Shawm Instrument

The Medieval shawm instrument was a famous medieval instrument of the woodwind family. It remained in use in Europe from the 12th century till the 17th century. The instrument itself was not just restricted to Europe but was widespread through many parts of the world. It came in various sizes, shapes, and variations throughout the centuries.

Medieval Shawm Definition

Medieval shawm instruments can be described as a sort of reed instrument containing vent holes. A single piece was used to make the body of the medieval shawm instrument and it ended in a flared bell shape similar to a trumpet. The instrument also had keywork which was usually covered by perforated wood known as a “fontanelle”.

Medieval Musician Shawm Instruments

Medieval Musician is playing a Shawm instrument in a medieval village

Medieval Shawm History

It is generally accepted that the medieval shawm instrument had ancient origins, although the instrument became well known in medieval times. In Europe, it became particularly popular during the high and late medieval times and remained popular even after the end of the medieval times. It is said to have been imported into Europe from the medieval Islamic East where it was prevalent in a different form. The instrument in modified form was also used in other societies such as Chinese, Turkish, and Persian etc.

Medieval Shawm Timeline

The earliest medieval shawm instruments emerged in Europe during the 12th century where they were introduced from the East. Originally it was found in multiple variants but some forms were more popular than the others. It got its most popular form during the fifteenth century. During different eras of the medieval times, it was known by different names in different European countries.

What Type of Instrument was a Shawm?

During the medieval times, musical instruments of multiple types were prevalent. For instant, there were Bas instruments and Haut instruments. Bas instruments were those with low volume while Haut instruments were those with high volumes. Medieval shawm instrument was thus included in the Haut instruments and like other Haut instruments was suitable for playing outdoors.

How was a Shawm Played?

Medieval shawm instruments had a short protruding reed which was important because it gave the player a control over the dynamics. The piercing, trumpet-like sound of the medieval shawm instrument was due to its conical bore and flaring bell. The kind of sound produced this way was high and thus more suitable for outdoor performances.

Medieval Shawm and other instruments

Different types of medieval instruments including a Medieval Shawm

Medieval Musicians and Shawms

Medieval musicians in different places used medieval shawm instruments with different techniques and styles. The most popular outdoor dance where medieval musicians used the medieval shawm instrument consisted of a slide trumpet for popular melodies and two shawms used for counter-melodies. Some medieval musicians also used the technique of circular breathing for continuously playing the instrument without any pauses.

Medieval Shawm Instrument Summary

Medieval shawm instrument was one of the most commonly used medieval musical instruments. Its use was adopted in Europe from the Islamic East and became popular form the 12th century onwards. Medieval shawm instrument was included in the Haut musical instruments which because of their high volume were more suitable for outdoor performances. The use of medieval shawm instruments remained popular even after the end of the medieval times.

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