What Is Medieval Music?

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  • Written By: D. Grey
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Medieval music was written and performed during the Middle Ages, a period in European history usually considered to begin with the fall of the Roman Empire in the late 5th century. This style of music uses instruments that were available during that period of time. Medieval music often makes use of a number of unique instruments, such as the gittern, that have, for the most part, fallen out of contemporary use. Drawing inspiration from many sources, such as Greek mythology, lyrics were introduced into the music, which became a method of storytelling and honoring heroes. Additionally, medieval music was heavily tied to religious practices and institutions.

Future generations built their musical and artistic accomplishments upon the foundation of the Middle Ages. Medieval music was influenced by the historical events and beliefs of the age, such as martial conquests, religion, and societal practices. The first instruments used in medieval music are considered to be important markers of progress in music and culture, and many of them are still used in the present day, in one form or another.


The flute was one of the first musical instruments to define medieval music. The pan flute is considered to be its predecessor. Unlike a medieval flute, the pan flute has a set of wooden pipes of different lengths, making the instrument capable of producing a wide range of tones. In modern times, a standard flute is usually made of metal, but during the medieval period, wood was used almost exclusively. Many stringed instruments are of medieval origin, as during the 14th century the technology necessary to manufacture metal strings was invented. The mandore and gittern are two of the instruments that became popular in Europe, and the bowed lyre became representative of the music and culture of the early Byzantine Empire.

In the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, chivalry and heroism were praised in medieval music. Music and poetry were no longer separate arts, as lyrics became tied to instrumental music. Many lyrics were inspired by ancient Greek mythology.

During the Middle Ages, the church was one place where culture, music, and religion were brought together by medieval society. Polyphony, known in music as the technique of combining two or more separate voices, was specific to this particular age. Popular in the church, it provided the basis for much of the evolution of various musical techniques.


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