Music was an important part of medieval society. However, unlike many of the other aspects of medieval life, music was not limited to the upper class.
Medieval music began as simple chants in religious settings and over time, the theory behind these chants expanded taking on different parts akin to modern day harmony and counterpoint. As medieval music developed, troubadours who performed secular music were instrumental in bringing music to the masses. These were professional musicians who traveled from place to place, playing music, setting poems and tales to song.
The musical instruments of the day were quite varied. While most were quite basic, there were a number of different kinds of musical instruments available to performers. One could find wind instruments such as the coronet which was an early hybrid of a wind instrument and a brass instrument with a body made of wood, ebony, ivory or resin. The sound holes would be covered, perhaps in leather, and played via the manipulation of the wind by opening or blocking sound holes with the fingers. The unique quality of this instrument was that while the body was that of a wind instrument, the mouthpiece was like one would find on a brass instrument that was vibrated by the lips. In addition to the coronet, there were flutes, pan flutes and recorders which were more traditional wooden wind instruments. A number of string instruments similar to the modern day guitar, such as the lute, mandolin, zither and dulcimer, were also played. Early versions of the violin and organ, as well as drums and jaws or Jews harp, were used in the creation of medieval music. Songs were also performed a cappella, or without music, sometimes in churches, often when instruments were not available.
Another medieval instrument is called the hurdy-gurdy. Hurdy-gurdies were quite common throughout most of Europe from the 12th to the 19th century. No one exactly knows how the hurdy-gurdy got the name. Some people believe it is derived from an English word "hurly-burly", which means to make a great noise. The hurdy-gurdy sounds something like the cross between a bagpipe and a fiddle. Today there is a great interest in reviving this ancient form of music making.
There is a great deal of current debate concerning exactly how early medieval music was performed. One of the problems surrounding this is that in the early medieval times, there was no standardized system for musical notation, so music could not be written down and recorded effectively, only learned by instruction. Early musical notations developed initially in the church which meant religious music was what was initially written down. Less secular music was written down, more so being passed on by instruction, word of mouth or tradition.
Around the castles and medieval villages, music was an important part of the daily routine, providing entertainment and an escape from the daily routine. Music was central to festivals and tournaments were you could find singers and minstrels who traveled from town to town playing their music. Harvest and springtime festivals used music to awaken the spirits and to usher in the coming of the spring crops.
While music was readily available to all, wealth did ensure easier access, sometimes even allowing for musicians to be employed by lords or barons and to always be available. In many great halls of castles there were stages or performance areas built to allow for regular performances whenever their lord or noble desired.