The Music of The Vikings
Some fun facts…
- The Vikings would have played music at different occasions, including both funerals and celebrations.
- They didn’t write music down. So, we don’t know exactly what they played, but original musical instruments have been found.
- The Vikings played string instruments, wind instruments and percussion instruments.
- There were two kind of Viking musicians: Skalds and Jesters.
- Skalds would travel the land singing stories at important events.
- Jesters were held in pretty low regard – you could even kill an unsatisfactory jester and not get punished!
What kind of musical instruments did the Vikings play? What did they sound like?
- You can make sounds from percussion instruments by hitting, scraping or shaking.
- These would be created by making a round, wooden frame and stretching animal hide over the top of it.
- The Vikings would have made drums similar to other European cultures.
In this video, you will see a selection of percussing instruments played by musicians in the way the Vikings are thought to have played them:
- String instruments make a sound through the strings vibrating. This can be done by plucking, strumming or bowing.
- The most common string instrument the Vikings are thought to have played is the lyre. It tended to have a wooden, oblong body with six strings made of sheep guts. The lyre is a relative of the harp we know today.
- The Vikings also used bows made of horse hairs to play string instruments. One of these was called a rebec. It was similar to an early violin.
This video demonstrates a taglharpe – a type of lyre that is played using a bow. The musician plays a drone, which is where a pitch or chord is continuously sounded.
- Wind instruments are instruments that need air to make a sound, like a flute.
- Vikings played flutes that are similar to the recorders we have today.
- They would have made these instruments out of wood and animal bones.
- They would also carve holes into goat and cow horns to play.
- Another instrument was the panpipe. It was made from a small slab of boxwood and the pipes were created by boring holes into the wood at different depths so that each had a different pitch when blown into.
In this video, you will see a selection of wind and string instruments played by musicians in the way the Vikings are thought to have played them:
You can hear several Viking instruments playing together in this video.
This group, Eldrim, have written their own music in the style that we think the original Vikings might have played, using instruments made in the same way as the ones found at Viking archeological sites.
Sing like a Viking
If you would like to have a go at some singing, BBC Teach have created songs that tell stories of Viking Mythology. The first song is about Loki the Joker. This first video teaches you how to sing the song and some information about it, and the second video is the song itself for when you have learnt how to sing it: