and Tudor string instruments
of the instruments we know today, like the guitar or the violin
for example, have medieval ancestors. Over the years these
instruments have changed to a greater or lesser extent with
the result that some, like the medieval fiddle, are easily
recognisable while others, like the ancestor of the modern
piano, are not.
strings used on medieval and Tudor instruments varied, depending
on how they were to be used. Most instruments had catgut strings
- that is, strings made from the wound intestines of sheep,
but metal wire was used on some plucked or hammered instruments
to produce a louder tone. The strings for instruments were
very expensive and there are records of minstrels being paid
in strings for performance.
string instruments feature a sound-box that has a great effect
on the actual sound that is produced. This sound-box is usually
wooden, using hard woods for the rear and side pieces and
soft woods for the front (or soundboard). There are various
ways in which sound-boxes can be made, the most common one
being to glue or pin together several thin and carefully shaped
pieces of wood. Another way is carve out a bowl from a solid
block of wood and then attach a soundboard. The strings must
then be connected in some way to the soundboard, sometimes
by means of a bridge or otherswise, as in the case of the
harp, by being directly attached at one end of the length
of the string. There are nearly always sound-holes in the
are produced simply by causing the string to vibrate, which
might be done by bowing, plucking, hammering or even blowing!.
The vibrations from the string travel down into the soundboard,
causing the soundboard also to vibrate. This sets up vibrations
inside the sound box, with the result that the sound of the
string is amplified, or made louder.. The shape and quality
of the sound box also adds its own tone to the overall sound.
Citole is the ancestor of our modern guitar and, like many
stringed instruments, is of North African origin. Instruments
of this kind first came into Europe when the Moorish people
of North Africa settled in Spain, from the 9th century AD.
Citole usually had four or five catgut strings and is normally
pictured being played with a plectrum. The instrument was
carved out of a solid block of wood (in the case of our instrument
the wood is maple) and then a soundboard was attached. The
soundboard is the softer wood on the front face of the instrument
with the sound hole.
the modern guitar, this instrument has frets. Frets are pieces
of wood or catgut attached to the finger board. They set out
the finger positions to help the player make notes that are
in tune and have a good tone. If an instrument has frets,
it also becomes possible to play different strings at the
same time, so that the musicians can produce chords or perform
polyphony (which means "making more than one melody at
a time") on these splendid instruments.
appear in English records by the end of the 13th century and
appear to have enjoyed high status as they were often used
to entertain nobility.
Fiddle or Vielle
instrument is based on a fiddle in a painting by Hans Memling
from the 15th century. It has a gently curved bridge and five
strings, and this suggests that medieval musicians often used
to bow two strings together. If the instrument is tuned in
the right way, this two string effect can be very pleasing
and is demonstrated on the sound file. As with the Citole,
the Vielle had catgut strings, and it too has North African
indicate that the fiddle was very popular in England in the
13th and 14th century, regularly appearing at banquets, festivals
are no hard and fast records indicating how these instruments
should be tuned, and in fact the various sources differ. Most
musicians nowadays prefer to tune them in fifths, rather like
the modern violin.
nowadays often think that the harp is a traditional instrument
of the Brtish Isles, but this is largely because it is important
in the modern folk tradition. In medieval times, the harp
seems to have been popular in many countries , and harps appear
in medieval illustration from all over Europe.
harp is closely related to the lyre (which is described below)
and its early history is difficult to separate from the lyre
as scholars cannot be certain which words refer to which instrument!
Although it is commonly believed today that the harp originated
in Ireland and as a 'Celtic' instrument, this is almost certainly
not the case. The word 'harp' is Germanic in origin (originally
'hearpe'), and the Christian writers of the Dark Ages associated
the instrument that went by this name with the people they
called 'barbarians' - that is, the Scandinavian and Germanic
peoples that settled throughout western Europe after the end
of the Roman empire.
the harp referred to in these early records most likely refers
to an instrument resembling the lyre. The earliest illustration
depicting a triangular harp dates from an English source of
the 10th century. For the next few centuries, there are lots
of images and references to minstrels performing on the harp,
which shows that the instrument was very popular in England.
It began to lose popularity as the fiddle, citole and lute
became popular, and it appears less and less in illustrations
of the 14th to 16th centuries.
medieval and Tudor harp had anything between 8 to 29 catgut
or wire strings, depending on the century and the region in
which it was being played. Early 11th and 12th century harps
had very few strings while the later 14th century harps had
medieval music was often diatonic, that is using only one
mode or scale. The medieval harp was ideally suited to this
type of music as ach string was tuned to a note of the scale.
By the 14th century, music featured more chromatic notes or
musica ficta (notes outside the usual scale) and were as a
result unplayable on the harp, at least until tuning levers
were introduced later on. This is probably why the harp became
less popular towards the end of the Middle Ages..
were wire-strung instruments mounted on a hollow wooden box.
As with the harp, the number of strings varied, with the earlier
instruments having fewer. The instrument shown to the left
in the pictures below has a very simple shape, like the psalteries
which are shown in many early illustrations. It is played
with little wooden hammers which are used to gently tap the
strings, creating a clear ring or a sweet shimmering sound.
The instrument to the right is a "pig-snout" variety
that is plucked with the fingers or with quills. This instrument
has many more strings than the earlier one.
psaltery appears in many illustrations and carvings being
played by saints and angels. This could be because our medieval
ancestors thought that this instrument had ancient origins,
and therefore believed it might have been played in biblical
times. Actually, they were right about this, because the psalterion
was known in ancient Greece as a box-like instrument for the
sounding of strings with the fingers - however, most medieval
people didn't know much about ancient Greeks so this was really
a lucky guess!
were still in use in the 14th and 15th century, though illustrations
show a number of differences. In the middle of the 15th century,
instrument makers started to design ways in which keyboards
could be attached to the box of the psaltery, with simple
machinery leading from the keys to the strings, and this makes
the psaltery the ancestor of our modern piano.
instrument is one of the few that have not really survived
to become modern instruments. Where many other instruments
have found their way into today's classical or popular music,
the hurdy-gurdy has changed very little. The instrument can
still be seen in some regions as a traditional folk instrument,
particularly in France.
hurdy-gurdy is a curious "mixture" of an instrument,
which seems to have bits of both the violin and the piano.
There is a box in the middle of the instrument that contains
a number of catgut strings. At one end of the insturment,
there is a wheel that the musician turns with a handle. As
the wheel turns, it rubs against the strings (like the bow
on a violin), and this makes the strings vibrate. Then, at
the side of the instrument, there is a set of keys (a bit
like on a piano), and by pressing these the player can change
the length of the strings in the box, and therefore produce
different notes (like violin or guitar player pressing on
the strings to change the notes). If this sounds quite complicated,
well - it is! Setting up a hurdy-gurdy to play is a hard-won
skill in itself, but if you can manage it you can produce
a surprisingly powerful and rich sound. The hurdy-gurdy is
often fitted with a sympathetic resonating bridge (the 'chien')
that with skilful playing can add a strong rhythmic edge to
the sound as the little resonating bridge vibrates against
hurdy-gurdy is often thought of as a low-status instrument
but this is entirely because of the way it is used today and
not necessarily true for medieval and Tudor times.. In the
15th and 16th centuries, the hurdy-gurdy would have been an
expensive instrument, and not an easy one for poorer musicians
to get hold of.
word 'symphony' is a Greek word meaning 'sounding together',
and this is because this instrument is designed to make two
or more strings sound together. The symphony is the medieval
ancestor of the hurdy-gurdy described above. As can be seen,
it has a plainer box and it had a narrower range of notes.
The hurdy-gurdy would have been capable of playing sharps
and flats whereas the symphony is limited to diatonic melodies
(using only one mode or scale, like the medieval harp described
above). The symphony produces a similar tone to the hurdy-gurdy
but is much quieter, and it can be seen in illustrations from
as early as the 13th century.
lute is originally a middle eastern instrument. In fact, its
name is derived from the Arabic words 'el oud' meaning 'the
wood', and this instrument is still very popular in the Middle
East. The instrument was known throughout Europe from at least
the 13th century but only became truly popular in the 16th
century, when it was a great favourite with English kings
and queens - King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I were both
said to be skilled players.
lute was a carefully constructed instrument. The back is ribbed
- that is, made from lots of pieces of wood put together,
and has a deep rounded shape. The soundboard on the front
is made from a soft wood and usually has an elaborate rose
(or soundhole carving), while the fingerboard is made of a
hardwood. The strings were made out of catgut and varied in
number. Some earlier lutes show only nine strings while the
one pictured, which islate 16th century in style, has 15 strings.
The strings are arranged in double courses with the highest
string always being a single. Unlike the modern guitar, the
instrument has no fixed frets, and it can be played without
frets or with frets tied on - little off-cuts of catgut are
very useful for this.
the fiddle, the rebec is an ancestor of the modern violin
family. Like the citole, rebecs were imported into Europe
from North Africa, and this nstrument rapidly became popular
instrument is contructed in a very similar manner to the citole,
being carved out of one solid piece of wood with an added
soundboard and fingerboard. The instrument in the picture
is a reconstructed bass-type instrument that produces a very
rich deep tone.
had between two and four catgut strings and were not fretted.
the 16th century instrument makers tried out different ideas
to improve on the earlier medieval fiddles described above.
Many instruments were developed at this time, including the
Viols. The Viol family resembles our modern violin family
but it is not a direct ancestor. The Viol family and the violin
family both existed at the same time for over a century, and
they served different purposes, but the Viols gradually lost
favour as the violin came to dominate the string instrument
family. Only in recent years has the viol become more popular
again with many new musicians taking up the viol and with
new works being composed for this unique instrument.
differ from violins in three main ways. Firstly, viols have
six strings as opposed to four. Secondly, viols were fretted
in the same way as the lute described above (with frest just
tied round the fingerboard). Thirdly the construction of the
box is quite different, providing each instrument with its
own distinct tone.
kind of instrument is typical of the Ancient Greeks and Romans,
and the 'Celtic' and Germanic inhabitants of north-west Europe
during the first thousand years AD. However, these instruments
do still appear in many early medieval illustrations, usually
those which depict King David playing music to honour God.
like harps, have a number of strings that are tuned to the
notes of a mode or scale. Medieval lyres tend to have only
six strings, which means they are not so useful for playing
melodies, but more useful for accompanying melodies.
Crwth, Bowed Rotta
instrument is very similar to the lyre in its general appearance,
but the main differences are that the crwth has fewer strings
and also a fingerboard, and that the strings are sounded with
a bow. The instrument seems to be an awkward mixture of the
early lyre and the newer rebec-style instruments being introduced
into Europe in the Middle Ages.
crwth was still being played in the early 14th century as
is shown in royal and baronial records. Interestingly, all
the crwth players featured in these records are Welsh, and
the crwth might well be thought of as the typical and traditional
instrument of Wales up to modern times.
eastern European instrument is clearly related to the psaltery
and lyre type instruments of the west. Our version is a nine
string instument and is based on surviving 13th century Guslis
from Russia. The strings are wire and produce a delicate shimmering
sound. Nobody knows for sure exactly how old the gusli is,
but it is often thought to date back at least a 1000 years.
Medieval and Tudor wind instruments
instrument that produces sound by having air pushed through
it (usually by blowing) is a wind instrument. This covers
some considerable variety including flute-type instruments,
reed-type instruments, brass-type instruments and organs.
Each different type of instrument requires different techniques,
different lip positions, fingerings, embouchure (lip and mouth
position), stamina, breath control and articulation.
instruments have the simplest construction and produce the
purest and simplest tone. The breath of air must be carefully
channelled into the instrument in such a way that it is split.
Most of the air goes away from the instrument and does not
have any further effect on the tone, but the rest of the air
sets up a vibration within the pipe. For example, in the case
of a recorder you blow into the mouthpiece and some of the
air goes out through the hole just below the mouthpiece while
the rest of the air goes down into the pipe to make the musical
sounds. The pitch of the note caused by the vibrations is
determined by the length and bore (shape) of the pipe and
also by how many holes are covered.
instruments require a single or double reed to be mounted
on the instrument through which the breath of air is channeled.
The reeds vibrate to allow the air through, and this creates
a rich sound. The pitch of the note is determined in a similar
way to flute-type instruments, by the length and bore of the
pipe and by how many holes are covered. Many reed pipes also
have a bell (a flared out part at the end of the pipe) which
can affect the tone of the instrument and certainly makes
a difference to the volume.
instruments are not all actually made of brass, but they all
share the same technique. The embouchure for these instuments
(the shape you need to make with your lips) requires great
dexterity in the lip muscles to create vibrations - a bit
like 'blowing a raspberry' - and this can be quite tiring.
organ stands apart from the other wind instruments and is
covered in detail below.
of the instruments described here have attached sound-files.
Click on the image to hear these instruments in action.
is a reed instrument that is known in the folk music of most
European countries. These instruments were intended for outdoor
playing and could be very loud; however, some bagpipes had
a very gentle sweet sound. The bagpipe usually features a
drone pipe that sounds a continuous tone to accompany the
melody played on the chanter (the fingered pipe). If the instrument
has more than one drone pipe these can be tuned to sound an
octave or a fifth apart. Some bagpipes, have no drone pipes
at all. The earliest account of bagpipes can perhaps be seen
in surviving Roman written records, giving the instrument
at least a 2000 year history!
curious instruments first appear in manuscripts and illustrations
in the 16th century, though they were almost certainly around
in the 1400s. Like the bagpipe chanter, they have a double
reed which produces a nasal buzzing tone. The reed on the
crumhorn is inside a wooden chamber next to the mouthpiece,
and this chamber protects the reed from damage. This instrument,
along with other similar pipes, is the ancestor of the modern
oboe, although with the oboe the reed is held by the lips
for more expressive playing. The crumhorn shown here is a
reconstruction of a European alto crumhorn in 16th-century
like all European reed pipes, the origins of the crumhorn
are eastern. Double reed bladder pipes and shawms were imported
into Europe from Africa and the Middle East from the time
of the earliest Moorish conquest of Spain in the 9th century
AD and through the period of the Crusades.
curve of the crumhorn has no effect on the tonal qualities
of the instrument - that is, how the instrument sounds; it
is there just for fancy. By the early 16th century, the crumhorn
had developed into a full family of instruments ranging from
squeaky sopranos down to flatulent basses.
instruments have a very long history, as prehistoric remains
of simple flute-type instruments have been found in many countries.
The medieval and Tudor flute was not largely different from
the flute we know today. Like many modern folk flutes and
whistles, the instruments were six holed and did not have
any keys. By the time of the Tudors, the instrument came in
a variety of sizes, like the crumhorn. Surviving flutes from
the 16th century show an interesting difference in the breath
hole. On a modern flute, the mouthpiece hole is oval, while
on the Tudor flute it is round. This calls for some adjustment
in embouchure (mouth position) and breath control for modern
players who take up the early flute.
was also called "the flute of nine holes", because
many early recorders dating from as early as the late 14th
century did indeed have nine holes. Eight of the holes were
just as we see on our modern recorders, while the ninth hole
was opposite the right-hand little finger hole allowing for
the option of left-handed playing. Whichever hole was not
required would ordinarily be filled in with beeswax.
small number of medieval recorders have been found in archeological
digs showing the nine holes and curiously no beak (the pointed
end which you put in your lips). This may be simply because
the beak was lost or the recorder was not complete - though
it is possible to play the recorder without the beak. However,
illustrations of 15th-century recorders show beaked instruments
and surviving Tudor instruments have beaks.
instruments are sometimes called tabor pipes, referring to
the drum that is often played at the same time. The three-holed
pipe is a simple flute-type instrument with - as its name
suggests - only three holes. This allows for four basic positions
of the fingers giving four different basic notes. However,
by blowing a little harder higher notes can be produced allowing
for ranges of at least one full octave and up to two octaves
on larger pipes. These instruments have low status and usually
only appear in medieval illustrations showing lowly scenes
such as peasant dances, and the tormenting of Christ.
pipe only requires one hand to produce all the notes, leaving
the other free to play something else. So, the tabor drum
that often accompanies the pipe is intended to be played at
the same time by the same player! A drum was not the only
thing that could be played by the other hand; a guitar-like
instrument could be strummed, a harp plucked, or a hurdy-gurdy
type instrument made to drone. A veritable medieval one-man-band!
our modern instrument, the medieval trumpet had no valves
(keys which you press down to make different notes), as valves
weren't generally used until the 19th century. Before this
time, the notes available on the trumpet were limited to the
harmonic series that the player could produce, and exactly
how many would depend upon the quality of the mouthpiece and
the skill of the player. For example, the trumpet in our band
can easily produce a D, the A above it, and the D above the
A. With practice, you can get a lower D, and a high F-sharp.
were powerful instruments, and could even be heard over the
noise of a battle. Moorish armies in Spain employed trumpets
and drums almost as weapons of war to terrify their enemies
and inspire their own soldiers. The instruments were also
quickly established as high status, and would be produced
on special occasions such as royal weddings, the arrival of
visiting dignitaries and so on. There are interesting records
from the late 13th and early 14th century showing which instruments
were used for which occasions. From these records, we know
that the trumpet was one of the three most important instruments
in use (the other two were harp and fiddle). Bands of trumpeters
were retained by wealthy masters such as kings or barons as
a way of showing how important they were.
organ is basically a series of tuned pipes that produce sound
when air is channeled through them. This is normally done
with a keyboard, like on organs today (though some earlier
medieval organs used rather more awkward systems to open and
stop the various pipes). The main difference between the modern
organ and organs in medieval and Tudor times is that today
we can use electricity to pump the air into the pipes. Organs
came in many sizes ranging from tiny "portative"
organs, that were small enough to be carried around, pumped
and played by one musician, to the great organs that would
require dozens of players - most of whom would be simply working
the bellows that pumped the air. By the late 15th-century
extra rows of pipes were added to allow the player a wide
range of sounds. These extra rows were activated by moving
sliders or stops in just the same way as a modern organ.
instruments were imported into Europe from Africa and the
near East throughtout the medieval period. They can have a
powerful piercing sound and would be best employed outdoors
or on ceremonial occasions. By the 15th-century, the shawm,
like many other instruments, had developed into a family of
instruments. City waites (musicians employed by city councils)
would play instruments such as shawms, trumpets and sackbuts
as part of their duty.
the crumhorn, the shawm had a double reed. In the case of
the crumhorn, the reeds are protected inside a wooden chamber,
but shawm players place the reeds inside their mouth with
their lips against the bottom end of the reed, which allows
the reed to vibrate freely. Modern oboe players place the
reeds on their lips, which is another method again.
instruments are similar in many ways to the shawm. They may
well have been very rare as they are shown in only one illustration
from the 16th century. However, there are also some surviving
original instruments. Rauschpfeifes have a conical bore enabling
them to be very loud indeed - in fact, ferociously loud! The
name means something like 'noisy pipe'. They have a windcap
(like the crumhorn). This means that you do not put the reed
in your mouth.
and Tudor percussion instruments
are of course many, many different types of percussion instrument.
Listed below are the main percussion instruments played by
Trouvere minstrels in shows, concerts and workshops.
instruments are instruments where the sound is produced by
bashing or beating. This would include cymbals, kettle drums
and the piano which may at first seem to bear very little
most familiar of the percussion instruments is the drum. Drums
are shells made of wood, pot or metal with leather tightly
fastened onto one or both ends. The leather must be carefully
tightened and warmed up before use otherwise the drum skins
would be to loose to produce a good tone (especially in wet
weather). Rope-tensioned drums were introduced to reduce this
problem. Modern drums skins are often made out of plastic
and do not become loose.
percussion instruments include objects that can be struck
and made to vibrate. There is no drum skin or shell (in which
the air can vibrate). The object itself vibrates. Examples
of this type of instrument include wood blocks, cymbals and
inventive type of percussion instrument include hybrid-types
where strings are struck with beaters. This can be seen in
dulcimer/psaltery type instruments that are clearly the ancestor
of the modern piano.
of the instruments described here have attached sound-files,
click on the image to hear these instruments in action.
instruments are the ancestors of our modern kettle-drums and
were originally introduced into Europe from the Middle East
and North Africa. These drums were rope tensioned animal skins
over a copper or stoneware bowl. The drums were often small
enough to be worn on a belt around the waist resulting in
a very portable and playabe drum kit.
of the drums (as in our example to the right) has a snare.
Simply an extra piece of rope over the skin to produce a rattling
instruments become increasingly popular through the 15th century
and into Tudor times. Like the nakirs they are rope tensioned
animal skins, but here on a curved wooden shell. Due to their
size they produce a powerful deep sound and as a result were
useful in later periods for organising and controlling soldiers
are medieval records of drums such as these being used to
terrify enemy armies. These drums when played in great number
would certainly create a fearful sound.
selection of tuned bells, gently struck with a hammer can
lend a very sweet harmonious tone to music whether it be a
church hymn or an instrumental dance. The bells are usually
made from cast metals such as brass or iron.
such as these were clearly thought of as a noble instrument.
Here we have no less a personage than King David himself playing
them. Tuned bells are still heard today, we hear them very
often every time we hear church bells. These type of instruments
are also very similar to the tuned percussion we see in music
from around the world most notably the Indonesion gamelan