quarterly and we are running a piece on the daegeum; I seek a high-res (300 dpi) image as PDF, jpg, or tif file. Any chance you could send me one for use in the magazine? We would credit you. Thanks in advance.

  • vinny Golia says:

    I enjoyed your article as there is not much to read available on the subject of Korean music. Could you suggest somewhere to go for a fingering chart and information on adjusting the cheong/dimo for better sound in various parts of the registers.


    • jeremah says:

      Hi Vinny, Thanks for your comment.
      It is very hard to find any kind of detailed information of these instruments on the internet.
      If you like however, I can scan the relevant pages out of some of my textbooks and send them to you.

      • faith2read says:

        Hello Jeremah, I do have the same problem as vinny. I am despratly looking for a daegeum and sogeum fingering chart!
        I’d like to ask you if you would send me that scan too, if you will see this reply. I would really appreciate it!

        Thank you very much

  • vinny Golia says:

    That would be amazing! I am searching the internet, looking in the library and it seems the only references I can find are one book and numerous references to China and Japan concerning the Daegeum.

    thank you very very much!

    I am not looking to use it in traditional music but its a great resource for improvisation I think

    • jeremah says:

      I will scan some pages and write a post explaining a bit more about my experience with the Daegeum later in the week. It is a bit wild that I wrote this all those years ago and I am still playing, and still using my flues in my work. Although, I haven’t had a lesson in quite a while, so I am not sure what my technique is like any more. :-)

  • Peryk says:

    Hello Jeremah, it’s very usefull to read about the same fight with the daegum, recently i get a junggeum, and it’s too much friendly, but it’s not the same. Could you send me recourses of the daegum, i have no teacher and it’s very interesting to know somebody not korean who could help me with this instrument.

  • Scott says:

    I purchased a daegeum after falling in love with a few videos I encountered on youtube. Once my daegeum arrived, I tried to play it with zero success. I had a couple of flute player friends try to play it and they could not make a sound. I was really sad, but it did not stop me from trying.

    A few weeks ago, after a good four months of trying (not that I play everyday) I made my first tone but no matter what I did with my fingers I could only create one note. Last week, something happened and I am now able to create more notes. I enjoyed your article because I felt as though I was allowed to make more notes by the flute (you seemed to imply the same about your experience.)

    Do you have any helpful tips? I do not have any dried bamboo under the brass cover (there is a hole covered in electric tape). Where do I get the dried bamboo and is that something you replace, like a reed in a saxophone?

    Also, do you have any information on the fingering?

    • jeremah says:

      It is an incredibly hard instrument to play, even for a flute player – and they really do seem to have a mind of their own. I will try to get some scanned pages from my books up and even maybe a few pages of sheet music (even though it is written in Chinese characters) a bit later this week.

      The bamboo skin is something that is hard to come by. My supply was given to me by my teacher (who went on a field trip to collect it herself). Unless you are in Korea I can’t see any way of getting some. If you are in Seoul, I know that any traditional instrument stores (like the ones around the Seoul Art Centre, or near Insadong in Jongno) will have them.

      The bamboo skins are very finicky and are highly affected by the weather – and they also make it even harder to play, because you have to juggle the tone and timbre as well as the notes. I just use gaff tape under the brass cover. Especially when I am in season and a blowout on stage would not be ideal.

      I’ll try to get more information up this week.


    • Seyeon says:

      Here is the link
      Although they charge you ridiculous amount of money
      ($5 in Korea)

      Here is another link for guidance to put your Cheong (the name for the membrane) on your flute

      I have translated the instruction
      1. Put the cheong on the Cheonggong and cut the cheong in longitudinal direction while pulling the cheong strait (cut it little bit longer than radius of Cheonggong; you need to glue it later)
      2. When you buy your cheong, it will have two layers, cut the cheong just one side so that the layers will separate into one.
      3. Put your cheong on (not in) the water where the hairy part of the cheong faces the surface
      4. Clean your Cheonggong, and glue it around it (do not use adhesives because you need to take the Cheong off in case you rip the cheong accidently – it is very weak – nor glue that can make your instrument messy)
      5. Now remove water from the cheong with handcuff, and put it on cheonggong where hairy part facing up.
      6. On both sides, gently pull Cheong for the Cheonggong to tighten up. Cheong should not have wrinkles.
      7. When you view your flute from the side, it should be concave down along the lines of cheonggong
      8. When viewed from above

      You can use your cheong untill it rips off
      Cheong is the most important part of deageum
      However, after putting the membrane on, it is even harder to make sounds.

      Anyway, I hope you enjoy Korean instrument

  • hrsp says:

    Hi Dear

    Please can you guide me for:
    fingerchart of Daegeum


  • Jiyun says:

    Hi, I was really impressed!
    I’m playing Daegeum as a hobby.I usually play Joeng-ak.
    I’m going to introduce Daegeum to my students.
    Would you mind if I use your article as a teaching resource?

  • Christine says:

    I am in need of the Sogeum fingering chart as well. I thought it might be posted here since so many of us are ln need. Does anyone here have it yet?

    • Jeremy Neideck says:

      Hi. Sorry – I am back in Korea now but I don’t have my flutes or my books with me. I found a fingering chart for Sogeum on the internet, and put in romanisation of the names for the notes. It is in the post now. I hope it helps! J

  • Dan Pyo says:

    What type of glue is used for the cheong? Thanks

  • Dear Jeremy,

    Thanks for your post. It seems to be very popular, as it is hard to find info about sogeum in English or any other occidental language over the Internet.

    I’m a flute player from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and I’m spending a few days in Seoul. I’m trying to find a place to buy a professional concert-tuned sogeum in Seoul, but I’ve got nothing so far.

    My best shot was a place nearby Pusan, in the southern part of the Korean peninsula, which is, by the way, where you seem to find the fingering chart from:

    Do you know a good place in Seoul where can I find a well-tempered sogeum?

    King regards,


    • Jeremy Neideck says:

      Are you in Seoul now! So am I (but only for one night). Yes I know some places. There is a big musical instrument market in Insadong called Nakwon Instrument Market (낙원악기상가)… You can get there on the subway, Jongno 3-ga (종로3가) That will be the easiest. There are many vendors to choose from.

      I got mine from a shop near Seoul Art Centre, but my friend took me there and I would have no idea how to find it.

      • Jeremy, thanks for your prompt answer!

        I’ll be here only until next Wed. I’ve tried the Nakwon last time I was here and couldn’t find anything really good (although I bought a pocket trumpet my own)… traditional instruments there were only for ornamentation, but not the real thing.

        I’ll try to figure out where the Seoul Art Centre is… or a closer look at Nakwon again!

        Best regards,


      • Jeremy Neideck says:

        You may be right, I have only bought western instruments there. You should travel to Nambu bus terminal station, which is where the Seoul Art Centre is. There are lots of instrument stores there. I hope you find what you are looking for! J

  • Chachi says:

    Woow estoy impresionada, creo que tendré uno muy pronto.
    He estado buscando información en Internet, vídeos o tutoriales para poder emprezar, pero no hay nada.
    Por favor, ayúdame! :)

  • Meilin says:

    hi same problem, i can’t find any where else of the sources can you send me link?

  • Alexi says:

    Hi there! Can you please tell me where can I buy a daegeum?

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