There were a lot of interesting medieval musical instruments used in European music. Have you ever wondered how they sound? Here are 10 of them, played by musicians.

In alphabetical order:

1. Citole

The citole was a string musical instrument, closely associated with the medieval fiddles (viol, vielle, gigue) and commonly used from 1200-1350. Like the modern guitar, it was manipulated at the neck to get different notes and picked or strummed with a plectrum.

María de Mingo Carranza plays La seconde Estampie Royale on citole

2. Dulcimer

There are two types of dulcimers: hammered, and mountain (Appalachian dulcimer).

Scarborough Fair | Pure Hammered Dulcimer | Joshua Messick
Jessica Comeau- Scarborough Fair (Arranged for mountain dulcimer by Jessica Comeau) Celtic/English

3. Gittern (guiterne)

The gittern was a relatively small gut-strung, round-backed instrument that first appears in literature and pictorial representation during the 13th century in Western Europe (Iberian Peninsula, Italy, France, England).

It was also called the guiterna in Spain, guiterne or guiterre in France, the chitarra in Italy, and quintern in Germany.

It is usually depicted as played with a quill plectrum, as can be seen clearly beginning in manuscript illuminations from the thirteenth century. A popular instrument with court musicians, minstrels, and amateurs, the gittern is considered an ancestor of the modern guitar.

A medieval gittern made by Ugo Casalonga. A piece by King Richard the Lionheart.

4. Guitarra Latina (Latin guitar)

The Guitarra Latina is a plucked string instrument of the Medieval period in Europe. It has single-string courses, and it is normally played with a pick.

Guitarra Latina (Latin guitar)

5. Hurdy-gurdy

The hurdy-gurdy is a medieval string instrument that produces sound by a hand-crank-turned, rosined wheel rubbing against the strings. The wheel functions much like a violin bow, and single notes played on the instrument sound similar to those of a violin. Melodies are played on a keyboard that presses tangents-small wedges typically made of wood against one or more of the strings to change their pitch.

Andrey Vinogradov plays “Reverse dance”, a medieval-style dance composed by Vinogradov himself, on hurdy-gurdy (organ and drums also played in the background)

6. Organistrum

First appeared in the 11th century, the Organistrum is an early form of the hurdy-gurdy. Generally considered the ancestor of all subsequent hurdy-gurdies, the organistrum differs substantially from later instruments in that it was played by two individuals: one turned the crank while the other pulled the keys upward to change the musical pitch of the melody strings.

Early polyphonies with a special replica of Organistrum.

7. Rebec

Popular from the 13th to 16th centuries, the rebec is a bowed stringed instrument of the Medieval era and the early Renaissance.

Rebec: medieval music by Fabienne Pratali

8. [Double] Recorder

In the video below, Pierre Hamon performs the virelai “Puis que ma dolour” by Guillaume de Machaut on the medieval double recorder. A virelai is a form of medieval French verse used often in poetry and music. It is one of the three formes fixes (the others were the ballade and the rondeau) and was one of the most common verse forms set to music in Europe from the late thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.

Guillaume de Machaut (sometimes spelled Machault) (c. 1300 – April 1377) was a Medieval French poet and composer.

Pierre Hamon performs the virelai “Puis que ma dolour” by Guillaume de Machaut on the medieval double recorder.

9. Shawm

The shawm is a conical bore, double-reed woodwind instrument made in Europe from the 12th century to the present day. It achieved its peak of popularity during the medieval and Renaissance periods, after which it was gradually eclipsed by the oboe family.

Aline Hopchet plays “Den tweeden ronde Mon ami” composed by Tielman Susato (1551). Soprano shawm, John Hanchet, Essen, after 1977 (copy from original Renaissance instruments).

10. Vielle (medieval fiddle)

The vielle, also known as a fidel or a viuola, is a European bowed stringed instrument used in the medieval period, similar to a modern violin but with a somewhat longer and deeper body, three to five gut strings, and a leaf-shaped pegbox with frontal tuning pegs, sometimes with a figure-8 shaped body.

Medieval fiddle – Aurea Personet Lira


M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, a former road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. This website's all income goes directly to our furry friends. Please consider supporting me on Patreon, so I can help more animals!

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