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Medieval Music

Updated on March 1, 2019
parrster profile image

Among his varied other writing interests, Richard Parr aspires to creating interesting and inspiring stories about life.

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

See results

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

Audio: Dulcimer

Audio: Piano

From Lute to Electric Guitar

Audio: Lute

Audio: Guitar

From Shofar to Trumpet

Audio: Shofar

Audio: Trumpet

From Tambour to Drum Set

Audio: Tambour

Audio: Drums

From Crumhorn to Saxophone

Audio: Crumhorn

Audio: Saxophone

From Serpent to Tuba

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.

© 2010 Richard Parr


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    • LotusLandry profile image


      7 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.

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      7 years ago from Australia

      @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


      7 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

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ Long 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

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

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      8 years ago from Australia

      @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

      AJ Long 

      8 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 imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      9 years ago from Australia

      @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.

    • profile image


      9 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 imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      10 years ago from Australia

      @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.

    • kaltopsyd profile image


      10 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 imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      11 years ago from Australia

      @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.

    • UlrikeGrace profile image


      11 years ago from Canada

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

    • parrster profile imageAUTHOR

      Richard Parr 

      11 years ago from Australia

      @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.

    • ocoonocoon profile image


      11 years ago

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

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      11 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Thanks for a well organized, informative hub.

    • bayoulady profile image


      11 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

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 years ago from Sunny Florida

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

    • myownworld profile image


      11 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 :)

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 

      11 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?


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