The origins of the Western classic music tradition can be discovered in the middle ages era. Lasting an incredible 900 years, that is often split into three mini-periods: the at an early stage Medieval duration (500-1150AD), the High Medieval duration (1150-1300) and also the so late Medieval duration (1300-1400).

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The at an early stage Medieval period was conquered by spiritual vocal music, v plainsong or Gregorian hymn the best known instances of this. But, later on on, the climb of secular music and also music because that the purposes of entertainment corresponded with the advance of music instruments. While modern-day versions of few of these room still used by 21st Century musicians, others dropped out that favour and might look fairly strange to modern observers!

Table of Contents

Medieval Woodwind InstrumentsMedieval Brass InstrumentsMedieval wire InstrumentsMedieval keyboard instrumentsMedieval Percussion

Instrumental categories in medieval Music

In this post we’ll take a look at the main instruments that to be played in the medieval period.

For the benefits of clarity we’ll organise castle into contemporary instrumental family members – woodwind, brass, strings and percussion.

But it is precious noting that, in ~ the time, tools would have actually been divided into two wide groups:

haut, definition loudbas, definition soft

In general, haut instruments were an ideal for playing outdoors, and also would have contained many the the wind tools mentioned here: shawms, sackbuts, trumpets and so on.

Meanwhile, tools that were an ideal for indoor chamber music – the recorder and most string instruments – would have been part of the bas category.

Because very couple of original instrument specimens endure from middle ages times, chroniclers have had to piece together information about the type of tools that to be played through looking carefully at art, texts and written music.

Medieval Woodwind Instruments


Today the Recorder is often considered the best starter-instrument because that younger children.

They room now normally made from plastic, whereas medieval recorders to be wooden, but otherwise they remain essentially the same, with a beak-style mouthpiece and also eight finger holes.


Unlike the metal instruments we watch today, middle ages Flutes would have actually been made from wood.

They would have had an easy holes to be extended by the fingers, rather than the more complicated systems of key-work we see today.


Viola Da Gamba(CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Viol, which was likewise called the Viola da Gamba, to be an instrument that showed up towards the end of the medieval period.

A form of bowed wire instrument, castle come in miscellaneous sizes, yet the most common member the the family members is held between the legs and also looks similar to a cello, despite it has a more comprehensive neck and much more strings.


The Rebec is one ancestor that the violin.

It has a narrow, boat-shaped body and also is played through a bow top top the eight or under the chin.

It is concerned the Rebab, an ancient string tool from north Africa and the middle East.

Medieval key-board instruments

Pipe organs

The organ was among the couple of instruments the were permitted in churches and cathedrals, where vocal music dominated.

The positive organ to be a smaller, reasonably portable type of pipe organ.

Portative organ

The portative organ is a little like a miniature variation of the church organ.

A portable instrument, the is strapped come the performer, who operates a pair of bellows, which place wind v a set of pipes.

With the other hand, that or she dram pitches on a small keyboard.

Medieval Portative Organ


The harpsichord was invented in the late medieval period.

A relative of the piano, that strings space plucked with a create mechanism when secrets are pressed ~ above the keyboard.

Medieval Percussion


This is essentially a tambourine: a wooden frame drum v jangles or bells round the edges.


Sometimes referred to as naqareh, nakers are a small relative that the kettle north (or timpani), which were brought ago to Europe throughout the Crusades.


A portable snare drum played either v one hand or two drumsticks.

Elsewhere, bells and cymbals are likewise commonly checked out in middle ages paintings.

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Wrapping increase on medieval Instruments

So, the concludes our overview to the tools of the medieval period.

We expect you’ve delighted in finding out around some tools which have actually close loved ones that we still use now – like the flute and also the sackbut – as well as learning around some weird and wonderful items – choose the hurdy gurdy – that room a small less familiar!