How to write a medieval song?

• Aug 7, 2022 - 11:26

I have lyrics and I want to add music to it. What tricks can be used to make it sound medieval, both in terms of notes and instruments (available in MS)?
The song is rather humorist soldiers song, so it should not sound like a solemn hymn ;)


Hi, I've searched around and was wondering if MuseScore will be developing a Medieval notation to it's core application? If not, maybe it might be good to create a MuseScore Medieval program. SImilar to this:

I'm currently looking at Greggario, but I love MuseScore as I'm used to it. If anyone is interested who do we need to contact to make this happen?

P.S. I have Vector skills and could assist with notation, or developing the font. Please let me know what font software works best with MuseScore.

In reply to by RP_2022ad

Meanwhile, though, since the symbols are all (?) there, you can in theory just add them from the symbols palette (press "Z" to display). I've done this for very short examples, by entering the notes normally for spacing and playback, making them invisible, then adding the symbols from the palette. It's kind of painful but could be a lot worse. You can make use of things like the ability to select all notes of the same duration via right-click Select / More to add the appropriate symbol in one click, etc.

In reply to by RP_2022ad

Hi! I'm not familiar with Greggario, or Piéchaud's Medieval 2--the latter is an add-on, or sub-program operating within Finale, right? While I've often been disappointed that MuseScore doesn't support playback, or easy note-entry, for neumatic notation--even the basic Solesme version--I wonder how difficult it would be to implement that, given that the real-world uses for it, combined in one file with modern notation, would be quite limited--incipits and alternatim chant verses in scholarly editions of polyphonic music, and the like.

Marc's suggestion of using an underlay of invisble notes is ingenious, although I can see some difficulties, especially with longer pieces--spacing would become a concern, and of course that four-line staff.

In reply to by etsenberg

Here's a video of "Pasttime with Good Company"--which is technically not Medieval, but early Renaissance--with score, scored for plucked string instruments, and MADE WITH MUSESCORE:

Also, here is a good compliation of Medieval music, showing a range of different styles and forms. Alas, without scores, but give it a good listen to "get the sound in your ears":

In reply to by wfazekas1

Thanks! MS video doesn't show the instruments names. can you tell which ones were used?
As for the period, for me "medieval" is the whole epoch of classical feudalism - when lords were powerful enough to argue with the king (and each other), so it's roughly 9th to 17th centuries.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

In the 3rd (and several other) measure, 2 different eighths which look smaller than normal are connected with a tie-like symbol. What does it mean? I thought only the same notes could be tied. And as I can hear, they are not played.
Also, what does "C"-like symbol after the clef mean?

In reply to by etsenberg

You wrote:
2 different eighths which look smaller than normal are connected with a tie-like symbol.

Those eighths are embellishments to the following note. They are slurred, not tied.
and: I can hear, they are not played.
Listen carefully. (Perhaps use the tempo slider to slow the playback until you can discern them.)

Also, what does "C"-like symbol after the clef mean?
It's a time signature.
and look at the first image.
Also, see:
which explains the "C"-like symbol.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Thanks, but no, they do not sound! I checked in MS(2.3) and youtube, slowing the tempo as much as possible. In MS they are not even highlighted as a note being played and the "now playing" line skips them. I even changed their pitch significantly to make them distinguishable - but to no avail. Maybe they work in MS3, but still, I cannot hear them on youtube.

Since, in another thread (, the OP asked me directly for my opinion, here it goes:

By "sound medieval." I assume you mean what Hollywood and video games thinks Medieval music sounds like--real Medieval (11th-14th c.) music sounds quite different, and is more varied than most people believe.

Let's start with melody--avoid standard major or minor scales, and use modal ones instead: D minor, but with C-natural instead of C-sharp, and B-natural instead of B-flat (Dorian); or F major, but with B-natural instead of B-flat (Lydian).

Also, Medieval music used an alternation of short and long notes, so the result often sounds like a swinging 6/8 time, but often with an eighth-quarter rhythm instead of a quarter-eighth, or the two rhythms alternating.

As far as harmony goes, avoid chords with thirds, and use open fifths and fourths instead--full triads with thirds didn't become common until the early 15th. c., with the advent of the "English Sound". Real Medieval music seldom used harmony as we think of it anyway--unaccompanied musical lines were much more common.

As far as instruments go, Musescore has a whole palette of soundfiles for Medieval instruments, which often sound more strident, less "polished" than their modern counterparts--recorders instead of flutes, shawms instead of clarinets. Your primary instrument is guitar, right? Try using the lute or vihuela instead.

As for looking at scores of Medieval music in modern notation, if you have access to it, try checking out a standard historical anthology of music, and browsing through the first couple pages--Willi Apel's anthology, and the Norton Anthology of Western Music (vol. 1, of course) are two pretty good, if dated, ones.

And yes, real Medieval music usually sounded more boisterous, less solemn, than most people assume--even the monks' chanting was less dirgelike than Hollywood would have us believe. After all, this was music designed to entertain and cheer a people whose daily lives were pretty hard otherwise.

In reply to by wfazekas1

Thanks! But D minor does not have C-sharp, does it? It has only B-flat.
BTW, can you explain me the difference between natural major, Dorian and Lydian? The only difference is they begin from C, D and F, resp. Yes, that means different keynotes, so what? I am not obliged neither to start nor to end with a keynote, right? E.g. ending with F will be OK both in Dorian and Lydian. In general, if I use notes which all belong to several modes, what is my mode? I cannot understand it even regardless the medieval topic
My tune will probably be a combination of quarters and halves, where odd lines will make 12/4 and even limes - 9/4, 3/4 measure will fit both. Is this OK?
I don't play anything IRL, so I don't have a "primary instrument" and can use any in MS ;) Not sore yet if woodwind or strings will be better - maybe a combination of both.

In reply to by etsenberg

Modes are a bit tricky. There are few different ways at looking them. The easiest way to start is to play a C major scale: CDEFGABC

each note of the scale corresponds to a mode:

C - Ionian (Major)
D - Dorian
E - Phrygian
F - Lydian
G - Mixolydian
A - Aeolian (Natural Minor; relative)
B - Locrian

So, for Dorian, you can play DEFGABCD, Phrygian, EFGABCDE, etc.

Aeolian, the Minor mode, is unique in that it has two variations:


1) ABCDEFGA (Natural)
2) ABCDEF-G#-A (Harmonic, raised/#7)
3) (Melodic ascending) ABCDE-F# G#-A (raised/#6 and #7)
(Melodic descending) AGFEDCBA (natural 6 and 7)

So for D Minor, the three types would be spelled:
1) DEFGA-Bb-CD (Natural)
2) DEFGA-Bb-C#-D (Harmonic)
3) DEFGA-B-C#-D-C-Bb-AGFED (Melodic)

Another way to play Dorian is to think of a major scale with a flat-3 and flat-7, or build a major scale but think of the key a maj2 interval from the starting note. So C Dorian start on C but use Bb major as your key signature. Hope this helps!

In reply to by RP_2022ad

I can understand how to play a scale in a specific mode, knowing where it should have tones and where halftones. I cannot understand how to detect the mode of a tune which is not a simple scale. Say, the tune consists of natural notes from C to A of the next octave (in any order and amount). What mode is it? C major? A minor? Dorian (starting from D)? Lydian (starting from F)?

In reply to by etsenberg

Depends on the final. If the cadences are in D, that's dorian. Although most early music wont stick to one mode - there will be cadences to different finals at different points in the piece. So the first section might be aeolian, the next ionian, the next phrygian, the next dorian, etc. Perhaps more common as you get to the Renaissance as oppose to strictly medieval, but it sounds like you're including Renaissance in the scope of what you're asking about.

So, this is my first version of the song. I tried to add recorder and mandolin by just copying the same notes, but did not like the result (but the horn party sounds good for me). Unfortunately, I have no experience and no knowledge of writing music where parties of different instruments differ (unless it is unpitched percussion ;))
So, any suggestions how to improve this tune by adding instruments and maybe changing some pitches to make it sound more medieval? (But do not alter the notes duration, as they are related to the lyrics)
If you post your versions, please save them as music xml for MS2 compatibility.

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