Musical Instruments

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Lute Family

The Lute family includes all stringed instruments with a round soundbox and a neck, to which the strings are attached. Most are playing by plucking the strings, although the Rebec and Viol are played with a bow.

The Cittern is similar is size to a Lute, but has a flat back, fretted fingerboard and four courses of 2 or 3 strings each, tuned in unison. It is played by plucking the strings with the fingers or with a plectrum. In most Baronial courts the Cittern is second in popularity only to the Lute. The Cittern has many tunings and is often retuned from one piece of music to the next.
The Gittern is a small, quill-plucked, gut strung instrument, outwardly resembling the much larger Lute, although it has no clear division between the body and neck. It is a popular instrument with both minstrels and amateur musicians, although it is not as evocative as the Lute.
Kithara or Guitar, Destinian
A form of Cittern with five courses of gut strings and moveable gut frets popular in Destiny, from which it takes part of its name, but gaining popularity in Baronial courts. The first course often use a single string and is called the Chanterelle or singing-string. Unlike a Lute the head is inline with the fretted fingerboard with perpendicular pegs. There are usually ten pegs with the one corresponding to the missing second string in the first course being a dummy.
Because of its lovely sound and its enormous repertoire, the Lute occupies a special place of honour. It is an instrument for every walk of life, from the street minstrels to the courts. The courtly repertoire for this instrument is vast. Delicacy, expressiveness and nuance of performance is made possible by use of the fingers rather than a plectrum. The Lute is an ideal accompaniment for voice and other soft instruments, and the most eloquent of all solo instruments. On the other hand, the lute also plays a prominent role in street life. The heroines of Dekker's The Honest Whore and Marston's The Freeport Courtesan are "professional" lutenists.
Lutes have a curved back with a series of ribs. There is no bridge for the strings. Raised frets indicate the location of half tones. The head of the lute is bent backward from the neck and contains the box for the tuning pegs. There is no set number of strings.
The Rebec is a small pear-shaped instrument with three, or sometimes any many as five, strings, and a fretted neck. The strings are not plucked, but rubbed with a bow, which gives it the sustaining power to play a continuous melodic line. A Rebec is played by resting it on one's shoulder, across the chest, or in the armpit, allowing the musician to join in the rustic dances that are its strength.
The Viol is a string instrument played with a bow, and held on or between the knees while seated. The tone is quiet but with a rather distinctly nasal quality. The bass Viol (de Gamba) is perhaps the most common instrument played by gentleman amateurs, and is often paired with the Lute. The Viol is lightly constructed and its six strings are under low tension. It has a long fretted tail, a flat back, and usually a carved head.

Zither Family

The Zither family holds those instruments with strings stretched over a soundboard. At a stretch, the Harp and Lyre could be considered Zithers without a soundboard. They are all played by being plucked, apart from the Hammered Dulcimer.

The Dulcimer is a stringed musical instrument with six to nine strings of different lengths stretched over a bridge on a trapezoidal sounding board. It is played by striking the strings with small mallets on either side of the bridge, which allows it to span two octaves. It probably originated in Arabie or Azuria. The Dulcimer is played by angels and gentry, and is usually played by itself.
The harp is one of the most ancient of stringed instruments. It consists of a frame carrying strings of different lengths and hence different pitches, which are plucked. The frame body acts as the resonator; and the neck holds the strings taut. The typical harp has twenty gut strings, a range of almost three octaves, is thirty inches tall, and is ideally suited to accompany minstrel, troubadour and trouvere songs. The three items indispensable to an Elven gentleman are his harp, his cloak, and his snuff box.
The lyre is a stringed musical instrument most common in the Ellenic States. It is usually played by being strummed with a plectrum, while the fingers of the free hand silences the unwanted strings in the chord. A classical lyre has a hollow body, with two raised arms, curved both outward and forward supporting a crossbar. A lyre can have between 3 and 10 gut strings. Also known as a Kithara, though a distinct instrument from the Destinian Kithara.
The Psaltery consists of a hollow box or fretless soundboard with gut strings stretched between pegs, which is plucked with the fingers. It is held on the lap, resting against the player's body. Northern Psalteries are triangular or wing-shaped, and single or double-strung. The southern Baronies prefer the trapezoidal Psaltery with three or four strings to a note, which are strummed with a pick. The Psaltery does not cope well with modern courtly music.
The Scheitholt is a traditional Aladarian stringed instrument with a curved wooden soundbox about 2 feet long and 2 inches wide, with a simple head and only two or three strings of brass, gut or waxed linen. Wires are set in the wood under the strings as frets. The Scheitholt rests on the thighs, with the left hand pressing the strings with a wooden stock, while the thumb and index finger pluck the strings.
A Zither is a stringed instrument consisting of strings stretched over a bar, board, tube, or box. The most common Zither is a folk instrument from the Aquilan hills, consisting of a rectangular board over which are strung four melody strings and between 20 and 30 accompaniment strings. The melody strings are stopped against frets on the fingerboard while they are plucked with a plectrum. It is often used to accompany lyrical, historical and epic songs, and heroic tales.

Keyboard Family

The Keyboard family includes struck, plucked, and bowed strings, and bellow-powered woodwind and brass. The common factor is that they are all played via a keyboard, although this also differs between instruments.

The Clavichord is a keyboard instrument consisting of an oblong box supporting a series of strings parallel with its front. The metal keys both strike and stop the strings, striking two strings per note in unison. The Clavichord produces a pretty, delicate tone. It is primarily used for vocal accompaniment and private entertainment in many of the wealthier homes in inland Baronies.
The Harpsichord is a large, complex keyboard instrument, which uses a mechanical action to pluck strings with a plectrum. The result is a crisp tone and clear melody. Typically, there are two sets of strings per key, tuned to the same pitch. Some Harpsichords have two keyboards and three sets of strings. Harpsichords are used both as an accompaniment to singing or chamber groups and as a solo instrument. The Spinet and Virginal are smaller variations on the Harpsichord, and are easier to play.
The Hurdy-gurdy has three to six strings which are vibrated by a resined wheel. This wheel is turned by a crank with the right hand, and works like a continuous bow. One or two strings produce the melody notes as the left hand presses keys that depress the strings against frets to change their note. All the other strings serve as drones, making it sound like a string bagpipe. The Hurdy-gurdy is ideal for itinerant musicians playing popular dance and folk music. Larger Hurdy-gurdys with a dozen strings often have a trained monkey to crank the wheel while the performer uses both hands to work the keys.
Using key-actuated tangents along the neck to change the pitch during play, much like a Hurdy-gurdy, the strings on a Nyckelharpa are bowed by the player. A common variant has three melody strings, one occasionally used drone string and 12 resonance strings (one for each step of the chromatic scale).
The organetto is a portable organ that is pumped and played by a single person, who usually also sings. It can be played while being carried about, when equipped with a sling. The player pumps a bellows with their left hand while playing a button-type keyboard with their right. Depressing a key allows air from the bellows to enter the appropriate pipe. Because of its limited air supply, the organetto can only play one note at a time.
Pipe Organ
The largest and most complex of all musical instruments, the Pipe Organ is a vast battery of up to a thousand single-pitched pipes, blown with air from several bellows and controlled from a keyboard by mechanical action. The largest Pipe Organs, used in the churches and cathedrals, can be heard over a mile away, and stir the souls of the audience. Pipe Organs have multiple sets of pipes of differing timbre, pitch and loudness which the player can employ singly or in combination. A Pipe Organ may have up to five keyboards, a pedalboard for bass notes, and perhaps a dozen bellows worked by six sturdy men.

Cornett Family

The true Cornetts are wooden with a brass mouthpiece, while the Curtal, Rackett, and Shawm are double-reed woodwinds. However, they fulfill similar musical roles, and both require specific techniques to use the mouthpiece competantly.

The Cornett (Zink) is the most highly prized and versatile wind instrument, and is in competition with the Lute for instrumental supremacy. Masters of the Cornett are renowned for their virtuosity; princes often compete for their services. The Cornett can be used indoors and out, in serious music, dance music, town bands, rural households, at church, and court. A competent performer can make the zink sound as loud as a trumpet or softly enough to blend with recorders. No other instrument came so close to the sound of the human voice. It seems like the brilliance of a shaft of sunlight appearing in the shadow or in darkness, when one hears it among the voices in cathedrals or in chapels.
The Cornett is made of wood and has fingerholes like a recorder but it is played with a mouthpiece similar to a trumpet's. The Curved Cornett is cheaper and more robust, and has a brighter, cheery sound, ideal for large crowds. The Mute Cornett is more delicate and has an exquisitely soft sound, making it ideal in consorts with recorders, lutes, and viols.
This instrument should not be confused with the out-of-genre valved brass Cornet.
The Curtal (Dulcian) is a large double-reed instrument with its conical tube hollowed out of a single piece of wood rather than jointed. The brass crook on which the double reed is placed is inserted into the top, while the bottom ends in a short flare. The Curtal comes in several sizes and has a range of about two and one-half octaves. It is often used instead of a bass Shawm, being smaller and of sweeter tone.
A tenor Cornett. The Lizard has the peculiar curved shape of a flattened letter s. Besides giving the instrument its name, this shape helps the player cover the finger holes, as the holes for for each hand are in the inside curves. The lizard's tone is pleasing, yet rather foggy. It blends well with voices and plays on one of the inner voices of an ensemble.
The Rackett is a small rotund cylindrical woodwind, containing a number of short connected parallel bores, providing a deep tone in a compact case. Fingerholes are bored into each side of the 5-inch cylinder so that they can be manipulated by both hands. A metal mouthpiece carries a double reed. The construction makes for unusual fingering patterns, sometimes offset by the use of tiny brass tubes for the fingers. The Rackett has a warm, rich tone, and is capable of sounding loud and buzzy, or soft and gentle, making it a highly versatile instrument.
The serpent, or bass cornett, was invented only 50 years ago in Mordeaux. It ias used in sacred music to reinforce low men's voices. When well played, it blends with voices and gives a depth to the choral sound. It is also used as a military band instrument. The serpent has six finger holes arranged in two sets of three. The conical tube of the serpent is over six feet in length. Its construction is similar to that of the smaller cornetts and it has an elbow shaped crook to bring the mouthpiece to the player's lips. Its range can extend to three octaves.
The shawm is the most important reed woodwind instrument. It is wooden and conical, with a flared end (bell). Shawms have seven finger holes, a thumb hole, and several vent holes near the bell. The metal-wrapped bell makes the shawm a sturdy weapon for settling disputes among town musicians. Shawms vary in size from 12 inches to 8 feet long, most commonly 2-3 feet. The Shawm has a shrill piercing tone, suitable for the general din and confusion of a market square. Less experienced performers produce rather unsteady results.
A Cornett by any other name; usually the Curved Cornett, played in street music.

Recorder Family

These are all Woodwind instruments without reeds or brass mouthpieces. Except for the flute and panpipes, they all have fipple mouthpieces, making them easy to play, but reducing their expressivity.

A flute is a reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air directed across a hole. The air stream is shaped and directed by the player's lips, allowing a wider range of expression in pitch, volume, and timbre than if using a fipple. However, it also makes a flute considerably more difficult to play. Flutes are made from wood, brass, silver, and even bamboo, and vary greatly in size and range.
A cow horn with finger holes and a fipple inserted at the wide end. It only has a range of one octave. The earliest Gemshorns were made from the horn of a mountain goat, but they are now more commonly made from oxen. The tone has a sweet colour somewhere between a soft recorder and an ocarina. Its haunting delicate sound is used to calm animals. The Gemshorn is the only flute with a sharply tapering conical bore.
An Ocarina is a small, simple wind instrument shaped like a potato. It is usually made out of terracotta, or carved from wood. If it is made from clay, it must be tuned when the clay is still wet. The Ocarina has finger holes and a mouth piece and comes in different sizes, the larger ones having a mellow, hollow tone. The Tuscanans adopted it as a folk instrument because they love its sweet, haunting tone.
A panpipe consists of a row of pipes or canes, stopped at their bottom ends and graduated in length to give a diatonic scale when blown across their upper ends. It is an ancient pastoral instrument and is used by the peasantry and the militia. Satyrs are notorious in their use of this instrument to lure and corrupt innocent maids.
The simple Pipe consists of a cylindrical tube of narrow bore, with only three holes, two in front and one thumbhole at the back, all very near the end of the pipe. It is a wind instrument that is intended to be played by one hand, while a Tabor, Bell or Triangle is played with the other. The Pipe is very simple to play, and has a limited range of notes.
The Recorder is distinguished from other members of the family by having holes for seven fingers, and one for the thumb of the uppermost hand. The bore of the Recorder is tapered slightly, being narrowest at the top, flared almost like a trumpet at the bottom. Recorders come in a range of sizes, but are most commonly 1½ to 2½ foot long. The sound of the Recorder is remarkably clear and sweet, and it is an excellent teaching instrument.

Horn Family

Horns are hollow horns or metal tubes, which are blown into while vibrating the lips. The distinctive blaring sound of a horn is unforgettable. The Finger-hole Horn is technically more like a Cornett, but it has a range and style of playing similar to the other Horns. The Sackbutt, on the other hand, is far too subtle and melodious to be a true Horn.

The Conch is a large spiral shell with the tip removed. Despite this unpromising description, South Sea Islanders such as the Pasificans can play it like a Horn, although it has more resonances and overtones due to its aquatic nature.
Finger-hole Horn
The Finger-hole Horn uses woodwind finger technique, but sounds like a true Horn. It can be made from animal horn, wood, or brass, and has 2 to 3 holes drilled in it, which are covered to change the pitch. It is played in rustic, backwards villages, and in a wide range of religious ceremonies.
The Horn is a hunting and signaling instrument made of animal horn or brass. It plays three to five notes, each clear, crisp, and capable of carrying vast distances. It is light and easy to learn. Each army devises a series of half a dozen simple calls, which are known by all the troops, such as Form Up, Charge, Retreat, and Dinner Time. Hunters tend to recognise Tally-Ho and Back To The Tavern.
The Sackbutt is essentially a Trumpet with a telescopic mouthpipe. By sliding the trumpet bodily outwards along the mouthpipe, notes can be sounded at various pitches, enabling a wider range of melodies to be played. The Sackbutt has a narrow bore, and a less flared bell than a Trumpet, and sounds more like a bass Cornett. The Sackbutt is an instrument of the virtuoso performer, who may have a range of over three octaves and be able to execute rapid coloraturas and jumps on their instrument.
A Trumpet (Clarion) is constructed of several feet of brass tubing bent into either an oblong or S, and is played by blowing air through closed lips, producing a "buzzing" sound which produces a blast of bright, loud sound. Trumpets are primarily as a ceremonial and military instrument, and often have stylised ornamentation. Neither Trumpets nor any other horns have valves. This limits most Trumpet players to a range of five or six overtones, played by varying the lip position.

Bagpipe Family

The Bagpipe family includes those instruments made from a bag and a reeded pipe. It also includes the Crumhorn, which is played identically to the Bladderpipe apart from the absence of a bladder.

The bagpipe is a folk instrument consisting of a bag held under the player's arm and several reeded pipes leading off from the bag: a melody pipe with finger holes, and one to three drone pipes. The bag acts as a reservoir of air, which the piper blows into through a mouth pipe. The bagpipe cannot work in ensemble, as it would drown out most other instruments, must make a continuous sound, and cannot change mode.
The bladder pipe is a very distinctive loud instrument which has a reed which is enclosed by an animal bladder. The performer blows into the bladder through a wooden pipe. Like the bag of a bagpipe, the bladder serves as a wind reservoir keeping the lips from touching the reed directly. The bladder pipe's sound is unusual because the player is unable to tongue or otherwise control the reed. It cannot overblow for an upper register, giving a limited range, and making the fingering identical to the crumhorn.
The Crumhorn is wooden, with a cylindrical bore and a double reed inside a protective cap with a slot at one end, and a distinctive curved end like a 'J'. It produces a very high sound, from a gentle hum to a rich buzz, and the pitch is based on how hard a player blows, not on the length of the pipe. It has a limited range of only an octave and one note. Despite its strange shape and the amusing reaction of listeners when the instrument is played poorly, the Crumhorn plays a serious role in music from dances and madrigals to church music. It is popular in the northern and eastern parts of the Baronies.

Drum Family

Drums are the oldest and simplest of the musical instruments, and are primarily played to provide rhythm and structure to an ensemble. They are also used by themselves in ceremonies and as military signals. Drummers are different from other musicians.

A Cymbal consists of a thin round plate of bronze suspended by a rod or handle from the centre. A Cymbal can be played by striking it with a stick, or by clashing two Cymbals together, giving an effect like a quiet Gong. While most Cymbals are untuned, the Crotale is cup-shaped, and plays a definite note when struck. Cymbals are used military or religious ceremonies.
The Dumbek is a small goblet-shaped hand drum used mostly in Arabic, Azurian, Ellenic, Rokarian, and Sistren music. Its thin, responsive drumhead and resonance help it produce a distinctively crisp sound. Goblet drums are played with a much lighter touch and quite different strokes (sometimes including rolls or quick rhythms articulated with the fingertips) than other drums.
A Gong is a flat brass or Bronze disc which is suspended from a cord, and hit with a mallet. The resulting sound is loud and of multiple varying pitches, many of which are echoes of each other. Gongs are usually used for military or religious ceremonies, or by Orcs. Gongs do not combine well with any but the loudest of instruments.
Nakers are drums with metal or wood dome-shaped bodies and goatskin drumheads, and are played by striking them with the hands or with sticks. They are typically played in pairs, often in a sling or harness. Nakers are a type of kettle drum.
A Tabor has a shallow cylindrical wood shell, two skin heads tightened by rope tension, a leather strap, and gut snares under the drumhead. The Tabor is suspended by a strap from the forearm, and is played with a stick held in the other hand. The Tabor is often played in conjunction with a Pipe, as the Pipe & Tabor. Tabors are a type of snare drum.
The tambourine is a single-headed frame drum consisting of a shallow ring of wood covered on one side with parchment, with small metal discs or bells arranged singly or in pairs within openings in the shell. It is used in funeral lamentations, in joyous processions and feasts, and in the hands of angels as well as rustics. It is popular in all parts of the Baronies and abroad.
The Triangle is a bar of brass or bronze, bent into a triangle shape. It is either suspended from one of the other corners by a piece of gut, leaving it free to vibrate, or hooked over the hand. It is usually struck with a metal beater, giving a high-pitched, ringing tone. The Pipe & Triangle is a feminine alternative to the Pipe & Tabor amongst the genteel.
Tiny finger cymbals used by exotic dancers and courtesans to create a rhythm and atmosphere.

Other Instruments

Off-Plane Instruments

  • Accordian – a type of Organetto.
  • Bassoon – a type of Serpent, or expanded Rackett.
  • Cello – a type of Viol.
  • Clarinet – a type of Cornett.
  • Oboe – a type of Lizard.
  • Piano – a cross between a Clavichord and Pipe Organ.
  • Trombone – a type of Sackbutt.
  • Ukelele – a type of Gittern.
  • Violin – a type of Rebec.

Skill Groupings

Common Uncommon Rare / Obscure
Troubadour Cittern, Cornett (curved), Gittern, Flute, Harp, Lute, Naker, Rebec, Recorder, Sackbutt, Shawm, Tabor, Tambourine Bagpipe, Crumhorn, Curtal, Cymbals, Harpsichord, Horn, Hurdy-gurdy, Lizard, Ocarina, Organetto, Panpipes, Pipe, Psaltery, Trumpet, Zither Bladderpipe, Conch, Dumbek, Finger-hole Horn, Gemshorn, Gong, Lyre, Pipe Organ, Scheitholt, Serpent, Triangle
Courtier Cittern, Cornett (mute), Harp, Lute, Recorder, Viol Clavichord, Dulcimer, Flute, Gittern, Lizard, Tabor, Triangle, Virginal, Zither Pipe, Psaltery, Rackett, Serpent, Zil*

* (Courtesan only)


Some instruments have simple tones; others can sound more complex, and the best can support virtuoso performances. A master Troubadour playing an Ocarina is still just blowing into a hollow potato, while a Lute or Cornett can sound sublime in skilled hands. However, any balanced ensemble will require a range of lead and support instruments, of different pitches and timbres.

Lute, Cittern, Cornett, Harp, Pipe Organ.
Curtal, Dulcimer, Flute, Gittern, Harpsichord, Lizard, Sackbutt, Viol, Zither.
Bagpipe, Bladderpipe, Clavichord, Crumhorn, Dumbek, Hurdy-gurdy, Lyre, Organetto, Panpipes, Psaltery, Rackett, Rebec, Recorder, Serpent, Shawm, Tabor, Virginal.
Conch, Cymbals, Gemshorn, Gong, Horn, Lyre, Naker, Ocarina, Pipe, Scheitholt, Tambourine, Triangle, Trumpet, Zil.

Common Courtly Ensembles
  • Lute and Viol
  • Lute and Curtal
  • Psaltery, Gittern, Flute
  • Pipe and Tabor
  • Recorder, Harp, Pipe and Tabor
  • Recorder and Psaltery
  • Recorder and Rebec
  • Curtal, Lute and Harp
  • Any combination of Flute, Recorder, Cornett, Sackbutt, Lute, Rackett, Viol, and Harpsichord
Common Folk Bands
  • Pipe and Tabor
  • Rebec and Tabor
  • Bagpipe and Naker
  • Ocarina, Scheitholt and Dumbek