Exploring the Medieval Period of Music in School Lessons

The medieval period of music, spanning from the 9th to the 15th century, offers a fascinating glimpse into the origins and evolution of Western music. Teaching the medieval period of music in school lessons not only enriches students’ understanding of music history but also highlights the cultural and historical contexts that shaped musical development. This blog post aims to provide educators with insights and strategies for effectively integrating the medieval period of music into their curriculum, ensuring students appreciate its significance and influence on subsequent musical eras.

Understanding the Medieval Period of Music

The medieval period of music is characterized by significant musical innovations, including the development of musical notation, the evolution of polyphony, and the creation of the earliest forms of liturgical drama. It was a time of great experimentation and diversity in musical expression, with genres ranging from the sacred Gregorian chant to secular troubadour songs. Understanding the medieval period of music allows students to explore the roots of Western musical tradition and the interconnectedness of music, religion, and society during the Middle Ages.

Strategies for Teaching the Medieval Period of Music

  1. Historical Context: Begin by setting the scene, explaining the social, religious, and cultural environment of the medieval period. This helps students understand the context in which this music was created and performed.
  2. Listening Sessions: Introduce students to the sounds of the medieval period through listening sessions featuring Gregorian chants, organum, and secular troubadour and trouvere songs. Discuss the characteristics of each genre, focusing on their textual, melodic, and harmonic qualities.
  3. Explore Musical Notation: Since the medieval period saw the development of musical notation, teach students how music was notated and how these early methods evolved into the notation system we use today. This can include hands-on activities where students try creating their own neumes (early musical notation symbols) on parchment-like paper.
  4. Instruments of the Medieval Period: Present the musical instruments commonly used during the medieval period, such as the lute, hurdy-gurdy, and psaltery. If possible, arrange for demonstrations of these instruments or use videos to bring the sounds and visuals of medieval music to life.
  5. Incorporate Art and Literature: Use medieval art and literature to complement the music lessons, showing the interconnectedness of the arts during the medieval period. This interdisciplinary approach can help students better appreciate the cultural richness of the era.
  6. Performance and Composition: Encourage students to perform medieval music using modern instruments or vocal techniques. Alternatively, have them compose their own pieces inspired by medieval music, applying the principles of modal melody and rhythmic modes.
  7. Comparative Study: Compare medieval music with music from other periods (such as the Renaissance or Baroque) to highlight the evolution of musical styles, forms, and notation. This can help students understand the continuity and change in music history.
  8. Field Trips and Guest Speakers: If possible, organize field trips to museums with medieval music manuscripts or artifacts, or invite guest speakers specializing in medieval music to provide deeper insights into the period.


Teaching the medieval period of music in school lessons opens up a world of discovery for students, allowing them to explore the earliest roots of Western musical tradition. By employing a variety of teaching strategies, educators can make this ancient music era accessible and engaging, highlighting its historical significance and enduring influence on the music we enjoy today. Through listening, analysis, performance, and composition, students can gain a comprehensive understanding of the medieval period of music, fostering a deeper appreciation for the art and culture of the past.

For resources to support your music classroom click here to browse the full list.

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