Medieval and Early Renaissance Instruments Continued

Loud instruments were played outdoors for tournaments, fanfares, and courtly processions, or played in large dance halls. The instruments below are only a small sample of the great variety of instruments used in medieval and renaissance periods.

Loud (Outdoor) Instruments

Three holed pipe.gif

Three-Holed Pipe

The three-holed pipe is a simple flute-type instrument, which has four basic positions of the fingers giving four different notes. By blowing a little harder higher notes can be produced allowing for ranges of at least one full octave and up to two octaves on larger pipes. The pipe only requires one hand to produce all the notes, leaving the other free to play something else, such as a tabor drum.



A popular Medieval and Renaissance instrument, in use from the 13th to the 17th century. The shawm has a widely conical bore and is made of wood. It has a double reed and a particularly loud, rough, nasal tone. The shawm was made in seven sizes and preceded the oboe. They were used in civil ceremonies, and in bands.


Sackbut (early trombone)

An early English brass instrument and ancestor to the trombone. The name is derived from the Middle French sacquer and bouter ("push" and "pull"). The slide allows the performer to lengthen or shorten the length of tubing in the instrument, thus allowing the harmonic series to be altered, making the instrument fully chromatic.


Crumhorn (curved horn)

A Medieval and Renaissance wind instrument related to the recorder, but with an encased double reed. Thus, the crumhorn was sounded by blowing into a mouthpiece, not by placing the lips directly on the reeds. The crumhorn is curved and shaped like the letter ''J'' with finger holes similar to those of a recorder. The sound produced by the crumhorn is much harsher than that of an oboe, resembling more closely that of the bagpipe with a buzzing, squawking sound. The crumhorn was made in a variety of sizes from treble to bass.




A family of ancient instruments still in use today that is made of a sack or bellows which holds air, several pipes, and a double-reeded, fingered pipe called a "chanter". The unfingered pipes are called drones and produce pedal tones. The bagpipe makes a constant, unbroken sound as the air stored in the sack is constantly being supplied to the pipes. The most famous bagpipes are those of Scotland and Ireland.




Nakirs are the ancestors of our modern kettle-drums (timpani) and were originally introduced into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. These drums were rope tensioned animal skins over a copper or stoneware bowl. The drums were often small enough to be worn on a belt around the waist resulting in a very portable and playable drum kit. One of the drums has a snare. Simply an extra piece of rope over the skin to produce a rattling effect.


Tabor (drum)

A small drum that has a strap by which it is suspended from the players shoulders. Usually the tabor is played consecutively with the pipe by one performer.

Click to close