Medieval Music

Mystical Medieval

What is it that we moderns find so beguiling about the medieval period?

When one considers that the demands of daily existence were considerably harsher, with life’s rhythm beating out threats both foreign and intolerable to the modern man...

Why do we remain captivated?

There is something about it. Romanticised no doubt, but there nonetheless. Acknowledgement perhaps that with every “advance” there is also decline, something lost of equal value to all that we have added of benefit. We wonder, I think, like young boys over Knights and girls over noble princesses, Is it truly better to be living now than then?

But enough philosophising, let’s address the topic at hand —Music— and in particular, musical instruments, those tools of the travelling Troubadours, wandering Minstrels and local Waits; the forbears of our modern musicians.

Being a true product of my own generation, I do enjoy modern music, and truth to tell am made the more appreciative when listening to the inferior sounds of ages past; my apologies to the die-hard lovers of everything antiquated.

Yes, I'm thankful of the musical evolution -well, a large part of it at least. I mean, compare these two pieces, the first a medieval tune, the other contemporary (to be fair I've chosen only instrumentals):

Attend thy ear & hearken

Yeah, I know, musical preference is highly personal. Fair enough, but let's still put it to the vote

Musical Preference

Casteth thee thou vote

  • Medieval
  • Modern
  • I refuse to vote, its been rigged
See results without voting

Medieval instruments generally fell under four categories

Personal preference aside, most of the instruments we know today have medieval ancestors. Therefore, at least in that regard, we can be thankful for bygone eras. However, 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.

Medieval instruments generally fell under four categories;

1. Stringed instruments

2. Wind Instruments

3. Percussion Instruments

4. The human voice

To this array, modern man has added the electronic element. The clip below by Faun is a good example of the old blended with the new.

Evolution of Sound

Hearing is one of our most valued senses. As such, throughout history we have sought to titillate our ears with beautiful noise. The evolution of the instrument has been central to this pursuit.

Below, I have presented a pictorial of a few ancient instruments and possible modern equivalents. Where possible I have included a link for comparing the sound of each...

From Dulcimer to Modern Piano
From Dulcimer to Modern Piano
From Lute to Electric Guitar
From Lute to Electric Guitar
From Shofar to Trumpet
From Shofar to Trumpet
From Tambour to Drum set
From Tambour to Drum set
From Serpent to Tuba
From Serpent to Tuba


Audio: Dulcimer

Audio: Piano




Audio: Lute

Audio: Guitar




Audio: Shofar

Audio: Trumpet




Audio: Tambour

Audio: Drums





Audio: Crumhorn

Audio: Saxophone






Audio: Serpent

Audio: Tuba





In Part two of this Hub we will look at the evolution of instrument manufacture, from such things catgut strings, to wood and metal work and valve mechanics. See you there.

Comments 19 comments

CMCastro profile image

CMCastro 6 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

Hello, At the age of 8, my piano lessons consisted of learning how to play Bach and Beethoven. For a little girl, that could be grueling, but I gave it my best. It prepared me for learning Classical Guitar at the age of

eleven, and reading guitar music was very easy for me. I enjoyed learning classics by F.Sor, M.Carcassi, and M. Guilliani. When I picked up a lap harp in my twenties, I did not need a teacher. And now I love my mountain dulcimer which sounds more medieval when I pluck it. So, this hub described the music of my youth.

Thank you. Do you play any classical instruments?


myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk

I've been sitting here listening to the different sounds of these instruments and have truly enjoyed the links. I agree, I too love modern music, but there is a simple, yet haunting quality to these ancient instruments that I can't quite pin point. As you say, maybe, they remind us of an era gone by, and hence the charm. Anyway, thank you for this unique and interesting hub :)


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

While I prefer the modern music I am fascinated by the instruments and things of ancient times. I enjoyed your hub.


bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 6 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

I find the old style classical,celtic, and medivial the most soothing for relaxing.....but for energy.."Take those old records off the shelf!" RATE UP


lifegate profile image

lifegate 6 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

Thanks for a well organized, informative hub.


ocoonocoon profile image

ocoonocoon 6 years ago

I like the Vox Vulgaris! It's strange how it sounds kind of happy, or "pleasant."


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz Author

@CMCAstro ~ My musical talent is limited to a youthful flirt with the guitar. I may one day take it up again... Nah, who am I kidding :)

But you! What an amazingly musical life you have had, and much of it self taught. I think that such an experience could have only enriched your life. Thanks for sharing.

@myownworld ~ Yes, that is the word, 'haunting'; and I think it applies to that whole era. Haunting us with mystery, wonder but also fearful events -the plague for example. Thanks for commenting.

@Pamela99 ~ Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. My goal was twofold, to present a topic of interest, but also to offer something a bit different in having the audio links; an added interactive element.

@bayoulady ~ Thanks for the rate up. Our hearing is definitely a wonderful blessing, so much more than simply part of our means of communicating, it is also adds depth, fulfilment and great pleasure to our lives. And as you implied, there is music for every occasion.

@lifegate ~ And thank you for stopping by.

@ocoonocoon ~I'm pleased you enjoyed this. I put it up because I found it a happy tune also. There are many bands out there who offer something of the old in their repertoire, and I think that the modern accompaniments only enhance the result. Thanks for stopping by.


UlrikeGrace profile image

UlrikeGrace 6 years ago from Canada

Thanks for a well researched hub...how interesting and informative...when we can see the history of just about anything...it has a way of creating appreciation for what we have today...nothing came easy and it all had humble beginnings...so we do need to praise God for those of our ancestors who perseverd and pressed through...blesings to you my brother


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz Author

@UlrikeGrace ~ Yes, I think the ease of life we have today, free of so many of the difficulties of the past, has made it too easy to dismiss faith and perseverance.


kaltopsyd profile image

kaltopsyd 6 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

You're right, I'm very interested in the Medieval times. The music... not as much. Maybe it's because I was FORCED to study it in my Language of Music course. It was such a boring course. However, the instruments of the Medieval times were so cool - for lack of a better word. Nice Hub!


parrster profile image

parrster 6 years ago from Oz Author

@kaltopsyd ~ I wrote this hub more as an experiment than anything else, to see how successfully I could incorporate sound as the key element of a hub. I'm fairly pleased with the result, though I doubt it achieved much more than quench my curiosity :)

I'm glad you enjoyed it though.


stessily 5 years ago

parrster: How could I possibly be surprised that you would write this hub, when one of the "carrots" which motivates me to meet this month's deadlines is the reward of reading your "Prodigal King" series? And yet I was surprised and intrigued to see this title on your profile page! I have long been fascinated by medieval times. I agree that they have such a mystique, despite the reality that they were stench-filled, poverty-stricken, plague-riddled times. But despite those adversities such amazingly beautiful, ethereal, transcendent architecture, literature, art, music, etc., were created that successive, more affluent centuries have been transfixed by the faith which weaves through it all.

As far as your motive in writing this --- to incorporate sound as the key element --- how wonderful! And successfully done, in my humble opinion.

I couldn't vote because I love both pieces, and I am thankful for the reminder of Jesse Cook, whose music I enjoy, as well as that of his inspiration, Manitas de Plata.

Blessings and kind regards, Stessily


parrster profile image

parrster 5 years ago from Oz Author

@stessily~ How I look forward to your comments; for their depth, intelligence and genuine interest level.

I'm glad you're enjoying the Prodigal King series, I enjoyed writing it; however, I really do need to get around to finishing it -so much to do, so little time :)

I too have enjoyed Jesse Cooks music for many years, but had not heard of Manitas de Plata before, so thank you; having just listened to a youtube piece of his, I agree, he is inspirational.

Blessings to you stessily.


ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

parrster I really enjoyed your take on Medieval music! I love the clarity and simple complexity of their music!


parrster profile image

parrster 3 years ago from Oz Author

@ajwriter57 ~ thanks for popping by. Yes, there is definitely something pure in the sounds of those medieval instruments, and haunting in the music. I wonder what they would think of modern music.


ajwrites57 profile image

ajwrites57 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

parrster, methinks they wouldst think a cacophonous calamity has come upon them (as i do for some modern music)!


LotusLandry profile image

LotusLandry 2 years ago from Southern California

I once read (but don't know if it is true or not) that if you owned a suit of armor in the middle ages, you were equivalent economically to a man owning his own private jet. --- beguiled by knights in armor


parrster profile image

parrster 2 years ago from Oz Author

@LotusLandry ~ (when I first read your name I thought it said LotsofLaundry :) It's been a while since someone visited this particular hub, so I welcometh thee and thank thee for thy patronage. Yes, I can imagine a suit of armour of armour cost a pretty penny. I can imagine a great reluctance of owners getting it battered in battle. Thanks for commenting.


LotusLandry profile image

LotusLandry 2 years ago from Southern California

The moniker was selected because I wanted both an Asian and a Western name as I live in the West among many Asians (next to little Saigon). The armor and jet owners (or those who don't fly commercial now a days) are of the One Percenters in whatever age they inhabited. I used to walk by a Knight's crypt in a Castle every day when I lived outside Marburg one summer.

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