Elizabethan Musical Instruments

Music was a vital part of entertainment in Elizabethan England. Unlike today, music was not recorded, it was all live. One had only to go to operas, street side musicians, theatre or the court where even better musicians played. The musical instruments varied from strings, to percussion, keyboard and wind.

Elizabethan Court Music

Since there were not many sources of entertainment in the Elizabethan era, music formed an integral part of it. With the advent of new and different musical instruments, music in the Elizabethan era gained even more popularity. Even as new instruments were being made, need and demand for even more instruments surfaced, especially in the Elizabethan courts as the Queen was fond of music.

elizabethan era musical instruments

The most well known of all musical instruments in Elizabethan era, was the “virginal”. It was made like a harpsichord, just rectangular in shape. The concept of group musicians or an orchestra emerged during the Elizabethan time. A few or more people would play different instruments in harmony, thereby, increasing the emotional value of music. The Elizabethan era boasts of soulful and more expressive music than earlier period in England.

Elizabethan Musical Instruments

Among strings, the lute was a common favourite. It is also an early form of the guitalr. The difference between a modern guitar and a lute was that the latter had only three strings and was more often than not used as a accompaniment for story – telling. It was a personal favourite among bards and minstrels. Cittern was a tinier version of the lute.

Elizabethan Musical Instruments

Elizabethan Stringed Instruments

Rebec and viol were two more stringed instruments. The viol was an ancestor of the violin. Viola da Gamba, a type of viol which was huge was laid on the knee and played.

Trumpets, flutes, trombones and clarions were the wind Elizabethan musical instruments. Crumhorn, Shawm, Fife and Hautboy were other Elizabethan musical instruments. The hautboy was an earlier kind of an oboe.

Keyed instruments included harpsichord, organ, spinet and virginal. Organ portative and harp consisted of some more Elizabethan musical instruments.

Since dancing was a well liked pursuit in the Elizabethan era, music was specially composed for such occasions. The main attraction at balls and parties was the dancing. The dancing in Elizabethan England was classified according to one’s social stature.

Elizabethan Musical Instruments

Commoners and people from the coutry would do the Morrison dancing, the jig, brawle, etc. And the higher strata would indulge in Pavane or galliard. The music varied from fast paced and lively, to slow and sonorous.

Elizabethan composers like William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, John Dowland, Robert Johnson, Thomas Tallis, John Farmer and Thomas immortalised Elizabethan music and were the ones to witness and perform the birth of an organised orchestra.

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