Instrument families, both then and now include

  • strings
  • winds
  • brass
  • percussion

Some medieval and early modern string instruments were

The lute

Lute, made by Sixtus Rauchwolff in Ausberg Germany circa 1596, 23 in. x 7 in., from Metropolitan Museum of Art


The theorbo

Allegory of Music by Laurent de La Hyre, 1649, Paris, oil on canvas, from Metropolitan Museum of Art


The viola da gamba

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Viola da gamba, 1640-65, London, made of maple and spruce from Metropolitan Museum of Art

The viola da gamba literally translates to “viol on the leg.” It is held between the legs and bowed, as a cello is, but the viola da gamba lacks an endpin to stabilize it. The tone quality is also mellower than a modern cello.

The viola da gamba increased in popularity during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and became, in some ensembles, part of the core continuo. The viola da gamba is increasing in popularity again now, especially with the rise of early music ensembles.

See this essay for more details on the viola da gamba and the viol family in general. Viols were the instruments used in the popular consort song genre in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.



The rebec


Find a catalog of images of the rebec as well as a step-by-step description of recreating and building this rebec here.


The dulcimer

Hammered dulcimer, photograph Ty Nigh

For the hammered dulcimer, pictured above, the strings are hit with the wooden mallets shown. Other dulcimers may be plucked. The hammered dulcimer is especially common in the British Isles and Ireland.

The strings (especially in western Europe) were generally made from animal intestines. You can see the process in the video below:

For other resources on medieval and early modern western instruments, see

Musical Party in a Garden, British, 1647, embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art