Glossary of Renaissance Instruments © by Phil Neuman [Scroll down to find glossaries of Ancient Greek and Egyptian Instruments.]

Phil Neuman is a builder of early double reed instruments and performs on a variety of winds and strings. He is the co-director of Ensemble De Organographia and The Oregon Renaissance Band.
The eight cds recorded by these groups, including “Now make we joye: Renaissance Christmas Music” and “Carnevale: Festive Italian Music of the 16th Century,” can be found on the Performers page. They can be purchased online at

Pitch designation:
CC: 16 foot C, five ledger lines and a space below the bass clef.
C : 8 foot C, two ledger lines below the bass clef.
c : 4 foot C, second space from the bottom of the bass clef.
c ‘ : 2 foot C, middle C.
c ” : 1 foot C, second space from the top of the treble clef.
c ”’ : Six inch (. 5 foot) C, two ledger lines above the treble clef.

Alphorn: Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 depicts and describes a long straight wooden trumpet (“Hölzern Trommet”) about six feet in length, apparently made from birchbark, with a separate mouthpiece. This type of construction, using wound bark to form the bore, survives in the traditional Norwegian lur.  It is also possible that some were made in halves from wood then wound with bark. About it he says: “Also, one comes upon rather long trumpets made from bast.  Often in our cities we see shepherds from the Voigtland and Switzerland earning their meals by performing on these long instruments.”

Anvil: (enclume, incudine, Amboss) The anvil, used as a percussion instrument. It was cited by Virdung in Musica getutscht in 1511 and illustrated by Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, in 1619. Praetorius also shows four striking tools of different shapes and sizes.

Bandora: (pandora, Bandur) A bass member of the cittern family invented in London around 1561 by John Rose. The body had a scalloped outline, central rose, and flat back like the orpharion. It was plucked with the fingers in the manner of the lute. It was included in the standardized English consort along with treble viol or violin, flute or recorder, lute, cittern, and bass viol. It commonly had twelve wire strings arranged in six courses tuned a, e, c, G, D, C. Seven course instruments were also built; according to Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, these were tuned either a, e, c, G, D, C, GG or d ‘, a, f, c, G, D, C. Like other members of the cittern family, it was fitted with fixed brass frets.

Bassanello: An open double reed instrument with a narrow conical bore and no bell flare. The bassanelli are similar to the larger shawms in range and fingering but softer in sound. The outside turning is rather elaborate and all sizes had one key for the little finger of the lower hand. They are described by Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619: “Bassanelli derive their name from the master who created them, Johann Bassano, an illustrious Venitian musician and composer. The bore of bassanelli is straight and opens at the bottom; and these instruments only have one key. They are blown by direct contact with the reeds, exactly as are curtals, pommers, and bassets, and are nearly the same as these instruments in timbre, but much softer. The cant, which is the littlest of the bassanelli, is notably excellent to hear on the tenor part in ensembles in which all types and sets of instruments are used, for its tuning is rather accurate, and is similar to flutes in the execution of a tenor part. With good reeds, bassanelli can be made to play rather high. Like shawms, they have seven fingerholes, with a key on the lowest. In the rear, however, there is no hole to be found. They are pitched a fourth lower than chamber pitch, for their lowest size is the bass in F, but in chamber pitch this is understood as the 8 foot C.”

No period bassanelli are known to exist. The earliest mention of them is in a Graz instrument inventory of purchases between 1577 and 1590 where four sizes are listed: Cant, Alt, Tenor, and Bass. Praetorius gives only three sizes: Cant (d – g ‘), Tenor Alt (G – c ‘), and Bass (C – e or f). All of these are large, low-pitched instruments: the body of the bass is about six feet long, and on all the sizes the reed is mounted on a curtal-like, curved bocal.  A section of a museum flute was misidentified briefly in the mid-twentieth century as a bassanello.  Several modern authors have described the bore as cylindrical, although a comparison of pitch to bore length (not to mention the extended high register and lack of thumbhole) clearly shows the bore to be conical.

Bassett Nicolo: A windcapped double reed instrument (depicted by Praetorius along with a set of crumhorns) that is straight, has a flared bell, and lower extension keys. Although some modern authors have identified this instrument as having a conical bore, its relatively short length and low range (AA – d) prove that the bore had to be cylindrical.

Carnival Whistle: The sixteenth century forerunner of the ocarina. This is a wooden vessel flute with seven or eight fingerholes depicted in an early sixteenth century intarsia panel in the study of Isabella d’Este at the ducal palace in Mantua.  It is an end-blown duct flute and appears to be about six inches in length in the representation.  No carnival whistles from the period are known to exist.

Chitarrino: A small four course guitar pitched a third or fourth higher than the ordinary guitar. The fingerboard is equipped with tied-on gut string frets. The central soundhole is covered by a parchment or carved wood rosette.

Chitarrone: See Lute.

Cittern: (cittharn, cister, cithara) A family of wire-strung flat-backed plucked instruments. The body of the small four-course cittern is quite shallow and it is played with a quill or with the fingers. The neck is longer than that of the common lute and is fitted with fixed brass frets. The eight or nine strings were arranged in four courses, tuned either e ‘, d ‘, g, b (Italian), or e ‘, d ‘, g, a (French). The nine-string cittern had a triple course for g, one of which was tuned to g ‘. The five course cittern was tuned either e ‘, d ‘, g, b, d or a, g, c, e, F. The six course cittern was tuned either e ‘, d ‘, g, b, d, G or e ‘, d ‘, g, b, c ‘, a or e ‘, d ‘, g, d, G, b. Other members of the cittern family include the orpharion, bandora, penorcon, stump, and ceterone.  Antony Holborne published a book of cittern solos and ensemble pieces for cittern with other instruments entitled “The Cittharn Schoole” in 1597.  Cittern music is notated in tablature, similar to that of the lute.

Clavicytherium: (clavecin vertical, cembalo verticale, Klavizytherium) The clavicytherium is an upright harpsichord, a specimen of which (housed in the Royal College of Music in London) is the earliest extant string keyboard instrument, built c. 1480. The name is first mentioned by Sebastian Virdung in his Musica getutscht, 1511. Praetorius shows one on plate 15 of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 that is about four and a half feet in height, with a four octave keyboard, assuming that the lowest nine keys constitute a short octave. Praetorius writes, “It makes a sound nearly the same as that of citterns and harps.”

Colascione: A small-bodied long-necked lute inspired by eastern models. It normally had either two or three strings tuned in fourths, although some had up to six strings. They were made of either metal or gut. It was first used in Italy and to some degree resembled the modern Turkish saz.  European design elements included a lute-like bridge and tuning pegs set crossways. Mersenne (1635) writes that the belly was sometimes made in two parts, half wood and half parchment. In the baroque period its use spread throughout Germany and France.

Cornamuse: (Corna Muse)  In essence, the cornamuse is a straight crumhorn.  Like the crumhorn, the double reed was covered by a windcap and the bore was cylindrical. The bell was covered and a series of small holes near the bottom provided the main air escape.  No known period example survives, and although Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 intended to depict a family of cornamusen, for some reason that particular woodcut was not included in the published version of the book.  Our best clue as to their outward appearance comes from a passage in Praetorius’s chapter on the schryari: “They… are almost the same as the cornamuse in length and shape.” Fortunately, the schryari are depicted. Praetorius’s cornamuse ranges are: Cant (b flat – c ”), Alt (d – e ‘), Tenor (c – d ‘ or Bb – c ‘), and Bass (F – g). Praetorius adds: “In sound they are rather similar to crumhorns, but softer, lovelier and very quiet…They have no keys at all, and play at chorus pitch, i.e., a step lower than true chamber pitch.”

Cornett: (cornetto, cornet á bouquin, corneta, Zink)  A family of lip-activated conical woodwinds with a cup or funnel-shaped mouthpiece. Three types existed: the curved cornett made in two leather-covered lengthwise halves glued together, the lathe-turned straight cornett (cornetto diritto) with a detachable mouthpiece, and the mute cornett, also lathe-turned with an integral mouthpiece.  Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 gives the ranges for three sizes (extreme lower and higher register limits are given in [ ]): Klein Zinck (e ‘ – e ”’), Zinck ([g] a – a ” [g ”’]), and Cornon (c – d ”)  Examples of extended range tenors or “bass cornets” exist in some museum collections.  The serpent, although somewhat different in design, functioned as the bass member to the cornett family beginning in the 1590s.

Crumhorn: (storto, Krummhorn) A renaissance double reed instrument with a single cylindrical bore, shaped somewhat like the letter j. The reed is enclosed in an airtight chamber commonly called a windcap. Most of the 30+ extant specimens were bored and lathe-turned straight, then bent in a jig.  The curved part normally begins at or below the lowest fingerhole.  Two others have separate, carved bell sections.  Five sizes were made; according to Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, these were: Exilent or Klein Cant (c ‘ – d ”), Cant (g – a ‘), Tenor Alt (c – d ‘), Bass (C, D, or E, F – g), and Gross Bass (BBb – c). Praetorius’s bass was provided with two keys for the little finger of the lower hand: one for F and one that could produce either E, D, or C, depending on how several sliding stops for two lower tuning holes were preset. The tone is reedy and penetrating, but not particularly loud. None of the extant specimens are fitted with upward extension keys.

Curtal: (basson, bajon, Dolcian, Fagott)  A double reed instrument with two connected parallel conical bores invented in the first half of the 16th century.  The curtal was either bored on a lathe out of a single piece of wood or made in lengthwise halves like a cornett. The reed is mounted onto a curved conical brass crook or bocal.  Although the curtal is the forerunner of the bassoon, it continued in use long after the latter instrument’s invention.  The second or ‘up’ bore extends the range a perfect fourth below the nominal scale, so that the lowest note (for example) of the F Bass is C. According to Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, there were four common sizes: Discant or Exilent (a – d ” or g – c ”), Alt (d – g ‘[?]), Tenor (G – g ‘), Bass or Chorist-Fagott (C – g ‘), and Quart Bass (GG – a).  A Quint Bass (FF – g) is listed but not pictured, and no extant examples have been found.  Praetorius also mentioned that a musician named Hanss Schreiber is in the process of constructing a large Fagotcontra pitched an octave below the bass.  An instrument fitting that description is housed in the Städtische Kunstsammlungen in Augsberg, Germany. The bells of some curtals were covered and perforated with small holes.

Dolzflöte: A transverse recorder described by Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. It closely matches the ordinary transverse flute in appearance, although there is a window for the fipple on the back of the headjoint.  It is on the opposite side from the blowhole, which is placed where the embouchure hole is found on the transverse flute. Praetorius wrote that the dolzflöte has eight fingerholes, but only six are shown in the representation on plate IX. If it really had six, the range may have been the same as the tenor alt flute, d ‘ – d ”’.  A smaller dolzflöte is shown to the left, although it appears as though the fingerholes were inadvertently omitted.

Douçaine: (dolzaina, dulcayna, dulceuse, dulcina)  A medieval and renaissance double reed instrument with a single cylindrical bore.  It is mentioned in literature as early as the 13th century, and is described in minor detail by Johannes Tinctoris in “De Inventione et Usu Musicae,” 1487.  The instrument discovered aboard Henry VIII’s warship The Mary Rose, which has been identified as a douçaine or dulceuse, is a bass instrument (range: D[?] – a), with two lower extension keys covered by two fontanelles.  There is a hole for the little finger of the upper hand, which adds another diatonic step to the fundamental register. The pitch of the lowest note is somewhat in question because the end of the bell of the original is broken off. The instrument outwardly resembles an alto shawm; in fact, period iconographical representations of douçaines are understandably confused with shawms. Windcapped douçaines also existed; a painting by Nicolo Pisano c. 1400 appears to depict such an instrument, and Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, depicts a woodwind labeled Bassett: Nicolo along with a set of crumhorns that is straight, has a flared bell, and lower extension keys. Although some modern authors have identified this instrument as having a conical bore, its length and low range (AA – d) prove that the bore had to be cylindrical.  A different, conical bore basset, an open reed tenor pommer with an extension down to G, is depicted with the shawms.

Flageolet: A family of recorder-like instruments used in France during the late Renaissance and later.  The term flageolet was used for the recorder since the 13th century, but in the early 1580s Le Sieur de Juvigny designed a duct flute with four front fingerholes and two rear thumbholes which has been called flageolet or “French flageolet” ever since. This fingering system makes it possible to create shorter, higher-pitched instruments than is practical with recorder fingering. The smallest of these, which is also the one pictured, was only three or four inches in length; its range was two octaves from c ”’ – c ””’, notated two octaves lower.  The family of flageolets is built at two-foot pitch. Marin Mersenne in Harmonie universelle, 1635 illustrates and describes the flageolet: “It must noticed that the tessitura of the flageolets does not follow that of stringed instruments or organ pipes, as I will show later, for it is sufficient to explain here its range and notation, which Le Vacher, who is the best flageolet maker we have, writes in this manner….one can perform twenty-eight semitones right away on the flageolet for playing all sorts of chromatic pieces, and if some men are found who are somehow able to stop the fingerholes for the enharmonic diesis, they would have the ability to play in that genre on this instrument. But after one knows how to produce all the pitches, it is then necessary to become familiar with the tempo and meter, so as to perform all types of passages and diminutions, and to make use of all the niceties and graces of which the flageolet is capable. This cannot be accomplished without a quickness of the fingers, which should be able to cover and uncover six or eight times the same holes in the time of one beat to imitate the diminutions of the voice, lutes, and other instruments.” The outward turning Mersenne’s flageolet follows the contour of a typical one-piece recorder of the time.  Mersenne printed a vaudeville for four flageolets by Henry Le Jeune; the treble and alto parts can be played the smallest size, the alto and tenor can played on a flageolet a fourth or fifth lower (the pitch of a sopranino recorder), the tenor can also be played on an instrument pitched an octave lower (the pitch of a soprano recorder), and the bass on a flageolet the pitch of an alto recorder.  French flageolets with this fingering system were made through the 18th and 19th centuries.

Geigenwerk: (violin-clavier) A bowed keyboard instrument created by Hans Hayden in the 1570s. The perfected version, c. 1600, had five or six rosined parchment-covered metal wheels that “bowed” the strings from underneath in a manner similar to the hurdy-gurdy. The keys brought the brass and steel strings in contact with the wheels, which were operated by a treadle. Increased key pressure made the notes louder by pressing the strings more firmly against the wheel. Michael Praetorius saw one of Hayden’s instruments after 1604 and described it in great detail in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, where he wrote: “A single person is able to perform on it what otherwise would take five or six violins. This instrument was first devised and built by a burger of Nuremburg, namely Hans Hayden. The idea for it might have arisen from the design of the common hurdy-gurdy, the strings of which are sounded by contact with a wheel. Some writers, such as (Vincenzo) Galilei, believe that violin-claviers such as this have been built before the present time. Whether or not this is true, my opinion about it is that even if like instruments had existed before, they could not have been as superb as this one, which the aforementioned Hans Hayden has truly succeeded in making work.” A Spanish builder, Raimundo Truchador, built a four-wheeled version with 45 gut strings in 1625 which is now part of the collection at the Brussells Conservatoire Museum. On this instrument the wheels are turned by means of a crank at the end opposite the player.

Harp: (harpe, arpa, Harfe) A triangular plucked stringed instrument where the strings run between a resonating body and a neck, which is supported by a pillar. The harp did not descend from the Greek lyre or kithara, as is often stated. Praetorius, writing in 1619, describes three types. The diatonic single harp (F – c ” or a ”) has no chromatic tones. The double harp (C – c ”’), which has all the chromatic tones, has two almost parallel sets of strings running on either side of a central soundboard. On the left side are the chromatic strings from C to g# ‘, and on the right are the chromatic strings from g# – c ”’). The strings ranging from g# to g# ‘ are doubled on either side. The strings for the ‘accidentals’ lie a little closer to the soundboard on both sides, but they run onto the bridge evenly. The double harp shown is about five feet in height. The Irish harp has 43 brass strings, a wide triangular resonator, and a semi-chromatic tuning in the following order starting from the string furthest from the player: C, D, E, F, G, A, B flat, c, d, e, f, g, a, b flat, b, c# ‘, d# ‘, c ‘, d ‘, e ‘, f ‘, f# ‘, g ‘, g# ‘, a ‘, b flat ‘, c ”, d ”, e ”, f ”, g ”, f# ”, d# ”, c# ”, b ‘, g# ”, a ”, b flat ”, b ”, c ”’, c# ”’, d ”’, e”’. It is about four and a half feet in height.

Harpsichord: (clavecin, cembalo, clavicembalo, Kielflügel) A stringed keyboard instrument similar to the virginal and spinet built in the form of a drawn-out wing. It was mentioned as early as 1404 (clavicymbolum) by Eberhart Cersne in a list of common instruments of the time. The earliest scale drawing is found in a treatise c. 1440 by Henri Arnaut de Zwolle. The oldest extant harpsichord is in the Victoria and Albert Museum; it was made in 1521 by Jerome of Pesaro and has two sets of strings.

Harpsichord strings are sounded by quill plectra mounted in jacks, those being flat wooden pieces that stand on the far end of each key. When a key is depressed the jack travels upward through a slot to force the plectrum to pluck the string. A pivoted tongue in the jack allows it to fall back to its resting place without restriking the string.

Hurdy-gurdy: See vièle à roue.

Kettledrums: Large kettledrums developed from naguarres ( nacaires, nakers, etc. from the Arabic naqqära) introduced to Europe in 1249 according to Jean de Joinville. Nakers were small paired kettledrums with shells made from wood, ceramic, or metal. Large kettledrums were introduced to the whole of Europe by way of Hungary in the 15th century. Sebastian Virdung in his Musica getutscht, 1511, wrote that the new kettledrums with copper shells were called tympana. Leonardo da Vinci left a design for an automatic kettledrum in one of his notebooks. A pair, unequal in diameter, is shown on plate 23 of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. In this illustration the shells are more rounded than their modern counterparts being slightly wider halfway down the side than at the top. The head of smaller of the two is about 18″ wide; the larger about 21″. The depth of the shell is approximately the same as the width of the head. Two wooden beaters about 17″ in length fitted with wrist straps are shown. The business end of the beater is disc-shaped; the edge of the disc is used to strike the drum head. Each head is mounted on a hoop tightened by six tuning screws, which are turned by a separate, handheld key. During the 16th century kettledrums were used mainly by musicians of the courts and the military. Praetorius calls them Heerpaucken or “army drums”.

Keyed Fiddle: (Schlüsselfiedel) A vielle-like instrument with mechanical keying device (similar to that of the vièle à roue) mounted on the fingerboard. A four-string instrument of this type is depicted by Praetorius on plate XXII of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. It differs from the contemporary hurdy-gurdy in that it is bowed with a conventional bow rather than a rosined wheel. This is essentially the same instrument as the Swedish nyckelharpa which has survived to the present time. The body is slightly waisted and the pegs are mounted into the rear of a flat pegdisc. There are two piriform soundholes, and the bridge seems to be nearly flat, which allowed all the strings to be bowed at once. Praetorius mentions that “it is unnecessary to write anything” about it.

Kortholt: (Kort Instrument, Kurzpfeife) A windcapped sordun (see Sordun below.) Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, depicts only one size, an F bass (BB flat – b flat). The extra minor third of tessitura above the highest note of the F bass sordun (which is g) is achieved not by overblowing, but by means of two upward extension keys.

Lira da braccio: (Greek and Italian: “lyra of the arm”) A descendant of the medieval vielle/viola that was developed in the late 15th century with a slightly incurving waist, C holes, and flat pegdisc. Later versions had f holes and frets. It had five strings over the fingerboard and two offboard strings. The onboard string tuning described by Giovanni Lanfranco in 1533 was e ”, a ‘, d, g ‘ , g, with the offboard strings d ‘, d . It was also mentioned by Ercole Bottrigari, Vincenzo Galilei, and Vasari. Praetorius was the last to describe it, and mentioned that it was capable of playing three part pieces; his depiction has a more modern viola shaped body. A larger lirone da braccio was also made.

Lute: (testudo, chelys, liuto, Laute) The short-necked, rounded-body, plucked string instrument evolved from the Arabic ‘ud. In the 15th century five strings, often in doubled courses, were common as was the addition of tied-on gut frets. The common relative tuning was g ‘, d ‘, a, f, c; the exact pitch was dependent on the diameter of the strings and the string length. Six courses were common in the sixteenth century; these were tuned g ‘, d ‘, a, f, c, G. Toward the end of the century a seventh course was added, tuned to F or D. The rounded back was made of a number of thin strips or ribs of wood, the most common being maple, yew, and cherry; ivory, whalebone, ebony and other materials were also used. The pegbox is angled back about 90 degrees from the plane of the neck. Lute music is notated in tablature where pitches are indicated by a letter or number corresponding to a given fret. These are placed on the various spaces of the staff which correspond to specific string courses. Rhythm is indicated by various note stems placed above the staff.

Archlutes such as the theorbo and chitarrone, with a second pegbox to accommodate a set of off-board strings, were common by the late 16th century: The theorbo, according to G. B. Doni, was invented around 1575 by Antonio Naldi. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 gives two tunings – Roman [Chitarrone] (on-board: g, d, a, f, c, G, off-board: F, E, D, C, BB, AA, GG, FF) and Paduan (on-board: g, d, a, f, c, G, F, E, off-board: D, C, BB, AA, GG, FF, EE, DD) Note that the top two strings/courses are tuned an octave lower than those of the common lute. There were other variations in tuning beside those given here.

Mandürchen: (pandurina, Mandur, Mandurinchen) A small four-stringed lute tuned d ”, g ‘, d ‘, g. The entire instrument is about sixteen inches in length; the bowl-shaped back is built from a number of thin strips of wood. The frets and strings are made of gut and it is fitted with a lute-like fixed bridge on the belly. There is a central rose, perhaps made of parchment. About the pandurina Praetorius writes in 1619: “Some pandurinas have five string courses in pairs and can be conveniently transported inside a coat. In France these instruments are reported to be quite common, and some musicians are accomplished on them to the degree that they may perform courantes, voltas, and other similar French dances and songs, as well as passamezzi, fugues, and fantasias, using a feather quill like on the cittern, or otherwise just using a single finger and playing quickly, smoothly and cleanly, as if three or four fingers were used. There are some musicians who do employ two or more fingers, however, according to their technique.”

Orpharion: (Orpheoreon) A member of the cittern family probably invented by John Rose. The body had a scalloped outline, central rose, and flat back like the bandora, though somewhat smaller. It was plucked with the fingers in the manner of the lute and, like other members of the cittern family, it was fitted with fixed brass frets. It was considered a substitute for the lute and shared its tuning. It commonly had twelve wire strings arranged in six courses tuned g ‘, d ‘, a, e, c, G. An eight course orpharion was also built; according to Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, it was tuned a ‘, e ‘, b, g, d, A, G, D. The penorcon, bandora, and opharion are pictured together on plate 17 of Syntagma Musicum, although it appears that the identifying numbers are switched on the orpharion and penorcon. One extant specimen survives, built by John Rose, dated 1580.

Penorcon: A bass member of the cittern family with a scalloped outline, central rose, and flat back like the bandora, though slightly shorter. It was plucked with the fingers in the manner of the lute and, like other members of the cittern family, it had wire strings and was fitted with fixed brass frets. It is mentioned only by Praetorius, who gave the tuning for a nine course penorcon as d ‘, a, e, c, G, D, C, AA, GG. The penorcon, bandora, and orpharion are pictured together on plate 17 of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, although it appears that the identifying numbers are switched on the orpharion and penorcon.

Quinterna: (quintern, chiterna) A small guitar described and illustrated by Praetorius (1619). It had gut strings, central rose, and a flat back. The body was about two inches deep, had a sickle-form pegbox, and normally had four courses of strings tuned either d ‘, a, f, c or g ‘, d’, b flat, f. Praetorius’s illustration on plate 16 of Syntagma Musicum shows a quinterna with eleven strings arranged in six courses. He adds that “in Italy the Ziarlatini and Salt’inbanco (who are similar to our comedians and jesters) strum on these; they use them in singing villanelle and other foolish vagabond songs. However, the quinterna can be employed by good singers for the accompaniment of pleasant and lovely songs.”

Rackett: A double reed instrument with nine vertical cylindrical bores that interconnect to form one long continuous air passage. One bore is drilled through the center of the body with eight others in a circle nearer to the outside, all parallel to each other. A connection is made by carving a connecting channel or trough from the end of one bore to the next, then stopping it up with a plug of wood or some other material leaving enough room for an air passage between the plug and the bottom of the channel. Eight connections like this are made, alternately at the top and bottom, in order to make an instrument with a sounding length nine times longer than its body. The cylindrical bore adds to this deepening effect, which behaves as a stopped pipe. Thin endcaps are fitted into each end of the body to cover up the connecting plugs.

The reed, which protrudes from a pirouette, is taken in the mouth. The pirouette is not used as an embouchure stop as in some shawms, but is made hollow to form a resonating cavity around the lower part of the reed. This type of pirouette brings out the higher portions of the harmonic series which in turn reinforce the fundamental. Slots are cut in the pirouette walls to facilitate this effect. The reed is mounted onto a straight brass staple which also holds a spool-shaped receiver on which the pirouette rests. This staple is mounted in a socket created for it in the top of the central bore of the rackett body. Not all renaissance racketts had pirouettes, however, as can be seen from the illustration of the cervelat in Marin Mersenne’s Harmonie universelle, 1635.

Only three period examples survive, all made from ivory around 1600: two formerly in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (see photo at and one in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum in Leipzig. The Leipzig and one of the Vienna racketts were built for left-handed playing which required the bores to be connected in the opposite direction from those meant for right-hand playing. (To accommodate both playing techniques on single bore woodwinds they either doubled the hole for the little finger of the lower hand on each side or used a butterfly key.)

In normal playing only the fundamental register is used, although the instrument can be induced to overblow a twelfth as Michael Praetorius describes in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. This same source also describes and illustrates five sizes: Cant (G – d’), Tenor Alt (C – g), Bass (FF – c), Gross Bass (DD – A), and a lower Gross Bass (CC – G) which Praetorius himself designed. The body of this largest rackett is only about a foot long.

Contrary to a popular misconception, racketts are not loud instruments, although one could safely describe their timbre as penetrating. Praetorius writes: “In sound racketts are rather soft, almost as if one were blowing through a comb.” The harmonic recipe includes all the overtones but favors the odd numbered ones; surprisingly, the 13th partial tends to be the loudest on most notes, surpassing in strength by far the fundamental. Another misconception is that the fingerholes are drilled in a random fashion which is said to make the fingering difficult. To the contrary, the nine-bore design allows the fingering pattern to function like that of most woodwinds, albeit with a lower extension and other minor differences.

The word rackett is derived from an Old High German word roccho meaning distaff. The term passed into Italian (rocco) and from it the diminutive term rocchetta, meaning spool, was derived. A certain type of renaissance era rocket or firework was called rakete, apparently because of its resemblance to a spool. The shape of the instrument is similar to early representations of both spools and firework devices. It may have been created originally as a carnival instrument with this resemblance in mind, in the same spirit that tartolds (a set of which also survive in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) were made to appear as dragons. An inventory from the court in Stuttgart of 1589 lists “Zuendfleschen, so Rageten” (tinder flasks or rockets) along with other carnival instruments. Mersenne’s term for the rackett, cervelat, is from the Italian cervellato, a short sausage of wide diameter. Like rackett, the term cervelat is descriptive of the instrument’s size and shape.

The renaissance rackett is often confused with its later descendant, the baroque rackett or Wurstfagott (sausage bassoon.) This is a bassoon made in rackett form with ten interconnected cylindrical bores of graduated size which combine to form a pseudo-conical bore. In this case the reed is mounted on a coiled brass bocal fitted into the top of one of the bores on the outside edge and a bell protrudes upward from the central bore. The fingering and timbre are similar to the baroque bassoon.

Rebec: Bowed stringed instrument evolved from the Arabic rabab with somewhat pear-shaped body and rounded back. Rebecs usually had three strings but period iconography occasionally shows up to five. The body, neck and pegholder are carved from a single piece of hardwood, while the top is made separately from spruce or some other softwood. Normally the neck is without frets. Martin Agricola depicts and describes them, first in 1528, then again in 1545 where he adds, “Now everyone wants to play them.” He gives the string tunings for three sizes: soprano: a ‘, d ‘, g; tenor: d ‘, g, c; bass: g, c, F. Michael Praetorius in 1619 shows a rebec-shaped pochette. In later sixteenth century England the term rebec was also used for violin.

Recorder: (fistula, flauto, Blockflõte) The vertical duct flute with eight fingerholes. The recorder is not the forerunner of the transverse flute as is sometimes stated. The bore of the renaissance recorder tapers slightly toward the foot, but ends in a short expanding section below the lowest fingerhole. On the smaller sizes the hole for the little finger of the lower hand was doubled on either side to accommodate either the right or left hand in the lower position. The unused hole was stopped with wax. The larger sizes were fitted with a butterfly key for the same reason. There was no tuning joint; the smaller sizes were built in one piece and the larger sizes were designed with a separate foot joint with a key usually covered with a perforated wooden barrel or fontanelle. By the end of the 16th century seven sizes existed; according to Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, these were: Exilent [sopranino] (g ” – f ””), Discant [soprano] (d ” – c ”” or c ” – b flat ”’), Alt (g ‘ – f ”’), Tenor (c ‘ – b flat ”), Basset (f – d ”), Bass (Bb – g ‘), and Gross Bass (F – d ‘). A smaller recorder-like instrument three or four inches in length is also depicted; it had three front fingerholes and one thumbhole. The lowest note is shown as d ”, which, given the length, is impossible unless the bell was stopped with one of the fingers or the palm of the other hand as was done in the playing of the zuffolo or Picco pipe.

The family of recorders is built at four foot pitch, making, for example, the tenor recorder an octave higher than the tenor voice, tenor sackbut, tenor crumhorn, etc. A tenor recorder therefore can be used as a soprano with eight foot pitch instruments. When a recorder ensemble reads from vocal music or music prepared for eight foot instruments, the actual sound produced is an octave higher than written. The four foot designation for the recorder family is determined by the low written C of the largest recorders being the pitch created by an open four foot organ flue pipe (sounding c). An eight foot pipe is required to produce a sounding C. The timbre of the recorder, with its tonal recipe consisting mostly of the fundamental, can give the impression of sounding an octave lower. Praetorius describes the confusion over this matter: “Various musicians believe that this type of recorder (tenor) and transverse flute is really a true tenor instrument in sound and that its lowest notes, the c or d in the tenor range, produce a four foot pitch in the organ maker’s designation. I, too, was of this opinion for a while, for by ear it is rather difficult to perceive the real pitch; but when one compares it with the tone of the organ, it is then recognized as being a true soprano, with a two foot pitch.” The lowest note of the tenor recorder is the c ‘ sounded by an open two foot organ flue pipe. Since recorders are also in essence open flue pipes, this relationship of length to pitch is easily seen.

Praetorius adds: “I must mention also that no small difficulty is involved in setting up a recorder ensemble…for rarely does one find recorders that are rightly in tune with one another. Like church organs they are easily affected by heat and cold, their pitch being found lower in winter and higher in summer. Thus it would be advisable to have two completes sets of wind instruments on hand, those of one set being made to a pitch half a semitone lower than that of the other set. But it occurred to me to piece apart the recorders halfway between the mouthpiece and the highest fingerhole, thus increasing the length of the upper section of the bore by the breadth of two fingers. This makes the length of the tube variable and thus its pitch may be adjusted higher or lower accordingly. Although certain reputed instrument makers thought that this would make some of the recorder’s notes faulty, they really had no objections to the concept, apart from the fact that some of the highest notes did not respond very well.”

Regal: A small organ consisting of reed pipes with very short resonators. Originally it contained a single rank of pipes at eight-foot pitch, but later was made with other ranks at four-foot and sixteen-foot pitch. The regal was later incorporated into larger organs. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 writes: “…an instrument…with two sets of bellows in the rear. This instrument can be put on a table and is very suitable for use in ensembles; more so than the harpsichord, which is much too quiet in full ensembles and the strings of which cannot easily extend their sound past half a measure. On the regal, however, the tone continues as long as the key is depressed…(it) can be made very quiet by putting its cover on… It is heard with immense pleasure at court feasts and at affairs of honor, and can be used almost better than a positive in both small and large churches.”

Sackbutt: (shakbusshe, saqueboute, sacabuche, Posaune, trombone) The sackbutt is the early trombone, a brass instrument that developed from the slide trumpet in the 15th century, being distinguished from the latter by having a double or U-shaped slide rather than a single slide or extendable mouthpipe. A possible early occurrence is demonstrated through the existence of a substitute part for a three-part French chanson by Pierre Fontaine marked “Contra Tenor Trompette,” c. 1420. This alternate contratenor part, which may have been written by Guillaume Du Fay, has a two octave range from D to d ‘ and includes the frequent use of the notes F, G, and A, rendering it unplayable even on the largest possible single-slide trumpet. The highest pitch instrument capable of producing all the necessary notes in its natural range would be a bass sackbutt in G with six positions.

The sackbutt differs from the modern trombone in several ways: the bell is smaller, the ratio of cylindrical tubing to conical is greater, the stays were usually flat, and there were, of course, no valves. The earliest extant sackbutt is a tenor built by Erasmus Schnitzer in 1551, which is now housed in the Germanic Museum in Nuremburg. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 shows four sizes: Alt, Rechte gemeine (tenor), Quart (bass), and Oktav (contrabass). The use of the word sackbutt in the King James Bible is a mistranslation of the word sambyke, which was an ancient plucked string instrument (see entry below under Greek Instruments.)

Satyr pipe: An instrument depicted in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 that looks like a recorder surmounted by a small windchest containing six small flue pipes of graduated lengths. Perhaps the pipes were drones that could be individually selected. The recorder itself resembles those depicted in Sylvestro Ganassi’s Fontegara of 1535 with a wide conical bore expanding toward the foot. An extended mouthpiece shaped something like a duckbill protrudes from the opposite side of the windchest from the recorder. It is shown on plate 29 along with various foreign instruments and a smaller satyr pipe that appears to be a set of panpipes.

Scheitholt: A German zither-like instrument with a slender rectangular body and three or four brass strings. The back may be open or closed, and there is a soundhole or rosette near the end opposite the pegs. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 writes: “It is rather like a plank or log and, like the monochord, is put together quite simply from three or four thin pieces of wood. At one end it has a small neck into which the pegs are fitted….Three strings are tuned in unison and the middle one can be tuned a fifth higher by means of a little nut fastened into the fingerboard. If desired, an added fourth string can be tuned an octave higher. The thumb of the right hand strums on all the strings at the same time down close to the bridge, and a small smooth stick, held by the left hand, is pushed against the strings, the melody being generated by the contact of the stick with the brass wire frets.” The Scheitholt survived in one form or another into the 19th century and it is interesting to note that the Appalachian dulcimer is played and configured similarly.

Schryari: A cylindrical bore double reed instrument with a windcap. No example of this type survives, but given the lengths and description in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, by Michael Praetorius, one could safely describe it as a louder version of the corna muse. He wrote that “Schryari do not yield pitches beyond those provided by their holes.” The bells were open and perhaps slightly flared internally; but the bell of the cant was covered like the corna muse. Two of the sizes, the Alt and Bass, were fitted with upward extension keys, unlike any of the crumhorns or corna musen. Praetorius’s ranges are: Cant (g – ?), Alt (c – f ‘), Tenor (c – d ‘), and Bass (F – b flat).

Serpent: A lip-activated bass register conical woodwind with a cup-shaped mouthpiece. Supposedly invented by Canon Edme Guillaume in 1590, it was made in two leather-covered lengthwise halves glued together. In order to bring its six fingerholes within reach, the serpent was made in the form of the letter S. The detachable mouthpiece was fitted into a brass crook, which in turn fitted into the upper end of the body. It was used originally in French churches to double men’s voices. Marin Mersenne in Harmonie universelle, 1635 describes and illustrates the serpent and includes a fantasy for five cornetts (including serpent) by Henry le Jeune. The range of Mersenne’s serpent is E – g ‘, with an added induced tone D: “those who play this instrument well make it go down to … D re sol”. Lower pitch serpents followed, with fundamentals of D and C. Serpents were made of a variety of materials; according to Mersenne, “Now it can be made of brass, and of all kinds of metal, although it is normally built of walnut…or some other appropriate wood. And then it is wrapped with leather, as in the cornett, to reinforce it. And because it is ordinarily picked up and carried by the primary curve…it is wound under the leather with sinews of beef, lest it break”

Shawm: (Schalmeye, Pommer, Bombart, piffaro, etc.) An open double reed instrument with conical bore and flared bell. These loud instruments, ancestors to the oboe and English horn, were often played outdoors. The name hautbois (French: “high wood”, i.e., loud woodwind) was first applied to the shawm, and was eventually corrupted to “oboe” in English. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, describes seven sizes: Exilent or garklein Discant Schalmeye (g ‘ [?] – b ”’) , Schalmeye (soprano, d ‘ – a ”), Alt Pommer (g – d ”), Nicolo (tenor without extension, c – g ‘), Basset or Tenor Pommer (tenor with lower extension, G – g ‘), Bass Pommer (C – c ‘), and Gross Bass Pommer (contrabass, FF – f). Praetorius reserved the term Schalmeye for the smallest sizes. Pirouettes are shown on all sizes except for the two largest. The keywork on the five largest sizes was protected by a perforated wooden barrel or fontanelle. The lower extension on the basset, bass, and contrabass included a second key for the little finger of the lower hand and two rear mounted keys for the thumb.

Sordun: A double reed instrument with two or three interconnected cylindrical bores in a single wooden column. The two main bores are connected by a U-shaped channel at the bottom of the instrument. A family of sorduns is described and illustrated by Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. The five sizes are: cant (Bb – g’), tenor alt (Eb – c’), G bass (C – a), F bass (BBb – g), and great bass (FF – d). This design has only two bores, with twelve fingerholes: the first eight are arranged and function like those of a crumhorn; four others (in descending order) are covered by the right thumb, the middle joint of the right index finger, the little finger of the left hand, and the middle joint of the left index finger, giving an extension of a perfect fifth below the nominal scale. The bores connect at the bottom of the instrument in the same manner as the rackett, which is well below a separate side plug which can be opened to drain collected moisture. On the smaller three sizes the upper exit of the second bore is capped and the air escape for the lowest note is drilled at an angle near the top of the instrument, which adds an inch or so of sounding length to the air column.

The reed is taken directly in the mouth and is mounted on a brass staple (a bent bocal on the larger sizes.) The tone quality is soft, somewhat hollow, and not quite as rich in overtones as the rackett. The name is descriptive of this timbre, taken from the Italian sordo meaning quiet or hollow in sound. Sordun is the German name for the instrument (French: sourdine; Italian: sordone). Lodovico Zacconi mentioned the sordun in Prattica di musica, 1592, where he wrote that they sound like corna musen and do not produce notes beyond their normal range. They can, however, be induced to overblow a twelfth like a clarinet which can extend the range upward by a few more notes.

The only extant sorduns consist of a set of four specimens housed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. They were originally part of the collection from Schloss Ambras and were listed in an inventory of 1596. These differ from the Praetorius design in several ways: the bocal is mounted into a lateral socket, they have a partial third bore to extend the low range, six key covers housing doubled keywork, and a hollow compartment at the bottom end for storing the bocal. There are two basses (BB – a) and two great basses (EE – d).

Mersenne (1635) describes and illustrates the courtaut, an instrument similiar to the sordun with open reed and six projecting tubes or tetines to facilitate the covering of side holes. Period authors also describe windcapped versions, the kortholt (Praetorius, 1619) and courtaut (Pierre Trichet, c. 1640.)

Straw Fiddle: (Strohfiddel, Strohfiedel) The early European xylophone. It was mentioned first by Arnold Schlick in 1511 and first depicted by Hans Holbein around 1525. Martin Agricola in 1528 shows one with 25 cylindrical wooden bars. An example with fifteen bars is illustrated by Praetorius in 1619; some modern authors have interpreted the woodcut as showing flat bars, although it is not easy to tell from the representation. The bars, which are graduated in length, are mounted on a frame made from two divergent rails. Pieces of straw separate the bars (hence the name) which are struck with small wooden hammers. The longest bar on Praetorius’s instrument is about seventeen inches long. Mersenne in 1635 shows an echelette, a set of twelve vertically positioned bars strung with cord. He also mentions the clavicymbalum, which is a xylophone fitted with a keyboard; the rear ends of the keys are fashioned as hammers in order to strike the bars. The term xylophone was not in use until the early nineteenth century.

Stump: An archcittern described by John Playford in 1661. It was invented by Daniel Farrant and had seven on-the-fingerboard courses of wire strings and eight off-board diatonic strings. No extant instrument or illustration survives.

Tabor: The forerunner of the snare drum, in use from the 12th century. The shell was most often a wide, shallow cylinder fitted with a skin head on either end. It used a rope or cord tension system where head tightness was regulated by sliding leather tabs up or down at certain points along the ropes. When a snare was present, it was often a single gut string whose tension was controlled by a peg fitted into the side. This snare, which lends a subtle snap to the sound, is often depicted on the top head, although Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, illustrates either a snare-less tabor or one with the snare mounted on the bottom head (the bottom is hidden from view.) The latter arrangement can be clearly seen, however, on his military drum on plate 23. When played simultaneously with the three-holed pipe, the tabor is struck with a wooden drumstick held by the right hand, and is usually suspended by a strap from the left arm or wrist.

Tartold: Double reed instrument with a bore formed from cylindrical metal tubing bent into a spiral. The bore is fitted into an outer body made and painted to resemble a dragon with an upturned head with the mouth acting as its bell. There are seven front fingerholes along the dragon’s spine and one thumbhole on the opposite surface. Five tartolds (forming a single set) are known to exist and were formerly on display at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is thought that they were made and played as carnival or theatre instruments.

Three-holed pipe: (tabor pipe, flûte à trois trous, Schwegel, Stamentienpfeiff) A vertical duct flute with two fingerholes on the front and a thumbhole in back. It was often played simultaneously with the tabor by a single musician. A complete scale is achieved by starting the nominal scale with the second octave, ignoring the notes of the fundamental register. Only three holes then are needed to bridge the gap to the next harmonic, being a perfect fifth higher than the starting note. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 mentions three sizes: Discant (d ‘ – d ”’ or e ”’ or further), Tenor (a – a ”’ ?), and Bass (g – g ”’ ?). Note that the lowest note of the discant is the low d ‘ of the tenor recorder, and lowest note of the bass is the low g of the bass recorder. The bass is fitted with a rather long bent crook to carry the air from the player’s mouth to the fipple which extends well behind the player’s head.

Transverse flute: (flauto traverso, Querpfeiff) The keyless cross flute with cylindrical bore. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 describes three sizes (lower and higher extreme register limits are given in [ ]): Cant (a ‘ – a ”’) , Tenor Alt (d ‘ – d ”’ [a ”’]), Bass (g – g ”[?]). Like the recorder family, transverse flutes are built at four foot pitch, making, for example, the tenor-alt flute an octave higher than the tenor voice, tenor sackbutt, tenor crumhorn, etc. A tenor-alt flute therefore can be used as a soprano with eight foot pitch instruments. The two smaller sizes were normally built in one piece from either boxwood, other woods or glass; the bass was made in two pieces. A wooden or cork plug was inserted into the end nearest the embouchure hole. There are six fingerholes and a small, circular embouchure hole.

Triangle: A triangle labeled “Triangel” is shown on plate 22 of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 resembling the modern instrument, with the addition of five presumably metal rings to the bottom side. It is held by a tied cord and struck with what appears to be a metal beater with a turned wooden handle.

Tromba marina: (trompette marine, Trumscheit) A three-sided bowed string instrument with one to four strings. The body tapers to the pegbox end and is open on the large end. There is no fingerboard as the string is only lightly touched to create a node to produce harmonics; it is bowed between the nut and the stopping points. Hans Memling in the 1490s depicted a two-string version where the second string is half the length of the first. The longer string is supported by a bridge near the open end with one loose foot with a ivory surface. It is designed this way in order to vibrate against the top, thereby creating a rattling or snarling sound. It is described by Glareanus in his Dodecachordon of 1547 which is paraphrased by Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619: “It is built out of three thin pieces of wood put together in an elongated pyramidal form; it is tapered lengthwise, and over the side facing upward (i.e., the sounding board) is placed a long string of gut. This string is sounded when stroked by a bow of rosin-rubbed horsehair…. Minstrels play the tromba marina in the streets, putting its upper end, called the neck (into which the pegs are fitted) against their chests, extending its triangular base out forward. They support the instrument in the left hand, pressing easily and lightly on the strings at the various nodal points and parts along its body….and they draw the bow back and forth across the strings using the right hand….the tromba marina sounds much more pleasing from a distance….And though, to be certain, those who are inexperienced in music can only play the thirds, fourths, fifths and octaves of the open strings and are not able to find tones and semitones well, still anyone who diligently applies himself will be able to play them as well, even though semitones cannot be readily discerned on the instrument because of the buzzing and snarling sound produced by the string.” Praetorius describes a four string version tuned C, c, g, and c ‘, the higher strings acting as drones. He wrote “And when this instrument is heard from a distance it sounds exactly as if four trumpets were blowing together in lovely harmony.”

Trumpet: (trompette, tromba) The renaissance version of this instrument was a natural trumpet without fingerholes, keys, or valves. The player had at his or her disposal only the pitches of a single harmonic series, commonly on D. Harmonics eight through sixteen afforded more or less a diatonic scale. Crooks could be added between the mouthpiece and mouthpiece receiver to lower the key to C or Bb. Certain harmonics could be called upon to serve as two notes, e. g., the eleventh harmonic as both the nominal f ” and f # ”. The common form was rather long with two U-bends; others were coiled like a post horn. Slide trumpets were also made where the body of the instrument slid over a long mouthpipe, although these were not as common.

The modern trumpet bears only a passing resemblance to its predecessor. Besides the lack of valves, the pitch of the natural trumpet when crooked to Bb is an octave lower than that of the modern Bb instrument.

Vièle à roue: A vielle-like instrument with mechanical keying device (similar to that of the keyed fiddle) mounted on the fingerboard. Two instruments of this type are depicted by Praetorius on plate XXII of Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619. It differs from the keyed fiddle in that the strings are “bowed” from underneath by a rosined wheel turned by a crank.
Praetorius writes little about it, which he calls the peasants lyra: “It is needless to write anything about the other various types of instruments located in the Theater of Instruments (including) the dulcimer, the peasants lyra, keyed fiddle, straw fiddle, (etc.).” The instrument evolved from earlier types including the organistrum or symphonie. The term hurdy-gurdy was used in England from the 18th century.

Viola da gamba: The family of six string viols held between the legs (Italian, gamba = leg). The strings are made of gut, the fingerboard is fretted with tied-on lengths of gut and the bow is held underhand. Tuning is generally in fourths with a third in the middle as on the six-course lute. Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619, describes the tunings of five sizes: Cant (a ‘, e ‘, b, g, d, A) , Tenor Alt (d ‘, a, e, c, G, D), Klein Bass (g, d, A, F, C, GG), Gross Bass (d, A, E, C, GG, DD), Gargross Bass (G, D, AA, EE, DD). Several other tunings are given for each size. Praetorius adds: “The large viola da gamba (Italian, violone) is usually tuned in fourths throughout, and this, in my opinion, is good. I do not consider it very important how each musician tunes his violin or viol as long as he has the ability to execute his part correctly and well. Some people get special notions about such things, and are wont to scorn organists who do not use this or that method of fingering. But this, I think, is not even worthy of discussion. Let one run up and down the keyboard with the fore, middle, or rear fingers and even with his nose if it helps, for as long as what he plays sounds good and pure and is correct and pleasing to the ear, it is not very important by what means he accomplishes it.” The viola da gamba is not the forerunner of the violin, viola, or violoncello. Both families evolved from the earlier vielle or viola.

Violin: (It. viola da braccio, viol of the arm) The family of bowed string instruments that existed concurrently with the violas da gamba (or viols.) Both viols and violins evolved from the earlier vielle or viola; the violin is first illustrated with its more familiar, essentially modern outline in the earliest decades of the sixteenth century. The smaller members are held on the arm; the strings are tuned in fifths and there are no frets. Normally they had four strings, but some sizes had three or five. Sylvestro Ganassi in his Regola Rubertina of 1543 describes a family of three string violette senza tasti: Soprano (a ‘, d ‘, g), Tenor (d ‘, g, c), and Basso (g, c, F). The strings were usually made of gut, but Michael Praetorius in Syntagma Musicum, volume II, 1619 wrote “When brass and steel strings are used on these instruments they produce a quieter and lovelier timbre than with other strings.” He describes the tunings of six sizes including the pochette: Exilent [pochette] (b ”, e ”, a ‘, or a ”, d ”, g ‘), Discant (a ”, d ”, g ‘, c ‘), Rechte Discant [violin] (e ”, a ‘, d ‘, g), Tenor [viola] (a ‘, d ‘, g, c), Bass (d ‘, g, c, F or a, d, G, C), Gross Quint-Bass (a, d, G, C, FF). Note that the second tuning for the bass corresponds to the violoncello. Adriano Banchieri in his Conclusioni of 1609 gives e’, a, d, G for the tuning of the higher bass. A four string pochette is also illustrated by Praetorius, but without an indication as to the tuning of the extra string.

Virginal: A stringed keyboard instrument similar to the harpsichord built in the form of a rectangle. It was popular in England in the latter half of the Renaissance, although neither it or its name arose there. Like a positive organ or clavichord, it was place on a tabletop. The strings are sounded by quill plectra mounted in jacks as in the harpsichord, the jacks being flat wooden pieces that stand on the far end of each key. When a key is depressed the jack travels through a slot to force the plectrum to pluck the string. A pivoted tongue in the jack allows it to fall back to its resting place without restriking the string. The virginal is first mentioned by Paulus Paulirinus of Prague in his c. 1460 Tractatus de musica where he writes “The virginal is an instrument in the shape of a clavichord, having metal strings which give it the timbre of a clavicembalo. It has 32 courses of strings set in motion by striking the fingers on projecting keys, giving a dulcet tone in both whole and half steps. It is called a virginal because, like a virgin, it sounds with a gentle and undisturbed voice.” Other accounts exist to explain the name; one set forth by Curt Sachs suggests that it is derived from virga, the Latin word for rod, a term which was applied to the jack. Virdung in his Musica getutscht published in Basel in 1511 describes the virginal as an oblong instrument of clavichord shape and includes a woodcut illustration. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries the word virginal was often used in England as a general term for all plucked keyboards. Books of virginal music were copied and issued in England from the last quarter of the 16th century including The Mulliner Book (c. 1585), My Lady Nevell’s Booke (1591), Parthenia, or the Maydenhead of the First Musicke that was ever printed for the Virginalls (c. 1612), The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book (c. 1619), Benjamin Cosyn’s Virginall Booke (c. 1622), Will. Forster’s Virginal Book (1624), Earl of Leicester’s Virginal Book (now lost), and Elizabeth Roger hir Virginall Booke (1656).

Glossary of Ancient Greek Instruments ©by Phil Neuman

Philip Neuman is a builder of early double reed instruments and performs on a variety of winds and strings. He is the co-director of Ensemble De Organographia and The Oregon Renaissance Band.
The eight cds recorded by these groups, including “Music of the Ancient Greeks” can be found on the Performers page. They can be purchased online at

Aulos (plural: auloi): a reed pipe or set of reed pipes with cylindrical bore and double reed. The aulos is most often depicted as a pair of pipes played simultaneously by a single musician. Contrary to a popularly held belief, it is plain from the description of aulos reedmaking by Theophrastus (a pupil of both Plato and Aristotle) in Historia Plantarum that the Greek aulos had a type of double reed rather than a single reed. In addition, vase paintings show the reed coming to a point as it enters the mouth, indicative of the shape of a double reed. (A single reed instrument also existed around the Mediterranean; like the modern zummara, it had an idioglottic single reed like the drone reeds of some bagpipes.)

The single aulos pipe when played alone was sometimes called a monaulos. According to Aristoxenus, five sizes existed: parthenioi (maiden type), paidikoi (boy type), kitharisterioi (kithara-playing type, named after the large lyre-like Greek instrument, presumably of tenor range), teleioi (complete), and hyperteleioi (extra-complete.) These are thought to correspond roughly to soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass. To add to the confusion, the word aulos is almost always mistranslated as “flute”. Period examples survive, notably in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the Louvre, and the ancient site museum at Corinth. Some auloi were fitted with rotating metal collars which enabled the player to select from a choice of fingerholes in order to play in several modes.

Pipes of this type were common in Antiquity in Greece, Egypt, Italy and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. The instrument usually consisted of two separate pipes played simultaneously by a single musician. Each pipe consisted of a slender body made from wood, metal, ivory, cane, or bone (hence the Roman term for aulos, “tibia”) pierced with five fingerholes and one or more additional vents. The internal air passage or bore was cylindrical in profile, usually about nine millimeters in diameter. The body was normally surmounted by a bulbous section (hypholmion) onto which the holmos was fitted, a cup-shaped receiver for the reed. The reed was a type of double reed described by Theophrastus, a pupil of both Plato and Aristotle, in his book on the plants of Greece, “Historia Plantarum”. In it, the making of the reed from a cane plant that grew around Lake Copais in Boeotia is fully described. The sound of the aulos was compared by the Greek playwright Aristophanes to the buzzing of wasps. The aulos accompanied dramatic choruses, dithyrambs and dancing, and it was also used to keep time for the rhythmic coordination of the oarsmen of triremes (three-tiered warships) and Olympic-style athletic competitions. Musicians in Alexandria were especially known for their aulos playing.

There are a number of extant specimens of auloi including a well-preserved pair housed in the Musée Louvre in Paris, which formed the pattern for the reconstructions used in recordings and performances of Ensemble De Organographia. Although the reeds for the Louvre pipes are missing, there are remains of reeds in other similar Egyptian pipes, notably one now housed at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Brussels. The aulos gave rise to later cylindrical bore double reed instruments such as the douçaine in the 13th century and crumhorn in the 15th century.

Echeia: Bowls of earthenware or some other material designed to produce a musical tone when struck.

Hydraulos (Greek, water pipe): Organ invented by Ktesibios of Alexandria in the third century B.C.E. It possessed one to eight ranks of bronze flue pipes, a keyboard, and one or two hand pumps. The lower part of the hydraulos consisted of a six-sided container filled halfway with water; inside this sat a dome-shaped metal shell or pnigeus resting on feet, allowing water to pass freely into it from the bottom. The pump introduced air into the upper part of the pnigeus, which was connected by a one-way valve to the windchest. The water, seeking its own level, compressed the air in the pnigeus, which kept the air pressure constant in the windchest no matter the pumping rate. Period descriptions, clay models, and the remains of actual instruments have survived. A set of hydraulos pipes is on display at the city museum in Dion, Greece.

Kithara: ornate lyre of the professional musician. It was built from several shaped and hollowed out pieces of wood; the form included a deeply carved sound box and intricately carved arms which held the crossbar to which the strings were attached. There was no central neck or fingerboard. The classical kithara, depicted on hundreds of Attic vases from the 5th and 4th centuries B.C.E., usually had 7 strings of sheepgut. Other forms existed, and the number of strings ranged from 4 to 11. The strings were tuned stepwise with the lowest string closest to the player’s body (opposite from the harp.) The kithara was held on the player’s left side, supported by a wrist strap. The strings could be plucked by the fingers of either hand, or stopped by the left while the strings were swept with a plectrum held in the right hand. Accidentals (or exharmonics) were apparently produced by pressing the plectrum against the string to shorten the sounding length and plucking with the fingers of the left hand.

Krotala: Handheld wooden clappers or a tong-like device designed to clap small mounted cymbals together.

Kroupeza or Kroupezon: A sandal with an attached clapper used by chorus leaders and music teachers. A statue of a musician wearing a kroupezon is found in the Louvre.

Kymbala: Thick bronze cymbals of small diameter with a bell-like timbre.

Lyra: The body of the Greek lyra or lyre was traditionally made from a tortoise shell with a belly or top made of rawhide. The traditional tortoise shell form was sometimes imitated in wood. Curved animal horns were mounted into the shell to hold the crossbar, around which the strings were wound. There is no central neck or fingerboard. A small wooden stick was tied into the wrapping of each string to provide something to grip in order to tighten or loosen it. Seven was the most common number of strings, which could be plucked with the fingers or a plectrum in the same manner as the kithara. The strings were tuned stepwise with the lowest string closest to the player’s body (opposite from the harp.) All students learned to play the lyra. The Homeric Hymn to Hermes describes the lyra’s invention.

Monochord: Single stringed instrument with a movable bridge used to calculate and demonstrate musical intervals. Its Greek form was that of a rectangular box and was used at least as early as 500 B.C.E.

Pandoura: Lute with two to four strings. Lute-like instruments were more rare than lyres, but are represented occasionally in period art. A bas-relief in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens depicts an instrument of this type. The strings were probably made of sheepgut, and frets of the same material may have been tied around the neck.

Pandourion: Smaller variety of the pandoura.

Photinx: A transverse flute with six fingerholes.

Psithyra: A percussion instrument related to the seistron or sistrum. The psithyra resembles a ladder with small metal discs mounted on wooden rungs.

Salpinx: The military trumpet of the ancient Greeks. The salpinx had a straight cylindro-conical bore ending in a bulb- or dome-shaped bell. The length ranged from approximately two to four feet. A salpinx call using the Greek syllables TOTH TOTOTE is depicted on a painted ceramic knee guard dating from c. 500 B.C. E.

Sambyke: A plucked string instrument similar to a small harp with a single neck emerging at an angle from a tortoise shell body. Five or more gut strings were attached to the neck and ran diagonally to the upper surface of the body. A section of hide was stretched over the shell to act as the top of the resonator.

Seistron: (Latin: sistrum) A rattle in the form of a hoop pierced by loose metal rods that clatter when shaken. The hoop is connected to a handle. Related to the psithyra.

Syrinx: panpipe with five to seven cane tubes attached side by side. The tubes were usually of equal length. Tuning was made possible by the addition of melted wax or some other material to the bottom of a selected tube to shorten the sounding length.

Syrinx monokalamos: end-blown vertical flute with five to seven fingerholes. The remains of an instrument that may fit this description is housed in the Ephesus site museum in Turkey.

Trichordon: small three string lute of the ancient Greeks. The trichordon was the three string variety of the pandoura. Lute-like instruments were more rare than lyres, but are represented occasionally in period art. A bas-relief in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens depicts an instrument of this type. The strings were probably made of sheepgut, and frets of the same material may have been tied around the neck.

Tympanon: Frame drum with either one or two animal skin heads, played with the fingers.

Glossary of Ancient Egyptian Instruments © by Phil Neuman
Philip Neuman is a builder of early double reed instruments and performs on a variety of winds and strings. He is the co-director of Ensemble De Organographia and The Oregon Renaissance Band.
The eight cds recorded by these groups, including “Music of the Ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks: New Expanded Edition” can be found on the Performers page. They can be purchased online at

Bnt (perhaps benet): Pillarless angle harp with 20 or more gut strings. The resonator is hollowed out of a single piece of wood covered with hide.

Clappers: A pair of boomerang-shaped wooden pieces that make a high-pitched clacking sound when one is struck against the other. Some surviving examples have small “hands” carved in the striking ends.

Kmkm: Two-headed drum in barrel form.

Knnr (kinnor): Asymmetrical lyre of 7 to 10 strings with a rectangular box-shaped resonator.

M3t (maht): Three-holed end-blown vertical flute with three fingerholes made from bamboo, the forerunner of modern instruments like the Egyptian nay.

Menat: A string of faience beads attached to a handle that rattles when shaken.

Nth (perhaps netech): Long-necked lute of two or three strings with small wooden or gourd body, rawhide belly, and cylindrical neck. An instrument of this type was found in the tomb of Harmosi.

Šnb (perhaps sheneb): A short cylindro-conical trumpet made of copper, bronze, silver or gold. Two such instruments were found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Both survive, mostly intact, despite the oft-repeated story that one of them shattered when a modern trumpeter played it for a BBC broadcast.  In reality, it apparently received minor damage when the player crammed his modern mouthpiece into the top of the bore.

Sššt (perhaps sesheshet): A sistrum in hoop or stirrup form with a handle, made of metal, wood or faience, pierced with loose metal rods that rattle when shaken. Used in processions to honor Isis according to Apuleius.