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12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Sep 13, 2014 11:29 pm
by Brendan C
Hi folks

Quick question - we have a younger member of our group who is wanting to use her musical skills on site, but does not know where to source the correct period musical instruments (a flute or recorder, circa 12th / 13th century)

I've got no knowledge regarding this - can anyone point us in the right direction?

Much obliged

Brendan C

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Dec 06, 2014 12:23 am
by frances
Hello Brendan,

The best instrument for her to try would be the pipe and tabor. This is a three-holed pipe held in the left hand whilst the right hand holds a drum stick. The drum dangles from the left wrist. This time period is just on the edge of archaeology and medieval manuscript drawings, so very authentic. The pipe will cost you less than £10 and the drum can be a child's one from a toy shop. As long as it has an animal skin rather than a plastic skin you will be OK. There is also music around from this period, which is usually very simple to play.

Here be pictures: ... alAll.html ... tures.html

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:55 pm
by Jack Campin
There are no physical instruments surviving from that period - the recorder seems to be a bit later and images of whistles are usually ambiguous. There is no specific evidence for the English style of three-hole pipe (or the similar Provencal galoubet) that early, as far as I know: this illustration from the Cantigas de Santa Maria ... _tabor.jpg

is of something like the modern Catalan "flabiol", which usually has five holes and a tuning hole. There are a few makers of keyless flabiols around Europe (you don't want a keyed one, that's a 19th century invention).

Despite its intention, this gallery ... alAll.html

is mostly of instruments of the flabiol type, e.g. the one from mid-14th century Peterborough where the hand is much higher up the instrument than it ever is for a modern English tabor pipe, and there are flabiol-style tuning holes lower down.

The oldest surviving instruments of the recorder/whistle family you can get as genuine historical replicas are the Tartu and Dordrecht recorders, from around 1400. Tim Cranmore makes both. I have one of his Dordrecht replicas and it works well. The Tartu one is a bit weird. You would need to be rather clued up about historical reconstruction to find anything to play on it, since no known mediaeval tunes really fit - e.g. don't expect troubadour songs to work.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Tue Dec 09, 2014 10:36 pm
by frances
The point of the pipe and tabor is that it is designed to be played and heard outside - just think of those wet and muddy camping weekends.

A tin three-holed pipe can be washed and sterilised if it lands up on the floor or in the mud and a child's drum cannot come to much harm. Both tin pipe and child's drum are cheap so not much is lost if the child decides they do not get on with it (unlike a lovely wood recorder ordered straight from the maker). A tin three-holed whistle and a child's drum are available off-the shelf in many ordinary music shops or the pipe can be ordered from The Taborers Society - it will be with the buyer within a week, unlike a custom-made recorder for which the waiting list may be up to a year. Lovely hand-built tabors and three-hole pipes copied from authentic sources can, of course, be purchased once the child knows that this is the thing for them.

And just think of the drama of the pipe and tabor, one person playing the tune and the rhythm at the same time and you only have to provide one dinner!

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2014 12:43 am
by Jack Campin
You play the drum at the same time with a flabiol too, as in the image from the Cantigas I linked to. It's higher and louder than a tabor pipe.

They aren't that expensive and you could buy one from a UK supplier right now: ... biol-in-F/

I'd order it direct from Sans in Girona though.

Or get a plastic one:

(I can't track down where to buy one - the designer is the player in that video, Galdric Santana Roma, and perhaps contacting him through his YouTube channel would work).

Enormous collection of Catalan flabiol music:

The point of bringing this instrument into the discussion? There is less continuity between the Middle Ages and the present-day folk scene than folkies like to think, and projecting a modern folk instrument back 600 years or more, as if its simplicity must mean it had the same role as it does now, is often very misleading. On the iconographical evidence, the modern Catalan flabiol would have been more easily recognized by someone from mediaeval England than anything played by an English morris side in the last 200 years.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Thu Dec 11, 2014 11:06 pm
by saracen
I must say that I agree with Jack. The OP asked for correct period instruments.
I've pointed the OP in the direction of the six-hole whistles made by Jean-Daniel Talma. We use one of these - its a good price, beautifully made with a lovely tone and much better for the period than a recorder, which is as you say likely no earlier than 14th century. Here's a link to the site: ... lcome.html
if anyone else is interested! Bone whistles are another good possibility.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Fri Dec 12, 2014 3:10 am
by Jack Campin
Found the link for the Sans flabiols: ... plano.html

I have a couple of bone whistles made by a friend of mine. They look historically appropriate for some period before the construction of Stonehenge. I'm not sure the council would let me busk wearing nothing but woad.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 12:54 am
by frances
Thanks Jack for an interesting discussion. I passed your main points over to the pipe and tabor discussion group and they have had a very lively discussion about what number of holes the 12th century instrument might have had, and where, going from what we know at present.

A useful practical point was made by one person:
"one-handed pipe of both kinds existed and is good for playing that repertoire. From a practical point of view - D tabor pipes are playable for a child of 7. An F flabiol is a bit of a stretch, but there are pipes that children learn on in Catalunya."

Someone else pointed out:
"Your suggestion that the child could play pipe and tabour for 13th and 15th century is a perfectly ok suggestion. If that is where the childs inclination lies.
It could be a flabiol style, tts or any other pipe that can be accompanied by the other hand playing tabor or drone ie chordes de tambourin (string drum)."

"In C13th there is iconography showing hands in the middle and hands at the end of the pipe. Of the ones showing the hand in the middle, some have the little finger below, and some show it on top. You can play both flabiol and TTS/TTT/TST systems on a pipe with your hand in the middle of a pipe. We don't really have anyway of knowing what method was used."

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 12:58 am
by frances
Oh you too? I also have a bone three-holed pipe that I drag out on occasion to show to the public. It was made by me from a turkey bone. I tell everyone that I ate the turkey for Christmas and it makes them laugh, and then I play them an out-of tune song, because I did not have enough time to tune it properly and have never got round to it since either.

I do hope that the original poster gets back to us. I would like to know what happened.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 1:38 am
by Brendan C
Hi Frances

I have passed all your info onto the parents of the young lady who wants to try music in our group

Once they have followed things up, I will let you know how things go

Brendan C

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 2:08 am
by frances
Thanks Brendan.

Re: 12th / 13th century flute / recorder

Posted: Fri Jan 23, 2015 1:34 pm
by Jack Campin
I got one of the plastic flabiols. Works very well, albeit helluva loud. Only one or two notes need any special effort to play in tune as per the fingering chart.

But how you go about making black shiny ABS look mediaeval, I have no idea.