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Medieval Instruments

Medieval Instruments are the historical musical devices used for producing music during the medieval period. Most of them are the descendants of modern instruments. During middle age, instruments were selected based on the song to be played to add vigour to the music. Over time, various medieval musical instruments developed and went through several transformations. Although many of them remain with us today, some of them have been lost in history. This article will highlight the main medieval instruments and how they relate to modern ones.

History of Medieval Instruments

Medieval Instruments
Medieval Instruments by Hans Splinter licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Historians believe that western classical music tradition started in the medieval era. The medieval era lasted for 900 years, divided into three mini-periods- Early (500-1150 AD), High (1150-1300 AD), and Last (1300-1400 AD).

During the early medieval period, most people were influenced by religious vocal music, but with time, the influence of secular and entertainment music increased. And to play music, musicians always require different instruments to go well with the music.

Medieval Musical Instruments Bas and Haut:

Depending on the sound quality, medieval musical instruments were divided into two broad groups:

  • Haut
  • Bas

Haut stands for loud, and Bas stands for soft.

Haut’s musical instruments were used for playing outside, like wind instruments. They had high volume, but the pitch was very balanced.

Bas musical instruments, like string instruments, were quiet and used for playing indoors. They had very soft sounds. Only a few instrument specimens survived from the medieval era.

Category of Medieval Instruments

Medieval Percussion Instruments

Medieval Percussion Instruments by Gilles Péris y Saborit licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Medieval Percussion Instruments are assumed to be the first medieval musical instruments to be found. This widely played instrument is used to make sounds through vibrations. Generally, to play these instruments, musicians used to beat instruments with sticks and hands.

The instruments were made from wood; one side of the stretched skin was stuck, and the other was kept hollow. Some top types of medieval Percussion Instruments are:

  • Bells: A bell-shaped instrument played back to antiquity.
  • Drums: Made up of hollow tree trunks, metal, or clay and covered by the water animal’s skin on one side.
  • Timbrel: Tambourine used during antiquity.
  • Cymbal: A thin and round concave metal plate.
  • Triangle: A triangular metal Instrument introduced in the 14th century that was played with a metal stick.
  • Tabor: A drum played with a pipe or fife to enhance the sound.

Medieval String Instruments

Medieval String Instruments
by Andrew Plumb licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Medieval String Instruments were very popular because of their beautiful voice. These instruments enabled musicians to play various sounds using the vibrations of strings. To design them, strings were stretched over or within a wooden framework. These were played with sticks or fingers.

The sound coming from these medieval instruments was dependent on length, several discrepancies, and the positioning of the strings. Troubadours and minstrels mostly played these. There was a wide variety of string instruments, such as:

  • Harpsichord: Harp-shaped instrument that is used to sit horizontally on legs.
  • Spinet: Keyed Instrument that resembled a harpsichord but was smaller in size.
  • Viol: Played with a bow while holding it between the legs.
  • Harp: The 30 inches long instrument is mostly played by troubadours and minstrels.
  • Fiddle: Played with a bow or pluck while holding under the chin or in the crook of the arm.
  • Chitarrone: A lute that could be 6 feet in length.
  • Gittern: Ancestor of modern guitars.

Other medieval string instruments include Lute, Rebec, Psaltery, Cittern, Vielle, and Clavichord.

Medieval Wind Instruments

Medieval Wind Instruments by Claire H. licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

As the name suggests, medieval wind instruments were played by blowing air into them. When the air used to vibrate inside the instruments, they used to create a beautiful sound. The sound depended on how much air was blown in them and how the musicians placed their finders in different holes on the instruments. Some most common types of wind instruments used during middle age are:

  • Trumpet: Long four-part metal instrument associated with pageants.
  • Tuba: An old version of the trumpet that is considered the lowest brass wind instrument.
  • Hautboy: A slender double-reed instrument with a double-reed mouthpiece and conical bore.
  • Shawn: A reed instrument with vent holes.
  • Oboe: Evolved version of Shawm and Hautboy.
  • Bagpipe: Ancient instrument made up of goat or sheep skin and reed pipe, used mostly by poor people
  • Flute: Medieval version of modern flute played by flute minstrels.
  • Lizard: S-shaped horn with a sharp sound.

Other medieval string instruments are Trombone, Horns, Pipe, Recorder, Flageolet, Crumhorn, Gemshorn, and Ocarina.


Musical Instruments played during the medieval era were varied and unusual. They allowed people to enhance their creativity and make the medieval era a mesmerising period of ingenuity and music. Also, these instruments contributed hugely to taking the music industry to the next level. We hope you enjoyed reading the article on medieval musical instruments.

If you liked reading about Medieval Instruments, you should definitely check our article on Medieval Houses & Medieval Hairstyles !!

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