Bard Instruments

By Kathryn Rateliff Barr ; Updated September 15, 2017
Many noblemen employed bards to entertain and to record historical events.

The bard was a medieval craftsman who brought music to both common ale-room and court-banquet halls. The bard typically learned his trade by apprenticing to an experienced bard. The bard used his instruments to tell tales and record history. He might have written his own music or learned the music of others. He was welcome almost anywhere he went.

Harp

Most bards carried lap harps or clarsach rather than the concert harps common to modern times. According to Gildas Jaffrennou, author of “Making a Bardic Harp,” historical records indicate harp use in Mesopotamia and Egypt as far back as 3000 BC. The Bible refers to harps in many scriptures, including that the harp was the instrument David played for King Saul.

The harp was the traditional symbol of the bard. A bard traditionally was presented with a harp when he was appointed to the chief bard position, according to McGaw Hill’s “Welsh Folk Music.”

Drums

Drums were used for music and for sending messages. The bard carried a drum with him and might have been called upon to send messages over long distances using the instrument. The bard sometimes accompanied armies and was charged with playing his drum to rally troops and help with the march.

Bards who accompanied the Crusaders developed a side drum that could be worn and allowed their hands to be free for playing when marching, according to "Medieval Life and Times."

Lute

The bardic lute was typically a two-string instrument with a long neck. One string carried the melody, while the other string was the drone. The lute had a pear-shaped body with a fretted fingerboard and a crooked neck. It was one of the earliest stringed instruments and seems to have been common in many cultures.

Guitar

Guitars probably were variations on the lute. Medieval art depicts several types of guitar-looking instruments played by both European and Moorish musicians. Guitars were practical for a bard traveling from place to place.

The addition of more strings allowed more-melodic music and a shorter neck, according to Curtis Bouterse.

Flute

Flutes resembling modern wooden flutes were played by bards. Traveling minstrels also used flutes. The instrument was easy to carry, simple to make and inexpensive.

Bagpipe

The bagpipe was the instrument of the poor, according to Medieval Life and Times. Constructed of sheep or goat skin with a reed pipe, the instrument is associated with the Scots and Welsh peoples. Medieval manuscripts include references to bagpipes accompanying troops into battle.

Fiddle

Use of fiddles increased with the invention of the bow, according to Bouterse. By the 13th century, fiddles and violins had grown in popularity. References to fiddles and pictures of them appear in many Medieval manuscripts. The instruments appear to have been common at festivals and court banquets. The bard could both play and sing when using this instrument.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.