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Medieval Music

Updated on March 1, 2019
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Among his varied other writing interests, Richard Parr aspires to create 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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