minstrel: medieval accompaniment

Barbara Webb b.h.webb at stir.ac.uk
Thu Dec 27 03:52:45 PST 2001

> How do you
> accompany medieval music (as opposed to Renaissance--I play early period
> music--nothing after 1400, really) on a plucked string instrument?  

A question I've thought about a lot as I also play mostly pre-1400 music. 
I play harp but my husband plays a fretted oud, citole and fiddle.
Your basic ideas - finding a drone and doubling the tune intermittently,
are ones we also use, and are appropriate I think. A few other ideas we've
picked up or stumbled across:

- 'home' and 'away' - if you think of the drone (and fifth) as 'home',
many medieval pieces have a form that nicely rocks between the home and
the next door position. You already mention this as a 'moving' drone;
another approach is to think of going from the notes between the staves to
the notes on the staves. This idea comes partly from the Robert ap Huw
manuscript which gives a 'binary' code for the structure of each piece
e.g. "1011011 1011011" where "1" is 'home' and "0"is 'away'. It is a
useful exercise to analyse a medieval tune into its "10" pattern and have
that in mind as your 'chord sequence'. You can for example use this to
generate a 'cantus firmus' for a piece that uses the right pattern of home
and away notes...

- Try treating a (constant) drone as percussion - i.e. what variety of
rhythms can you generate from the one note?

- playing in parallel fifths or fourths or octaves

- varying this with contrary motion - if the tune goes up, go down and
viceversa, generating a simple counter melody

- play a skeletal version of the melody, or taking the key notes, find a
different way to go from one to the next than the actual tune

- echo the ends of phrases or anticipate patterns, or as you say, find
'fills' for the pauses in the tune

I'd be happy to see other people's input on this question!


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