Learning Gayageum - Korean Zither Classes in Manila and Seoul

I've only been in Seoul for a few days and I'll be missing a part of school (literally and emotionally) for my trip. You see, I've been so into making progress these past few weeks with the Gayageum =D This is, by far, the closest I've been to playing an instrument and putting music back into my life. It has always been my dream to sing while playing but I've long given up hope because I've failed at numerous attempts in learning to decipher the notes in the music sheets haha. This type of Korean zither creates one of the most relaxing music for me when I hear it. Originally observed from the instrument guzheng of China, King Gasil of Gaya commissioned Wu Ruk to make a Korean version according to the stories of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. There are different kinds of Korean zithers (some up to 18 and 25 strings, more modern) and what we have for the class is the Gayageum (12 strings and more traditional). The latest good news I've received from this morning is that my Seoul homestay host has a gayageum I can practise on!!! Hihihi. I quickly asked my classmates to send me a copy of our music sheets today LOL. Now the only thing to do is schedule a house day here to play! :D Let your heart beat for the Korean zither and fall in love with the Gayageum through this post...

I'm pretty sure the feet are not 100% correct haha.

I've wanted to learn to play the zither for so long ever since I saw one in the Chinese series 还珠格格 (original version, long time ago). I haven't seen guzheng classes in Manila though and fast farward to 2014, I jumped at the chance offered by the Korean Cultural Center of the Philippines to be in the first batch of Gayageum students =) I don't know the difference between the Chinese and Korean ones yet (but they look almost the same) and I'm not researching so as not to confuse myself while learning.


The first day turned out fine. Teacher Minji told us to remember the 12 notes in 3 octaves: Re-Sol-La-Re-Mi-Sol-La-Si(Ti)-Re-Mi-Sol-La. Our Korean intern Scarlett gave me a crash course on the note positions and beats. I was overwhelmed at first but I think it's the desire to learn this that eventually put the notes in my memory haha. My fingers hurt though and they told us to let the blisters be. At least my tiny fingers can reach these silk thread strings unlike the guitar.. Hehe.


Here are some of the things I've learned so far:
- Gayageum posture and feet position ( right foot over left, my darn knees wouldn't cooperate and my feet would hurt easily so I need to practise sitting like that..) - the right part of the gayageum should rest on the right knee and the shoulders need to be relaxed
- Always cut your fingernails before playing and wear comfortable pants. We play the gayageum sitting down on the floor but others stand or sit on a chair.
- There's a proper way of storing and carrying a gayageum with case. My gayageum for this class is taller than I am LOL.
- The instrument needs tuning once in a while - moving the anjuk right for higher, left for lower note
- The cheapest gayageum is around $500..
- Right hand pinky must always be on the base board, left hand should follow the right
- You can also make other notes like Do and Fa with assistance of your right hand =D
- Use index and middle finger for left hand. Form a mountain with the hand and make slow deep waves at specific times like at Re.
- According to my classmate James, the hand blisters when the hand is sweaty. He puts alcohol on his hand before playing (I wipe my fingers in my pants once in a while). One other thing I've learned from him is that the tail in the notes end on the same note with a lower or higher octave :) It's nice to be in a class where we are serious about attempting to create beautiful music.


Our classes started September and so far, we played around with set notes for practice then started to play Arirang, Silent Night and Oh Na La he last few sessions! I'm so excited for the Oh Na La the most! This was being played live in a restaurant during our Wiki Korea Tour with matching royal cuisine and I was just captivated! We have our own Gayageum per person in this class (we can't take it home though..). I'm having a little difficulty keeping up sometimes haha. It takes time to master reading notes fast while plucking, reading the 1 (thumb), 2 (index finger), 3 (middle finger), 0 (flick) (and many more) instructions and singing the lyrics at the same time ;) But it's FUN. Maybe you should enroll next sem ;)

I've found that learning about the Gayageum brought about new ways of exploring Korea through music in this trip =D
- I went to Insadong yesterday to find Gayageum-related souvenirs for my equally passionate classmates. Haha. I found only 2 kinds sadly and both are bookmarks. They show women clad in hanbok and playing it =)
- I looked for a Korean zither class (particularly the Gayageum) but I didn't find any one day class and I can understand that you really can't learn it in a day. I found a 12-week Gayageum program though (March to May then September to November every Saturday, 30000 won course fee) for foreigners at the National Gugak Center (formerly known as: National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts or NCKTPA) in Seocho-gu, Seoul. Check out their site here.
- So, as I'm on a relatively short trip, I found a performance at the National Theater of Korea where I could watch a traditional music concert with brunch =D I think it's cheaper than other well-known shows for foreigners in Korea now and for me, it looks worth it based on my current interest with the gayageum.. Finding shows like these can be tricky though and depends on your timing ;) Check out all performances here.

Here are the samples of music created by the Korean zither (that have melted my heart) although a lot of them might not be for the 12-string one I have. The 2nd to the last one is my teacher practising Memory with the 25-string (I think, she says it's like playing piano and all notes are present). The last one is what we're learning =D I could assure you that the sound is more enchanting in person.