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List of Medieval Stringed Instruments

Harps were common throughout medieval Europe.
hands and harp strings image by Paul Retherford from Fotolia.com

Many modern stringed instruments have their roots in the medieval period. Minstrels and troubadours of the Middle Ages had a wide variety of instruments to choose from, allowing them to pluck, pick or strike various strings in their quest for the perfect melody.


The origins of the lute can be traced to 2000 BC, says the ClassicOL website. Despite only appearing in Europe in the 14th century, it is one of the best-known stringed instruments from the medieval period. The lute shares some characteristics with the modern guitar, but the body is rounded and there are no fixed frets.


Similar in appearance to the lute, the gittern was another ancestor of the modern-day guitar. Musicians plucked the instrument with their fingers or with a pick.


The citole was another guitar-like instrument. Unlike the lute, the citole was fretted and generally featured only four or five strings.


Harps were popular across Europe in the medieval period. Depending upon the century and the region, harps had between 8 and 29 catgut or wire strings, says the Trouvere website. Each string was tuned to a specific note.


The psaltery consisted of a number of strings stretched over the top of a hollow wooden box. Musicians played the psaltery by standing it upright and plucking the strings with their fingers.


Similar in design to the psaltery, the dulcimer consisted of a number of strings stretched across a wooden sound box. However, musicians did not pluck the strings with their fingers. They placed the instrument on a flat surface and struck the strings with small wooden hammers.


The vielle was a medieval fiddle, similar in shape and sound to the modern violin. It was a hugely popular instrument during medieval times, particularly among troubadours. Medieval fiddles such as the vielle influenced the design of the viol, a stringed instrument popular in the later Renaissance period.


The rebec was a stringed instrument similar to the vielle or fiddle. It was of North African origin.

Hurdy Gurdy

The hurdy gurdy was arguably the most complex stringed instrument of the medieval period. The musician turned a crank at one end of the instrument. This made a wheel rub against the strings, causing them to vibrate. The player then altered the pitch of each string using a keyboard. A soundboard helped to amplify the resulting melodies. The hurdy gurdy was based upon an earlier, less complex instrument known as a symphony.

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