Medieval and Renaissance InstrumentsAn Illustration of Several Rare and Popular Musical Instruments
Music History I



Throughout history, many new instruments were created and transformed into tools for creating great works of music. However, there are also some instruments that do not have such a successful history and are, tragically, sometimes forgotten about. The Renaissance was a time of heightened artistry and musical interest, which spawned new creative instruments for a generation of original musicians. The Medieval period also produced many new and unusual musical instruments. Many of these long-forgotten-about instruments are very unique but belong to the standard families of musical instruments. There are a few exceptions that produced instruments that are not typically found in other families.


The Zink is one type of instrument that does not fit into any of the standard musical categories. It is not necessarily a “family” of instruments, but, rather, it is a grouping of similar instruments that are synonymous with one another. The Zink collection consists of instruments such as the cornett, the lizard, and the serpent.


The tenor of the Zink family is the lizard. This instrument has a unique shape similar to an elongated letter S. This shape gives the instrument it’s name, and it allows the musician to fully reach all the finger holes. The holes on the lizard are positioned on the instrument in the areas of the curves closest to the player. The lizard is a pleasing instrument that combines well with voice parts.


The cornett is made from a curved piece of wood that has been cut in half, hollowed out, and glued back together. The outside is then formed to an octagonal shape and a leather covering is glued around it to seal any weak portion of the wood against the wind pressure built up inside. In the early Baroque it was in competition with the violin for instrumental supremacy. The violin, however, won the battle and is still considered one of the most sophisticated of modern instruments. Other competitors that finally drove the cornett into extinction are the baroque trumpet and oboe.


The bass Zink is the serpent. This instrument is shaped just the way its name suggests. The serpent was created in 1590 by Edme Guillaume. This extremely curvy instrument was used in sacred performances to emphasize the low male voices. The serpent has six finger holes arranged in two sets of three with a fundamental note of C. Just like the cornetto and the lizard, it takes a large amount of skill to produce a good sound because everything depends on the player’s pitch accuracy. Its construction is similar to the cornetto’s, and it has a mouthpiece for it to reach the player\'s lips. The body is usually made of walnut wood and is sometimes made from several fairly short pieces joined together and covered with leather; other times, glued up from two complete halves of hollowed out blocks of wood. Just like the lizard, the serpent’s shape brings the finger holes closest to the player. The serpent obtains chromatics but half-opening the finger holes, and its range can be extended to three octaves. During the next two hundred years after its invention, it was used as a military band instrument and later evolved into the ophecleide and tuba.


The serpent, member of the Zink family, is considered the bass of the group. Invented in 1590, it is 6 feet in length and is curved to allow for easy access to the mouth piece and finger holes.


The most versatile Renaissance wind instrument was the cornett, or zink. Very little air was required to play the cornett. It was used mostly for outdoor dances and parties.


The lizard, the tenor zink, has a peculiar shape of a flattened letter S. Its shape allows for easy access to the finger holes and mouthpiece. The lizard sounds best with vocal accompaniment.


Another instrument group to emerge is the reed cap family. This includes the crumhorn, kortholt, cornamuse, and the hirtenschalmei. This family is so named because its reed does no touch the lips of the player. The reed is enclosed inside a protective cap with a slot at one end. Strong blowing into this slot causes the air to vibrate to reed. The crumhorn’s name comes from the German word krumhorn, which means ‘curved