Tag Archives: medieval pipe and tabor

Medieval Musical Instruments Part Three

Our third instrument is a bit like the recorder, except that it’s really two instruments. The pipe and tabor went together. The pipe was held in the left hand and the cord holding the tabor was looped over that arm. The right hand held the stick that was used to beat a rhythm on the tabor, or drum. The bear in the illustration has obviously been taught incorrectly.

The pipe is a simple wooden tube. Like the recorder it has a block and a windway at the top. The player blows into a narrow gap between the block and the tube. Again, as with the recorder, the air is split by a labium beneath a window. At the bottom of the tube there are two holes on the front and a thumb hole on the back. The pitch is changed by raising and lowering the fingers and by increasing or decreasing breath pressure. Despite the small number of holes, the pipe can produce a fairly wide range of notes and that range is sufficient to play some complex melodies, as you’ll hear.

The two holes are covered by the fleshy part of the finger between the first and second knuckles rather than the pads of the fingertips. The thumb hole is covered by the pad of the thumb. The pipe is held in place by the ring and little fingers of the left hand, leaving the thumb free to cover or not cover the hole without causing the pipe to fall to the ground.

The tabor could be almost any size, provided the player can still get the pipe to his lips, but I’ve only ever seen small ones in the flesh. As you’ll see in the second of the videos, the drum could have a string stretched across the surface that was being struck. This vibrated against the drum producing a similar effect to that of a snare on a drum today.

The pipe and tabor is still a popular combination in folk music, so the chances are good that you’ve already seen and heard them in action.

In the first video below, The Early Music Consort of London gives a short demonstration of what the pipe and tabor sound like.

In the second video, there are some tunes from the Renaissance as well as from the Middle Ages. If you want to join in, the steps are provided for one of the dances.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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