Medieval Era

Medieval Era (800-1400s)


Religious Music

Often borrowed lyrics from other texts. This was called a trope---a musical or textual addition to pre-existing music.

Chanting was common. At the time, instruments were pretty much frowned upon by the church (with the exception later on of the pipe organ), as they were thought to be sources of evil.

Chanting at this time was characterized some of the following descriptors:


2 types of music utilised in mass:

Gregorian Chant

Gregorian chant (also called plainchant) was the most common type of music in the church at the time.

It featured:



A type of Gregorian chant, earliest example of polyphony (or, music where there are 2 or more melodic line at the same time). Development of harmony led to the need to write down pitches, and so... 6 harmonic modes were invented (more on that later).

A composer named Léonin was the pioneer of this music, with his addition of a 2nd voice. Pérotin, Léonin's successor, made things more interesting by adding 3rd and 4th voices.

Then, words were added (called trope) and voices to create something called a motet---newly-texted songs, took chants and adapted new words, polyphonic. Later composed with original melodies.

Medieval Church Modes

Church modes essentially started a scale at all 7 pitches in the scale. Ex: a scale with a C major key signature, but it's started on D (scale degree 2). Included are a couple ways to think about these keys, or, for the visual person, a picture of the scales below:


C Ionian

C Ionian


 C Dorian

D Dorian


C Phrygian

E Phrygian


C Lydian

F Lydian


C Mixolydian

G Mixolydian


C Aeolian

A Aeolian


C Locrian

B Locrian

There are a couple pneumatic devices to help you remember these modes, but the best one is:

Important Composers:

These aren't necessary to know, but can be helpful:

Secular Music

Became more important in the 1300s (thanks to the plague and 100 Years' war---1/4 of Europe was dead!) when the feudal system was weakened and the Popes were fighting (as popes do).

As it wasn't associated with the church, this music often utilised instruments, such as:

Ars Nova

French, translates to "new art". Resulted in the development of French "chansons," or French poetry set to music. Had a characteristic "isorhythm" where there was repeated overlapping of a single rhythmic pattern throughout various melodic forms.

The most prolific composer of this form was Guillame de Machaut, though do be careful with him---he also composed for the church, the most common example being the  Messe de Nostre Dame (as he was the first to which an ordinary mass can be entirely attributed to).

Travelling Musicians

These musicians often sang about love, drinking, crusades, or loss/death.

3 main types:

More information

For more information, this document divides medieval music into the IB Music analyzing format. It does not, however cover individual genres clearly.


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