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What Are Baroque Instruments?

By Lumara Lee
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Baroque period took place in Europe between 1600 and 1750, forming a bridge between the Renaissance and Classical periods. Baroque instruments were generally the same ones used during the Renaissance, although many experienced improvements through technological and mechanical innovations. The Baroque period saw the development of the violin family, which replaced the viol family of stringed instruments that was prominent during the Renaissance. Keyboard instruments, such as organs and harpsichords, played a principal role. Wind instruments were also popular.

Violins were the most frequently-used Baroque instruments. The stringed instruments played with bows during this period differed from modern ones because they didn’t have any frets. It was during the Baroque period that the violin family reached its zenith. Stradivarius created his violins during this period, which are considered to be masterpieces that no craftsman has been able to surpass. Other stringed instruments used with bows during this time were the cello, viola, and double bass.

The guitar is another stringed instrument used in Baroque music. It had frets made of gut that were tied around the guitar’s neck. These Baroque instruments were smaller than the guitars used today, and had nine or ten strings.

During the Baroque period, orchestras first appeared. The trumpet and French horn were the main Baroque instruments in the brass family that were used in orchestras. Unlike modern trumpets and French horns, these Baroque instruments didn’t have any valves, an invention that didn’t occur until the 19th century. The lack of valves limited the use of brass to an occasional flourish to add some color to orchestral compositions. Trombones were also used occasionally, but these Baroque instruments were smaller than the trombones used today.

The harpsichord, which was invented in the 14th century, achieved its greatest prominence during the Baroque period in the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Most harpsichords had a shape that was narrower and longer than the piano, which wasn’t developed until the 19th century. Harpsichord strings were plucked when keys were depressed. Some harpsichords had two strings connected to each key, and some had one string per key. Bach also wrote many compositions for the organ.

Oboes, flutes, and bassoons were the most common woodwind Baroque instruments, and the recorder, a holdover from the Renaissance period, was still in use. Many Baroque-period flutes were constructed so that the musician blew into a mouthpiece on one end instead blowing across a hole in the way a modern flute is played. Woodwind instruments during this era were made of wood.

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