Renaissance Period


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EQ: What kinds of instruments were used during the Renaissance?


  • Humanism - A cultural movement that created a "throw-back" in thought to Ancient Greek and Roman times.
  • Printing Press - a machine for printing text or pictures.
  • Viol - a musical instrument from the Renaissance period, typically has 6 stringed, held vertically and played with a bow.
  • Recorder - a musical instrument that is shaped like a tube with holes and is played by blowing into the top.
  • Sackbut - Medieval and Renaissance ancestor to the Trombone.

In this lesson you are going to learn more about the Renaissance time period, especially the instrumental music performed.


We already discussed some of the vocal music during the Renaissance. If you remember correctly, texture (or the number of voices and parts adding thickness to the music) played a large role in those vocal madrigals.

Instrumental music was more important in the Renaissance than Medieval times. Some instruments include the Viol, recorder and sackbut. You might have seen or heard of these instruments before because of The Renaissance Fairs that are quite popular around the United States (especially in Pennsylvania).


The viol is simply a bowed, fretted, and 6 stringed instrument of different sizes that closely resemble a mixture of a guitar and violin/cello depending on size.

Below is an example of people playing the viol. Notice how most of them hold the box (fingers up as opposed to down like cello players). Some people still use this method today for playing cello or string bass.

David Cassetti - Counterpoint/Contrapuncto 070825 - Viol trio - Old Style


The recorder is a wooden wind instrument that you probably used to play in elementary school! These popular instruments dominated instrumental music from Medieval times through the Baroque Era (which is coming next).

Below is an example of the many different sized recorders found in Renaissance music.

Han Tol Recorder Consort Workshop Aus Tiefer Not


The sackbut has a funny name, but is closely related tot he Trombone. This is the earliest rendition of a trombone. The bell (or where the sound comes out) is very tiny and it generally has a longer slide than modern trombones.

The video below is a piece by Diego Ortiz and is named "Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse".

Les Sacqueboutiers de Toulouse - Ricercar
Check out the following website that has great references to instruments of the time!

Awesome Renaissance instrument website!

Society of the time

Humanism is a movement in which people started studying tangible topics. They wanted to understand things they could touch, instead of only what they could speculate. This movement causes classes to be divided according to education instead of wealth.

With humanism heading the "rebirth", the printing press was invented by Johann Gutenburg. This invention made it easier to print music and books. These goods became cheaper and therefore were more available to the middle class.


  • Read through/listen to the entire lesson.
  • Visit the website of Renaissance instruments above and look up at least three different instruments we did not discuss.
  • Once you have finished, complete the quiz below.

You will need to know:
  • All vocabulary
  • Meaning of Renaissance
  • Importance of dance
  • Texture in vocal music