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Medieval Woodwind Instruments List

Types of Instruments in Medieval Age


The musical instruments that were used by the musician of the medieval period consisting of the Minstrels, Waits or Troubadours are the Medieval age instruments. Mainly three types of instruments existed during that period which was Woodwind, Percussion and the String typed.

What are Medieval Woodwind Instruments?

The family of musical instruments that needed air to perform and which are made of wood is called the woodwind instruments. Such type of instruments uses a column of air that vibrates within a pipe having tiny holes along its side to generate the vibration in accordance with the airflow through the pipe and controls the length of the sound waves which is produced by the vibrating air.

Medieval Woodwind Instruments

Many different methods were used by the woodwind family instruments to create the sound which blows across the mouthpiece with a single reed or a double reed woodwind instrument.

Despite the fact that there were many new musical instruments being developed during the Tudor period, many of the traditional medieval woodwind instruments were still played regularly. Through the combination of different instruments being played together, new music was developed and the foundations laid for the modern orchestra.

Types of Woodwind Instruments in medieval times

Some of the medieval woodwind instruments played by the Tudors are still recognizable in today’s orchestra. Though many of the woodwind instruments had very strange shapes, they have unique and pleasing sounds of themselves.

Common Woodwind Instruments

Following is the list of some of the very popular and common woodwind instruments.

The Flute:  The instrument is similar to our modern time’s flute. It was one of the earliest version of the woodwind instruments which was usually played by the flute Minstrels.


The Pipe: It was a simple wind instrument with only three holes to play to produce different sounds.

The Trumpet: It comprised of a long metallic pipe like structure in which the air is blown by the player. It was mostly used on the occasions of festivals or on some particular events which require a lot of attention.

The Flageolet: It was used as a small fipple flute. It comprised of six finger holes with its opening at one end. It produced a very soft and vivid sound and was a standalone instrument.

The Cornett: It comprised of many finger holes made in a long tube to be blown by the player. Apart from wood, it was also made up of ivory. Many variants like the tenor Cornett and bass Cornett were famous in medieval Europe.

The Recorder: It was a popular instrument of the time, again a simple instrument which is now more commonly played by children.

The Bagpipes: They were also common especially amongst the poorest in the land. They would create their bagpipes using either a sheep or a goats skin with reed pipes.

Unusual Medieval Woodwind Instruments

The more unusual wind instruments are no longer in use; though in some of them lay the foundation for musical instruments of the future.

The Shawm: It is a medieval pipe instrument made from reeds with vent holes, that offers many variations of sound on the instrument. It is basically the predecessor to the hautboy.

The Hautboy: itself was to be viewed as being the ancestor of the modern oboe as it used a reed for sound.

The Crumhorn:  It was a double reeded instrument that has a curving pipe-like structure. which was introduced during the 15th century, and took the form of a curved horn.

 The Gemshorn: It is a type of woodwind instrument which was crafted from ox bone and resembled a flute. The open end (usually the free reed )of the horn was made hollow so it allows one to blow air into it.


The Ocarina: It is an egg-shaped designed instrument which has one opening at the end and many holes over the oval part of the body. It has usually 4 to 12 finger holes which are controlled by the player as they blow air into it. It has a unique feature of producing sound through the resonance.


The English Horn: The English horn produced a sound similar to an oboe. Although it has horn in its name, it is not a horn.

The Cor Anglais: It is a type of English horn that has construction in a double reed design and which comprises of a wooden tube with a conical bore. It has a structure that bents in the middle and opens up in a large globe shaped bell at the very far end.

Cor Anglais

The Oboe: It is basically the evolvement of the Hautboy from the Shawm which later was designed to make an oboe.

The Bombard: It is mostly the variation of the shawm. It could stretch itself up to the length of 9 feet which created many difficulties for the player blowing it. The Bombard has five keys and the same number of finger holes and it was usually played as an outdoor instrument.

The Trombone: It is basically a brass instrument from the family of Trumpet. It took its inspiration from the sackbut, but with a U- shaped design and adjustable length. The basic construction consists of the pipe that ran in three alternating lengths that are forked with two U-shaped turns and a bell in its end. Varieties of sound that range from soft to solemn were produced with this instrument.

The Tuba: An early form of the trumpet. It has a conical bore but the instrument is without the bell which was present in the trumpet.

The Lizard:  It was another horn, this time shaped like an ‘S’.

 The Sackbut: It could be regarded as the predecessor of the modern trombone.


The Clarinet:  It is also a type of woodwind instrument that uses a single reed and a mouthpiece along with a straight cylindrical tube and a flared bell. It has the largest pitch range among the woodwind instruments.

The Bass Clarinet: A woodwind instrument of the clarinet family that has a single reed and a mouthpiece attached with a clarinet type ligature and a saxophone. There are two types one of which is Eb bass clarinet and the other is the C bass clarinet. The only difference between both is of the lowest notes. In the medieval period, the bass clarinets were popular instrument among the jazz bands.

Bass Clarinet

Tudor Musical Instruments Facts

Being able to play an instrument was seen as a positive social skill. King Henry himself was an accomplished musician as was his daughter Elizabeth. Music was important during this period in history, it brought people together not only in the church but also in celebration. A wind instrument definition would describe an instrument that makes a sound when air is blown through it.

Wind instruments include flutes, Reed made instruments, brass or metal instruments and organs such as those used in the churches. Each wind instrument requires the player to learn a different technique; different instruments require different fingering positions, different lip positions and a certain amount of breath control. Though the crumhorn was popular in the sixteenth century it is known to date from the fourteenth century.

The three-holed pipe could be played with only one hand which meant that the player could use his other hand to play something else, most commonly this was a tabor drum. Many of the wind instruments played during the Tudor period were introduced to England from overseas from across Europe, and from as far away as Africa and the Middle East.

Interesting Facts about the Trumpet


Unlike the trumpet in today’s orchestra, the medieval trumpet had no valves for the fingers to press to create the different notes. In fact, these were not introduced into the design until the nineteenth century. The medieval trumpet was long and straight, they made a powerful noise and were used during important occasions such as royal weddings. The trumpet was regarded as being one of the three most important instruments of the time, along with the harp and the fiddle.

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