Medieval Music (Secular)

Click here to read Term 2 Medieval Music - Sacred! After introducing chants and motets to your students from the link above, a fun lesson in Medieval music is an introduction into the different roles of secular music of the era. When I think of secular Medieval music my mind automatically goes to Robin Hood or King Arthur! Merry minstrels singing with their lutes in their pantyhose and big hats is the image I always conjure up! The roles of secular music in this time period were for performances in the street (troubadours, trouveres, and Minnesingers are terms given to the traveling minstrels in different parts of France and Germany), in court life for dancing, dinner, and tournaments, and also in military form during the Crusades.

Around the World

Because of the Crusades, many traditions, instruments, and cultures were beginning to borrow from each other. I've linked a musical example for some of the popular composers of the era! Enjoy! And at the end of the post you can learn more about the instruments used during this era!

France - Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut was a court musician in the 1300s and wrote both secular and sacred Medieval music. His motet "Hareu! hareu! le feu/Helas!/Obediens" has three different texts - 2 French and 1 Latin. It is a song about burning desire and unrequited love! The Latin text is taken from a chant that refers to Christ, but Machaut only chose the section that went with the words "obedient even unto death."

England - W. de Wycombe

I would say that the quintessential Medieval secular song is Sumer Is Icumen In. Wycombe is attributed to it, but this partsong could also be written by the famous composer "Anonymous" who wrote many famous early music compositions! *wink*

Also, if you want to hear more English Medieval music, it is recommended by the AO site to purchase the CD Miri it Is by Dufay Collective! You can hear their music on Youtube as well by clicking here!

Italy - Francesco Landini

Landini was from Florence where much of the Medieval music was being cultivated during this period. He's considered the most famous Italian Medieval composer.

Germany - Wolfram von Eschenbach

Eschenbach was a German knight and poet. Although not much is known about his life, he is regarded as one of the greatest epic poets of Medieval German literature.

Instruments in Medieval Music

The other significant aspect of Medieval music is the instrumentation! So many interesting wind, string, and percussion instruments were used to accompany songs of this era. Here are a few worth mentioning!





organistrum (an early form of a hurdy-gurdy)

Wind recorder



Percussion tabor


keyboard instruments like the organ and regal

There are a lot more instruments than what I've listed here!  Also, I suggest looking into any early music performances in your area!  We are blessed to live in Music City (Nashville) area and attended an early music concert a few weeks ago at the Schermerhorn Free Day of Music!  It's neat to see rare instruments that you wouldn't hear or see in modern times!  (Of course, most of the instruments are replicas!!!)


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