Medieval Instruments for Beginners: Discovering the Sounds of the Past

The medieval period is known for its rich musical heritage and the emergence of unique and fascinating musical instruments. Whether you have a love for history, a passion for music, or simply a curiosity about ancient sounds, exploring medieval instruments can be an exciting and rewarding experience. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the most popular medieval instruments and offer guidance for beginners who wish to delve into this enchanting world.


The hurdy-gurdy is a string instrument that produces sound through a rotating wheel that rubs against the strings, similar to a violin bow. It has a distinctive and haunting sound and is often associated with medieval European music. Learning to play the hurdy-gurdy requires mastering the wheel and keys while producing melodic tunes with the strings.

Medieval Citole – Lark in the Morning


The recorder is a woodwind instrument that was widely played during the medieval period. It is a flute-like instrument with finger holes and a mouthpiece. The recorder comes in different sizes and is known for its sweet and melodic tones. It is relatively easy to learn for beginners and can provide a great introduction to playing medieval music.


The lute is a plucked string instrument that was popular during the medieval and Renaissance eras. It has a pear-shaped body and a fretted neck, resembling a guitar. The lute produces a warm and resonant sound and was often used to accompany vocal music. Learning to play the lute involves developing fingerpicking techniques and understanding the complex notation used for lute music.


The shawm is a double-reed instrument, similar to a modern-day oboe. It has a loud and piercing sound and was commonly used for outdoor performances and processions. Playing the shawm requires mastering the technique of producing sound with the double reed and controlling the breath to create different pitches and dynamics.

Lessons Learned in Making a Medieval Vielle : 4 Steps - Instructables


The psaltery is a string instrument that consists of a flat soundboard with strings stretched across it. It is played by plucking the strings with fingers or a small stick. The psaltery produces a delicate and ethereal sound and was often used for accompanying singing or playing simple melodies. It is a relatively easy instrument to learn and can be a great starting point for beginners.

Hammered Dulcimer

The hammered dulcimer is a percussion instrument that consists of a trapezoidal-shaped box with strings stretched across it. The strings are struck with small hammers, producing a resonant and bell-like sound. The hammered dulcimer requires coordination between both hands to play melodies, chords, and arpeggios.

George Stevens Luthier - Luthiers


The harp has a long history dating back to ancient times, and it continued to be popular during the medieval period. It is a string instrument with a triangular or arched frame and strings of varying lengths. Playing the harp involves plucking the strings with the fingers to produce beautiful, heavenly tones.


The bagpipes are a wind instrument that consists of a bag, a chanter, and drones. The player blows air into the bag and squeezes it to produce a continuous sound while playing melodies on the chanter. Bagpipes have a distinct and resonant sound that is associated with traditional Celtic and medieval music.

Instruments | Musical Instruments | Wire Strung Clarsach

When exploring medieval instruments as a beginner, it is important to start with an instrument that piques your interest and matches your musical preferences. Seek out instructional materials, tutorials, and classes specific to your chosen instrument to learn proper techniques and develop your skills. Embrace the unique qualities and sounds of medieval music, and enjoy the journey of discovering the musical heritage of the past.