How do I even flute in the world?
January 10, 2019 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I would like some advice on purchasing and learning to play medieval instruments if anyone has any! More specific questions and purpose for use follow!

TLDR Questions:
1. Where do I learn about purchasing medieval instruments that are for playing as opposed to ornamental; websites that might offer information?
2. Are there any websites that sell quality medieval instruments to be used for this purpose?
3. Are there any youtube channels or website that offer lessons or discuss the types of instruments and how to use them? (Most specifically side blowing flute or hand drum, but interest in others as well)

Longer version:
I am trying to both learn and teach circle dances that involve all ages and do not have partners, to build community in a couple of groups I am in. So these would be dances we would do with festival or community type gatherings such as the may pole dances and the like. Our location is pretty far from organized community so we will be doing this ourselves (i.e. there is a folk dance lesson place in town but we are nearly an hour out of town so... )

I notice in some of the dance lesson videos the dance is guided by merely a flute and if I could learn just a few simple songs I think I could lead some basic dances. I think I could even do this on my own without lessons for the purpose we have which is mainly to laugh and build community, but I have asked a local music school if they teach this as well.

What I see them use in the videos is a side blowing flute which doesn't come up for sale when I search medieval flutes for sale. (I don't even know where I go to look for medieval flutes for sale?). I am willing to pay around or even slightly above 100$ and if it costs more than that for a good one I would even go higher because this is life purpose level of important to me. If I were to buy a medieval instrument at a renaissance fair I would want to be educated about it going in.

TLDR Questions:
1. Where do I learn about purchasing medieval instruments that are for playing as opposed to ornamental; websites that might offer information?
2. Are there any websites that sell quality medieval instruments to be used for this purpose?
3. Are there any youtube channels or website that offer lessons or discuss the types of instruments and how to use them?

An example of what I would like to be able to do: medieval dance lesson with flute playing
Thank you all so much!!! -xarnop
posted by xarnop to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First, what do you mean by medieval and what do you mean by flute? If medieval means "roughly the 5th - 15th century in Europe", then "flute" generally means a recorder. The transverse flute ("side-blowing", as you say) existed in medieval Europe but did not become particularly popular until much later.

2. Are there any websites that sell quality medieval instruments to be used for this purpose?

The Early Music Shop sells a wide range of recorders that are appropriate for recreating medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. Here's one that is based on a surviving medieval recorder. That page has a video that shows what it sounds like.

Typically a recorder will be sold with a fingering chart, but be sure to ask before you buy in case it doesn't, especially if the recorder you're buying uses non-standard fingerings. But most recorders, even period replicas, use fingerings similar or identical to a modern recorder. For learning how to play you should be able to use videos and instructional books for modern recorders. After you learn the basics you can buy some sheet music for medieval songs.

Here's a nice video about the medieval recorder and its music, including some sheet music recommendations.

A final note about period instruments: sometimes these will be tuned differently than modern instruments (e.g. a recorder might be tuned to A = 415Hz instead of A = 440Hz. This is not a problem if all of the instruments you are using have that tuning (or if you're playing solo or solo + percussion), but it can be an issue if you try to mix and match.
posted by jedicus at 8:15 AM on January 10 [7 favorites]

Oh, and if you want an easy start with the recorder, then just buy an inexpensive modern plastic one for ~$15 and use that to learn the basics, especially if you haven't played an instrument before. The fingerings might be slightly different from the medieval instrument you graduate to, but most of the skills are transferable. There's a lot to be said for being able to practice on an inexpensive, durable, maintenance-free instrument rather than an expensive, fragile one that requires a fair bit of upkeep!
posted by jedicus at 8:19 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

I know someone who is so well-versed in medieval instruments that she has built her own lute, have just sent a link to this thread for a consultation....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:40 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

Yep, Early Music is the field you want.
posted by lokta at 8:56 AM on January 10

I'm not sure what flute that person is playing.
Early music flutes are wooden and not generally in that price bracket (for example these Baroque and Renaissance flutes are typical). They are also not easy to play in tune.

She might be playing a regular flute, which you can maybe get for $100 second hand.

Another alternative is an Irish flute, as used in Irish folk music. (For example this collection). These are a bit easier to play that early music flutes and people typically learn them by ear. You can get them just about in your price range.

I've always found the flute very difficult to get a note out of, and if I was aiming to do what you are, I'd pick the recorder instead. Cheap, easy enough for a beginner and can play the same stuff as flutes.
posted by plonkee at 12:31 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

That looks like a regular ol' flute to me, as opposed to any special medieval instrument.
posted by freezer cake at 3:29 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

A penny whistle is roughly the same as a fipple flute. A recorder is also period. However a penny whistle will not be in the same key and will be harder to play with other musicians or along with a recording. A tenor recorder usually goes over better than soprano; it has the same fingering and so is easy to find beginner music and instruction for it but it is less shrill so people who wince at a soprano recorder may smile at the tenor one. Plastic recorders are easier to use because they don't have problems with moisture the same way, but an old wooden school recorder can be found cheaply and looks nicer than the wrong plastic one.

Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Friendly Beasts and The Huron Christmas Carol are all Medieval dance tunes that it should be dead easy to get the music for and maybe even find another musician who can play with you. Triangles and tambourines are both medieval, and so are simple drums like a tabour. The closest to a period tabour I have seen that was not made by someone doing historical reproduction would be an African one.

Check out the SCA where we do all kinds of medieval music and dance, with lots and lots of simple rounds and bransles.

This is the portal for the Kingdom of Ansteorra, which is most of Texas, if you happen to be there.

This is the Medieval and Renaissance Music and Dance page, unfortunately with quite a few expired links.

I can also probably point you at some facebook groups, if you are on facebook.

I have been working on developing un-choreographed Medieval dance so that we can do pick-up dance when no one has learned the dance choreography, from descriptions of dance that are period. There is of course lots of dance music, but any choreography that goes with it is post Medieval, such as Arbeau's Orchesography which is fifteenth century so Tudor/Renaissance not Medieval.

My pet project is to figure out some simple songs to period tunes with a burden for the dancers to sing and lyrics for the leader to sing as she or he leads them.

Please private message me if you want to discuss or if there is any information I can provide, and to let me know what luck and what progress you have. I would love to hear more.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:46 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Your video is of someone playing a modern flute, with a dance mistress teaching the steps to the Maltese Bransle. To the best of my knowledge there was no period flute like the one she is playing
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:50 PM on January 10 [1 favorite]

This isn't what you're looking for: It is pretty cool, however.
posted by mecran01 at 7:49 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Flute player here. Flutes have had a steady evolution that can more or less be summarized as starting with no keys, gradually getting keys added up to the present day concert flute. You can get some idea of types of flutes by searching in YouTube, e.g. here.

I have two suggestions. If you don't play the flute at all, get a recorder. They are much cheaper to buy and much easier to play. And I think they're what was meant by "flute" if you go back far enough.

If you do play the flute, and would like to try the just the basic instrument, take a look at Hall Crystal Flutes. They are inexpensive and sturdy, made out of a glass that's somewhat akin to Pyrex.

In either case, an instrument without any keywork is easiest to play on one or two particular key signatures. It may not be able to play all the notes in the chromatic scale, or it may require tricky fingerings to do so. I have a Hall flute in G. It's easiest to play in the keys of G and D. It's also pitched too high to be natural for playing along with singers.

You might check out Irish Flutes as shown here. Irish flute playing goes back a long way, maybe even to medieval times.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:24 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

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