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What are the instruments used primarily in Medieval-style music and what are modern sound equivalents? Answered

When I say sound equivalents, I mean what instrument sounds most like it, not like "this instrument is closest to another because it is in the same class."

I am asking because I want to synthesize the instruments for a movie soundtrack. Also, if someone would suggest a (free?) imitative synthesis generator vst (FL Studio compatible?) plugin, I would be willing to listen!



The Harp - The harp was and instrument favored by troubadours, about 30 inches in length

The Fiddle - Fiddles were played with a bow or plucked and usually held under the chin or in the crook of the arm

The Rebec - The rebec was an instrument with a round pear-shaped body ( an early violin )

The Psaltery - The Psaltery was a cross between a harp and a guitar

The Dulcimer - The Dulcimer was played by striking the strings with hammers

The Hurdy-gurdy - the hurdy-gurdy was introduced in the 12th century - the bow was replaced by strings attached to a wheel which was cranked by a handle

The Viol - Viols were played with a bow and held on the lap or between the legs


The Flute - Musical instrumentsplayed by flute-minstrels

The Trumpet - Long instrument made of metal, often in four parts

The Pipe - The pipe is a simple instrument usually having only three melody holes

The Shawn - The shawn was a reed instrument with vent holes

Recorder - The recorder is a simple instrument with melody holes

The Bagpipe - The Bagpipe was an ancient instrument, used by the poorest people and was made using a goat or sheep skin and a reed pipe

The Crumhorn - The crumhorm (Curved Horn) was introduced in the 15th century as a double reed musical instrument

The Gemshorn - The gemshorn was made of an ox born as a flute-like musical instrument

The Lizard - An s-shaped horn


The Drum - Drums were made initially from a hollow tree trunk, clay or metal and covered by skins of water animals - also called tambours

The Cymbal - Thin round concave metal plates

The Triangle - Instrument Introduced in the 14th century

The Tambourine - Musical instrument traditionally used by a woman

Sorry you will have to sort out the sound they made yourself.

Excellent answer, you did all the work for alternatelives.

Recorders also date back to that time period, of course. As do many others depending on where you look.

Thanks everyone for the answers! This site is full of very helpful people.

I do think that I need to clarify a bit, though. the way the soundtrack I want will sound, it will not be entirely necessary to get the most accurate sound possible. I am planning on doing a genre-mix of the style above and Dubstep. so, basically Medieval-flavored Deadmau5, if you will.

As such, it is difficult to give the best answer here, with so many good responses. I think I have to give it to rickharris. good job!

Sounds interesting... post a link when you finish - i'm sure i not the only one who's curious!


7 years ago

While the first-up best answer is good, it needs clarification on some points:

1) (not mentioned) Medieval music’s sound will be strongly determined by setting -
Instruments were classified (broadly) into two categories: ‘outdoor’ (loudish) instruments, suitable for outdoors, fairs, military use, prosessions and large halls, and ‘indoor’ (quietish) instruments, for smaller halls, chambers, and small gatherings in small places generally. Bear in mind that depictions in paintings of the time sometimes mix these.
Additionally, there will be large stylistic distinctions between church music, court music, courtly dances, and the music of the working classes.
Most music would have been diatonic and modal.

2) The Harp of the time often had ‘brays’, peglike attachments at the bottom of the strings to lend a buzzing or nasal tone, much like that of the Indian tambura. With gut strings, the bray harp may have provided the baseline in indoor ensemble playing.

3) The Medieval fiddle or fiedel, fydell,etc. , despite appearances, is not merely an early violin, nor is the rebec. They belong to other, older families of bowed instruments, the viols, and the rebecs, respectively. in general, compared to modern playing, they will be more nasal (likely no soundpost, and a smaller, heavier sound box) and played with more drone technique.

4) The psaltery is not a cross between a harp and a guitar. The closest modern equivalent would be the autoharp, played without the keys, or a child’s toy psaltery - the “Melody Harp” is, in fact, exactly a psaltery.

5) Do not confuse the hammered dulcimer and the mountain dulcimer with each other - totally different instruments. There is, however, a medieval ancestor to the latter (the scheitholt), and this has changed little over time, so this sound may be authentic.

6) The hurdy-gurdy was a bit simpler then, and seems to have mostly been called either the organistrum (early) or the symphonia (later, say, 14th cent.) (i play one) - the clostest modern sound would perhaps be the Ukranian/Russian lyra. Sound is akin to a cross between a fiddle and bagpipes.

7) The larger types of viol are more a Renaissance thing, as are the lizard, or serpent and the crumhorn.

8) In place of the crumhorn, use the shawm, which sounds like a loud oboe, and was often accompanied by drums, trumpets, and bagpipes.

9) The ‘pipe’ mentioned is not as simple as it sounds. It was long, and despite the few holes, had quite a range, and was always accompanied bi a small drum (the tabor), played by the same person - the two together being known as the ‘pipe-and-tabor’. This was a medieval one-man band, hugely popular, and still well known in parts of Europe today, esp. Southern France and Spain

10) Bagpipes then were not the Great Highland Pipes. There are MANY kinds of bagpipes in use in Europe today, but i would give a listen to Northumbrian pipes, the German dudelsak, and Swedish bagpipes.

11) The triangle, i believe, was around before the 14th cent..

12) The gemshorn is far more like an okarina than like a flute.

13) Other instruments that might be found, depending on time and place, might be the hornpipe (Welsh pibgorn), the tromba marina, the nakers (small kettledrums), bones, tuned bells, natural horns, the portatitve organ and in church settings the positive organ (pipe organ).

14) Video and sound of the instruments i’ve underlined should be pretty easy to find on You-Tube.

Good luck, i hope this helps.

This sounded so much like a homework-question to me... Sorry, I couldn't better the previous answers.


Modern equivalents typically used to stand in for medieval back-ground music are the record, lute and harpsichord.

Also look into Gregorian chant - I bet you can synthesis the "ahhh" vocalisation rather well.

To get a feel for the sounds of medieval music, just search YouTube for "medieval music" and listen to a variety of the results. Keep in mind that there is a big difference between the sounds of secular and sacred music. Also, much of modern recordings are usually arranged to use what ever instruments the group has at hand and not necessarily the same ones originally intended. If you want something that sounds medieval, that doesn't matter but if you want something authentic you will need to do some research.


7 years ago

this site might help you (even though it is german), it lists many instruments which where in use in medieval ages and the renaissance with a short description.

In which part of the world? Music and instruments at that time were a lot more local; you need to specify the area and be more exact about dates if you want this to be accurate.