Percussion Instruments

Percussion instruments refer to another family of instruments in which are included many medieval musical instruments. Percussion instruments were typically played so that the player would beat such instruments with a stick, hand or in some other way.

Typically, such instruments were made from wood and the part which was struck was a hollow piece of skin stretched along the length of the wood. Examples of medieval percussion instruments include the tabor, tambourine, triangle, cymbals, drums, timbrels and bells.


As the name suggest, this was a triangle-shaped percussion instrument with the triangular shape open at one end. Triangle was usually made of steel and to produce sound from the instrument, the triangle was struck with a steel rod. The three sides of the triangle each produced a different sound when struck with a rod, so a player generally struck them in quick succession to produce a unique rhythm. The sound produced by this kind of instrument is very clear but it has little variation given its design and playing mechanism. According to historical sources, triangle was introduced in medieval Europe sometime in the 14th century and was usually used in church services.

Timbrel or Tambourine

Timbrel was a unique musical instrument that predates the medieval era and was probably used as far back as ancient Egypt. It became very popular during the medieval times. It came to be used in different parts of Europe during the era of the Crusades and was adopted with the altered name of “tambourine”. The medieval design of the instrument comprised of a shallow drum with a single skin stretched in a circular circumference and with rings studded all around the edges. The instrument was typically played by the women. The rings and bells that are attached at the circumference of the tambourine make the actual sound of music when struck with hand at the skin of the drum.


Drums were a popular musical instrument in medieval Europe and they existed in many different varieties. Two notable varieties of drums, for instance, were the bass drum and the snare drum. The rudimentary design of medieval-era drums was that two pieces of skin or vellum heads were usually stretched at the two ends of a cylindrical body and then beaten with a stick. Alternately, a drum was also constructed by stretching a single piece of skin in front of a hemisphere made of metal. Drums were popularly used during battles and in warfare as a method of encouraging the soldiers and in order to draw the attention of an army to an important announcement. Earliest available historical record of the use of drums in medieval Europe dates back to the 14th century.


Cymbals were a popular instrument which had been in use in ancient Egypt and Israel. During medieval ages, cymbals became popular in East Asia and from there, travelled to medieval Europe in the 13th century. The European name of the instrument is derived from the Latin word “cymbalum” which means a small bowl. This is on account of the shape of a typical medieval cymbal which looked like a circular and flat plate and a domed head serving as a handle on its back. Typically, cymbals were always used in pair and to play them, the player would strike them together. The outcome was a vivid, metallic vibrating sound which was usually used to accompany other musical instruments. Cymbals were rarely used on their own.