Middle Ages Music & Instruments
A guitar is a stringed musical instrument played with the
fingers or a plectrum (guitar pick).
The cittern is a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance, having evolved considerably since that time. It is similar to several other instruments, notably the bouzouki, with which it is often confused.
The Renaissance cittern was one of the few metal-strung plectrum-plucked instruments from the period. Generally four courses (pairs) of strings, the cittern uses a range of only a major 6th between its lowest and highest strings, and employs a "re-entrant" tuning. The tuning and narrow range allow the player a number of simple chord shapes useful for both simple song accompaniment and dances, and its bright and cheerful timbre make it a valuable counterpoint to gut-strung instruments. Other variations on the cittern are the bandore (or bandora), a bass instrument. Likewise the Spanish bandurria, is similar, but also having some characterstics of the more standard lute.
Modern citterns, bouzoukis (zouks), octave mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos, and mandolins are members of a family of instruments distinguished by being strung in 2 string courses with metal strings, usually in unisons but sometimes in octaves, made of wood, usually with a floating bridge/ tailpiece arrangement, and usually tuned in 5ths or open tunings. The body shape is usually teardrop based, rather than the waisted design of a guitar or violin.
A cittern has come to mean usually a 10-string instrument of this family with a short scale length, ie below 22". The modern use of the term "cittern" is attributed to British luthier Stefan Sobell who devised a pear-shaped, 8-string instrument influenced by designs of English and Portuguese guitars with their flat backs, ovoid bodies, and double-course strings. After seeing pictures of Rennaisance citterns and noting the resemblance to his new design, he chose the name "cittern" to describe his instruments.
The recorder is a flute-like woodwind musical instrument. Contrariwise, the flute is a recorder-like woodwind musical instrument. In German it is called the Blockflöte, in French the flûte à bec, and in Italian the flauto dolce. It is held vertically from the lips (rather than horizontally like the 'transverse' flute). The player's breath is directed by a wooden 'fipple' or 'block' in the mouthpiece of the instrument along a duct called the 'windway', hence its membership in the family of "fipple flutes", which also includes such instruments as the tin whistle. Exiting from the windway, the breath is directed against a hard edge called the labium, which agitates a column of air, the length of which (and the pitch of the note produced) is modified by finger holes in the front and back of the instrument. Because of the fixed position of the windway with respect to the labium, there is no need to form an embouchure with the lips. On the other hand the shape and size of the recorder player's mouth cavity has a discernable effect on the timbre, tone and response of the recorder -- but we could hardly call this an "embouchure". This is similar to the functioning of the ancestors of the recorder, early folk whistles.
Recorders are most often tuned in C and F, though instruments in D, G, Eb were not uncommon historically and are still found today especially the Tenor in D known as a voice flute. The normal, school instrument, recorder is the soprano in C (in Britain also known as the descant) which has a lowest note of c'. Above this are the sopranino in F and the gar klein Flötlein ("really small flute") in C, with a lowest note of c". An experimental 'piccolino' has also been produced in f". Below the soprano are the alto in F (in Britain also known as the treble), tenor in C and basset in F (in Britain known as the bass) . Lower instruments in C and F exist (bass in C - in Britain also known as the Great Bass, contrabass in F, subcontrabass in C, and sub-subcontrabass or octo-contrabass in F) but are more rare. They are also difficult to handle: the contrabass in F is about 2 meters tall. The soprano and the alto are the most common solo instruments in the recorder family.
The range of a recorder is about 2 octaves, chromatically. The instrument can be played chromatically over two octaves and a fifth by a skilled player, except for the augmented prime, two octaves and one semitone above the base note. This note is either absent or can only be played by covering the end of the instrument, typically by using one's upper leg or a special bell key. Basically, a recorder is a diatonic instrument, with one hole for each note of the scale of its lowest note, although the upper half of the second octave requires irregular fingerings. Two versions exist, one using the major scale and an older one using the lydian scale.
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