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Elizabethan Music

Music was considered to be one of
the most important forms of
entertainment for those living
during this time.
Music was not just for musicians.
Music could be performed by
Elizabethan musicians but simple
songs and ballads were also sung in
the villages and fields by the Lower
Classes to ease the monotonous
tasks they were given.
All people were required to attend
church on Sundays which led to the
popularity of hymns and secular

The different types of Elizabethan music were:

Church Music
Court Music
Street Music
Theatre Music
Town Music

Court Music
Queen Elizabeth employed a minimum of 70
musicians and singers.
The range of Elizabethan music played at court
varied from traditional, English ballads to
sophisticated madrigals and from church music
to dance music.
The court musicians played their music from
what was called the Minstrels Gallery.
Music to be played in the court was very
Composers would often write a piece in the
name of a nobleman, and then give it to them as
a gift. Others would try to catch the eye of the
Queen, who was always on the hunt for new

Church Music
Church music and court music were often composed by the same musicians.
Elizabethan music began as simply singing poetry.
Church music included canzonets, madrigals and sacred songs.
Elizabethan composers for the voice used two distinct styles which were
called the Madrigal and the Ayre. The Madrigal was considered a
sophisticated style to the Elizabethans. Madrigals were often unaccompanied
and the number of voices varied from two to eight.
Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were the main Elizabethan composers of
Elizabethan Church music.

Madrigal Example:


Nobles often had at least one instrument in their house
due to the requirement of Queen Elizabeth which was
that all upperclass people had to learn how to play
instruments or to sing well.
There were recorders, flutes, flageolets, rebecs, tabors,
drums, and sackbuts.
The most popular instruments were the lute, virginals
and the viols.

The Lute
The lute was the most popular
of the three, being used
among all classes. It could be
played as a solo instrument or
used to accompany a solo
voice. Lutes were found in
various shapes and sizes. The
most common was the treble
lute, being shaped like a large
mandolin, with six strings, the
five lower attached in pairs,
making eleven strings in total.

Viols were used for both solo
and accompaniment. A band
of them consisted of two
treble, two tenor, and two
bass viols. When played
together, it was called a
"consort". Viols had six
strings and were played with
a bow.

A virginal was considered to be one of the earliest keyboard instruments.
It was rectangular in shape and had a keyboard of about four octaves.
Queen Elizabeth herself was known to be one of the best Virginal players.

Street Music
The Medieval era of travelling minstrels quickly came to a halt with the
coming of the bubonic plague.
While Elizabethan street music for the lower and middle class was
played at weekly markets and the occasional fairs.
Elizabethan Feasts, Fairs and Festivals were all common occurrences and
were celebrated during specific times of the year dictated by the church.
The instruments played by Elizabethan Street musicians had to be light
and easily carried. They included fiddles, the lute, recorders and small
percussion instruments.
The songs and ballads sang by the street musicians were the traditional
favourites and often played by the middle or lower-class.

Theatre Music
Elizabethans combined traditional music with accompanying verses with the excitement and
facade of Elizabethan theatre.
The importance of music to the Elizabethans was reflected in the plays of William
Shakespeare who makes more than five hundred references to music in his plays and poems.
The works of William Shakespeare were divided into three categories - Comedies, Tragedies
and Histories. Each genre required different emotions to be reflected in the music thus
requiring different genres of music and instruments being played.
The Shakespeare plays As You Like It and Twelfth Night contain six songs each.
Elizabethan Theatre musicians often played in a section of the 'Lords Rooms'. The 'Lords
Rooms' were in a gallery immediately above the upstage wall and facing the backs of the
In some circumstances theatre musicians were also placed strategically on the stage and
under the stage in order to give the impression of distance or providing an eerie atmosphere
in plays like Macbeth. The hautboy, an instrument that could be considered an early version
of the oboe, provided a high pitched, supernatural effect which accompanied the witches in
The main purpose of the Elizabethan music played in the theatre was to communicate
different moods in order to reflect the plots of the plays and heighten the drama.

Elizabethan Music and Dance

In the Elizabethan era music and dance were extremely popular. Music
and dance often went hand in hand and the new types of music that were
created accompanied the new styles of dance. Music and Dance were
influenced hugely by Queen Elizabeth because she enjoyed it herself. The
purpose of dancing was for entertainment as well as exercise. Dancing in
the Elizabethan era was considered a wholesome recreation of the mind
and also an exercise of the body.
Elizabethan Music complemented the different forms of Elizabethan
Dance. The emergence of different styles of music and new musical
instruments combined with various experiments combining different
instruments led to new dances being created. Both music and dance were
often classified by the social classes.

Elizabethan Dance Example:
Greensleeves (Most popular song): https://
Elizabethan Virginal Music:
More Music Playlist:

Reason for choosing topic


Music is a huge part of everyday life

To get a greater appreciation for the history of music

Most interesting aspect


The evolution of musical instruments

Music and dance were classified by classes
Where the musicians were placed when playing

"Elizabethan Dance." Elizabethan Dance. Web. 10 Mar. 2016. <http://
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 10 Mar. 2016. <https:// Minstrels'_gallery>.
"Music and Dance - Class." ElizabethanTimesWiki -. Web. 10 Mar.
2016. <https:// and
Dance - Class>.
"Elizabethan Music." ELIZABETHAN MUSIC. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
Cooke, Greville. Queen Elizabeth and Her Court Musicians. The
Musical Times 79.1144 (1938): 419421.