Medieval instruments

During the Medieval ages, a vast variety of musical instruments were used for both ecclesiastical and secular music. This was a clear distinction between two types of music, the former being reserved for religious ceremonies and occasions while the latter meant for festivities.

Among the instruments used for music during medieval times were bass instruments and haut instruments. The bas instruments weren't loud and were ideally used for indoor music, specifically for chamber music. An example of such an instrument was the lute. The haut instruments, in contrast, were loud instruments such as pipes and tabor which were used for outdoor playing.

The medieval musical instruments are generally categorised into three broad types. These include the woodwind instruments, the percussion instruments and the string instruments. Nearly all the musical instruments that were used in the medieval era can be included in one of these three categories.

Percussion Instruments

Tabour Drum Medieval Percussion Instruments

Medieval percussion and idiophone instruments were probably the first medieval instruments to be widely played by medieval muscians. Medieval percussion instruments made sounds through vibration. Read more about the Percussion Instruments >>

String Instruments

Medieval stringed instruments Hurdy-Gurdy

Medieval Sting instruments were very popular with medieval musicians such as Troubadours, the Harp, Harpsichord and Psaltery are examples of the type of medieval string instruments medieval musicians liked to play. Read more about the String Instruments >>

Woodwind Instruments

Medieval Bone Flute

Medieval Woodwind instruments became popular during medieval times due to the deep sounds that they could create, there were various woodwind instruments to choose from for medieval musicians. Read more about the Woodwind Instruments >>


Medieval instruments were played by medieval musicians such as

  1. Minstrels
  2. Troubadours
  3. Trouveres
  4. Jongleurs
  5. Waits
  6. Minstrels

Troubadours and waits would play their medieval instruments to nobles and kings in castles, towns, and villages and on special and important occasions.


Minstrels and Troubadours Berlin

Medieval musicians were usually skilled at playing several medieval instruments or specialised in one or two, certainly, there was a vast choice of musical instruments available to them, especially in the high and late medieval period.

Medieval instruments were divided into three categories

  1. Percussion instruments
  2. String instruments
  3. Wind instruments
Medieval Instruments

Medieval Instruments

Percussion instruments (1)

In medieval times there was a lot of variety in the type of percussion instruments that were available to medieval musicians such as bells, cymbals, drums, and triangles for example.

Percussion instruments in medieval times were usually made of wood with some sort of animal skin tightly stretched over a hollow item of wood for example.

Medieval Kettle Drums

Medieval Kettle Drums

Medieval percussion instruments were very similar to the percussion instruments that we have today and different sounds could be heard by striking percussion instruments softly or hard using the hand, sticks, or other things to strike them.

The best sounds from medieval percussion instruments could be heard when beating or bashing the percussion instrument. The most popular percussion instrument in the middle ages and throughout time has to be the drum.

medieval-percussion drum mridangam

Medieval Percussion Drum Mridangam

Drums were made by hollowing out wood to make a shell or using clay pots, a membrane a leather skin would be tightly stretched and then fastened at both sides, the leather needed to be tightened and this was done by warming it to make it more flexible before being tightened.

Rope-tensioned drums were later introduced as medieval instruments advanced and this helped reduce these problems.

Other medieval percussion instruments included objects that could be struck to make a sound when they vibrated. Bells, Cymbals, and wood blocks fitted this category as it is the object that vibrates to make the sound.

String instruments (2)

Medieval string instruments enabled medieval musicians to play a wide variety of sounds, the strings of these instruments would be Bowed, plucked, or struck usually using the fingers or some other tool similar to a modern plectrum.



There was a wide choice of string instruments available such as the Lute and Harp which were both very popular in medieval times, the Psaltery, Fiddle, and the Viol were also commonly used string instruments used by medieval musicians.

A medieval Lute

Medieval Lute Craftsmen

Woodwind instruments (3)

Medieval woodwind instruments were usually made from wood and required medieval musicians to blow air into the instrument,  the force of the air vibrating within the woodwind instruments such as the pipe would be controlled to create different sound waves by placing one’s fingers in different positions on the holes that were created in the medieval instrument such as pipe instruments.

pied piper medieval myths legends

There was a huge variety of medieval woodwind instruments that were used to entertain medieval people during these times, there were some very intricate and unusual medieval woodwind instruments around that were played by musicians such as minstrels, troubadours, and waits.  Examples of early medieval woodwind instruments would be the pipe, recorder, flute, bagpipe, lizard, and horn.

Medieval Bone Flute


Medieval instruments *Bas and Haut

Medieval instruments were also broken down into two main categories called Bas and Haut, Bas medieval instruments created music was very soft at a low level, gentle on the ear of medieval people, these were low sounds that related to the volume of the sound not the actual pitch of the sound.

Types of medieval instruments in this group were mainly string instruments that used bowstrings, instruments like the Rebec or Vielle. The Lute was a popular stringed instrument during these times, recorders also fitted into this category.

Haut instruments referred to the medieval instruments that made a loud sound but again not pitch but volume, these medieval instruments were used by medieval musicians in situations where they would be outdoors and a louder sound was needed.  Typical medieval instruments in this group were the Pipe, Sackbut, and Tabor.

Other Medieval Musical Instruments

The Hurdy Gurdy was an unusual stringed instrument that looked similar to a guitar that first appeared in the 12th Century, the Pipe Organ was used in medieval churches and the Organistrum was another Medieval Musical instrument that looked similar to a guitar, there were many different types of unusual medieval instrument being designed right across the medieval world, so many in fact that it would be very difficult to list them all.