Instruments of the Medieval Era
The instruments of the medieval era fit into three different instrument families: wind, strings, and percussion.
Flutes are a type of wind instrument that were popular during this time, but was very different than the flutes you would see in an orchestra today. Medieval flutes were not made of metal and did not have the airtight padding which make playing easier. Instead, flutes were made from carved wood and had simple holes which needed to be covered completely by the player’s fingers. Like the flute, was the recorder. The difference between a recorder and a flute is a fipple, which directs air across the edge of the tone hole. Also, the playing position of a recorder is different. Flutes are played with the instrument horizontal and recorders point down to the ground.
Stringed instruments during the Middle Ages were larger than their counterparts we use today. One instrument that went through significant changes in the way that it was played during the Middle Ages was the dulcimer (dull-sim-err). The dulcimer is a large, board-like instrument covered in strings of different lengths to produce different tones. Originally, the instrument had to be plucked like a lute – the ancestor of the guitar – but once metal strings became cheaper and easier to make, they were hit with small hammers. The way the hammered dulcimer – as it was now called – operates is like a piano, in that a piano has eighty-eight small hammers that pound on small metal strings to produce tones.
Another stringed instrument we will look at is the vielle, a predecessor of the violin. The vielle was a large, handheld instrument that was played much like a violin, with a bow. The vielle was shaped a bit like a figure-8 and could have different numbers of strings. In the image below, you can see a three-stringed vielle.
The different instruments used in the Middle Ages were all varied and had different uses. Even though some of them may look strange, there is no denying the connection between the instruments used then and those used now. Learning about where our musical instruments came from helps us to appreciate them all a lot more.
The history of music is the history of the world. All through history, there has been music and musicians. Even though music did not start in the medieval period, the information that we have about music from this period gives us a lot of details about the world at that time. From the instruments to the composers, here are the most important aspects of medieval music.
The History of Medieval Music
Medieval music is divided into three periods: early medieval music, high medieval music, and late medieval music. Early medieval music was mostly composed of chants or what is called ‘plainsong’ which is just the combination of the words ‘plain’ and ‘song’. This song was a single melody without an accompanied harmony, like we see in more modern music. Eventually, chants would incorporate another voice in parallel above the first voicing. This was called “organum” and is the prelude to modern counterpoint and harmony.
High medieval music was more advanced than the previous plainsong of the early period. In this time, there were poet-musicians called Goliards who wrote and sang songs in Latin. Many of the songs at this time were religious, but the Goliards sang songs about everyday life among other topics. Many of these lyrics have survived in the medieval text The Carmina Burana, although the music itself did not. At this time, professional musicians called troubadours (troo-buh-doors) and trouvères (troo-ver-ays) were developing more complex melodies but were removed from the religious tradition of older music. Troubadours wrote music that was for the common people, using common language. Many of their melodies survive to this day.
Late medieval music was incredibly diverse. As the groups of people who made the music got more advanced, so did the music itself. In fact, music began to get so specific in different parts of the world that different countries began making their own kinds of music. In France, they began working with a practice called ‘Ars nova’ which means “new art”. In this new art secular (meaning non-church) music gained a more advanced type of melody. Even though this term mostly applies to French music, it is often used to describe all music from this part of history. In Italy, their musical movement was called ‘Trecento’. Much of the musical traditions of this time would continue into the next major time period, the Renaissance.
The history of music is a long one that is always changing. During the medieval period, we can see music going through many different changes; from single-note plainsongs to the more melodic work of the troubadours, music is a constantly flowing river that never ever stops.
In our last blog about articulations in music, we explored detached staccato notes, fermata pauses, and legato slurs. In this blog, we will be looking at the less common of musical articulation notations.
Remember from last time that articulations in music are important in that they tell us how to read and play the music. They are an extension of the composer and knowing how to read them will help you play, read, or sing music more accurately.
Articulations in music are incredibly important to learn about because they are signs which show the composer’s intention for how a piece of music should be played, read, or sung. Ignoring articulation marks will change the nature of a piece of music entirely. Practice reading articulation markings in the music you play.
One thing you will often see when reading and playing music are articulations. Articulations in music are ways of showing how a set of notes should be played with respect to pitch, duration, or dynamic. One way to think about articulations in music is that they serve as a sort of punctuation in music. In the same way that punctuation in writing tells you whether a sentence is a statement – with a period – a question – with a question mark – or a loud exclamation – with an exclamation mark, articulations in music help us to read and play music. Articulations in music are important because they change the way we play or sing the music.
In this two-part blog series, we will explore all the articulations in music, starting with staccato.
Being one of the most common articulations in music, staccato is one of the musical articulations you’ll want to master quickly. Stacatto means (when translated) “short” or “detached” and is notated with a dot either above or below the note.
Stacatto notes are not held for the entire duration of the note but shortened to help detach it from the next note in line. Let’s look at an example.
In the example, you can see a series of notes. These notes are each notated with a staccato musical articulation. That means that each of these notes would be played shorter than their notated length.
Another common articulation in music is the slur also known as legato. Legato is a word which means “smooth” or “together”. Legato expressions tells us that notes should be played continuously together without any gap in the notes.
Legato phrasings are shown with a curved line we also call a phrase mark. Let’s look at an example.
In the image above, you can see that the phrase mark follows the quarter notes, showing that they should be played together smoothly.
Fermata is a word which translates to “pause” and is indicated with a dot and a crescent above the note. It can be seen as somewhat the opposite of staccato. This articulation in music shows that the note should be held longer than the time written in the music. Because of its special job, it is the only articulation mark in music which changes the beat of the song.
Next time on in our blog What Are Articulations in Music? Part 2 we will look at articulations in music such as Tenuto and Accents.
One word you may see when learning music is accidental. But what does this mean? In this article you will learn all about accidentals in music, how to use them, and how to recognize them.
Accidentals in Music Are No Accident
Unlike their name might suggest, accidentals in music are no accident. They are important when you want to learn how to read music.
An accidental in music is a note (or pitch) that is not part of the scale shown by the key signature. In this way, accidentals in music ignore key signature. Look at the picture below, and you can see the three types of accidentals; flat, natural, and sharp. Both the notes and the symbols are called accidentals.
When you see an accidental, it means that the note has been shifted by a semitone, or half-step.
In the example shown below, we are in the key of B-flat major. The key signature shows that there are two flats in the key, B-flat and E-flat. With the natural accidental applied to the note shown, it becomes a natural B instead of an B-flat. The note shifted one semitone from B-flat to B-natural.
Accidentals in Music Apply to the Whole Measure
One special rule to know about accidentals in music is that they apply to all notes in the measure (or bar). Let us look at an example!
In the picture below, you can see we are still in the key of B-flat major. There are four quarter-notes. The first note is a B-flat, as noted by the accidental. The fourth note is also a B-flat, because it is in the same measure. In the following measure, the note becomes B-flat again.
Double Accidentals in Music
Like you might think, a double accidental raises the pitch of a note by two semitones. Like normal accidentals, these notes ignore key signature and have their own special symbols. On the left is the double flat accidental and on the right is the double sharp accidental.
Did You Know? Music History
Accidentals in music are very old! Their use goes all the way back to before the Middle Ages, people were writing about music theory all the way back then! The first use of a double accidental was over 400 years ago in 1615.
Now you know all about accidentals in music from sharps, naturals, flats, and double accidentals, they are important tools for any musician to have.
While Guido d’Arezzo lived in Arezzo, he was commissioned by Bishop Teldad of Arezzo to produce a music manual – a book - for the training of singers. This book was called the Micrologus. The book covered a wide variety of topics, including the correct methods for chanting, information on polyphonic music, melody & harmony, and many more topics.
One of the new methods of teaching music that Guido d’Arezzo developed is called solmization, which is the mnemonic device we use to sing notes. Look at the example below and see how we use solmization to sing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.
Solmization has changed a lot since Guido d’Arezzo’s time. His book the Micrologus suggested they sing it ut-re-mi-fa-sol-la-si-do.
The Guidonian Hand
The Guidonian hand is something that we aren’t sure Guido d’Arezzo invented himself, but it is named after him. The Guidonian hand is a way to remember the names of notes by looking at your hand. Look at the example below.
Guido d’Arezzo is also widely thought to be the inventor of staff notation. Staff notation is something we have all seen before. It is the five lines that notes go on. Without Guido d'Arezzo we might not have the same way of reading music that we are so familiar with.
With all the knowledge that we gained from Guido d’Arezzo, it’s no wonder how important he is. From inventing staff notation, developing solmization, and everything else he taught us, we wouldn’t be nearly as far along with him!