Queen Elizabeth not only mandated the arts, she herself was skilled in musical instruments. Her personal instruments were the virginals and the lute. While the Tudor reign generated magnificent amounts of music, musicians and theater, it was most prominent during Queen Elizabeth’s time. As far as music was concerned, she led by example. She would often have her court musicians play for her while she danced, as she considered it a great form of exercise.
Elizabethan music thus entered the homes and lives of all people. Native folk music was seen being played at the dinner tables when families came together for a meal. People who belonged to the higher strata of society in this era were known to hire a musician almost every night. In case of people who could not really hire such musicians, they always had at least one musical instrument and one servant who could play it.
The Popular Instruments
Just like we divide vocals according to the natural range (like tenor, soprano or contralto), the instruments in the Elizabethan era had their own tonal range. Every family of instruments was categorized according to this range and would therefore vary in size and shape, even though they were the same instrument.
The different instruments were also used to denote the status of a person as well. For example, wind instruments such as the trumpets were played to mark the arrival of royalty.
Dulcimer mountain music
♫ The most popular of all stringed instruments was the lute. All the artists in the Elizabethan court could play it. The chitarrone was a huge (almost 6 feet) version of the lute that was also used at the time. The lute was an instrument of soft and controlled melody rather than power, due to which it was used more commonly in a closed environment. It was still the instrument of choice for many street musicians as well as court musicians. The sound box is shaped like an elliptical melon, with multiple ribs (or sides). More ribs meant a deeper sound box, giving a deeper tone.
♫ The fiddle was a street music instrument and was played almost like the modern violin. The fiddle was commonly used by street and town musicians and could either be played with a bow or plucked. The hurdy gurdy was another version of the fiddle that was quite popular in street music as well. You had a wheel that could be rotated using a crank. The wheel brushes against the strings to produce sounds through friction.
♫ The harp and the psaltery were in common use. The psaltery was played like the lute, but its sound box was trapezoidal and it usually had 12 strings. The upper society usually preferred keyboard instruments, while the harp was most common in chamber music.