Savvy Saturday – Pipe Dreams

This week I’ve been researching medieval wind instruments – especially reed instruments (like the oboe). Reed instruments have been used since ancient times, in places as diverse as Egypt, the Middle East, and Rome.


Rome_pipes As you might notice in the picture above, it was actually fairly common for individuals to play two pipes at the same time. While this isn’t a common feature of Western music (except for bagpipes), it is often seen in music around the world. One pipe plays a “drone” pitch, and the other pipe plays the melody. Here’s some examples with very different sound qualities:

Native American (hollow flute-like sound)


Egyptian (buzzing sound)


Bagpipes (piercing sound)


Of course, single-pipe instruments are also common around the world. Here are some examples:


Persian ney (focused sound, but breathy undertone)


Chinese ocarina (clear, mellow sound)


One especially interesting instrument, a direct ancestor of the oboe, is known as a shawm. It is a single-pipe reed instrument, rather than the double-pipe instruments above, that was popular in the Middle Ages. Interested? Take a look!


For those of you who are more academically or musically minded, here is an interesting 8-minute video from a USC professor who demonstrates and discusses the recorder, bagpipes, and the shawm. Fascinating stuff!



So how am I going to use this information in my writing? My setting is going to be inspired by various cultures of the Middle Ages, but with far greater importance placed on music than is found in our world. As such, many of my characters are going to be accomplished musicians using the types of instruments demonstrated above, as well as string instruments such as the lute and fiddle. It should be fun!

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