Explore Kids in Music History

Travel Through History With Kid Musicians
  • Middle Ages

    Years: 450-1400
  • pso-middle-ages-norte-dame

  • No girls allowed!

    1200 – In the Cathedral School of Paris boys learned to sing and performed mass until their voices changed. Under Charlemagne each city cathedral had a school for boys where music was part of their education. Girls didn’t go to school!

  • Popular Instruments

    Psaltery & Recorder

    A psaltery is a medieval string instrument made of wood and animal gut strings that were plucked by fingers or by plectra (picks). A bow was not used until the 1900s.


    The recorder is one of the oldest woodwind instruments. It was made of wood and came in several different sizes for different registers. Still in use today as the plastic version you play in school!


    A shawm is a double reed instrument that is the origin of the oboe. It came in many sizes and ranges just like the recorder. Its sound is much more bright and harsh than a modern oboe.


  • Quick Facts

    • Most music was singing and for the church
    • Music for instruments was not written down
    • Instruments were used for dancing, processions, and fanfare.
    • Some instruments such as drums and early brass instruments were used in the military.
  • Renaissance

    Years: 1400-1600
  • Vienna Boys Choir - via Wikipedia - Author: Andreas Praefcke

    Vienna Boys Choir

    Wikipedia via Andreas Praefcke

    Quick Facts

    • Reading music notation, singing, and playing an instrument such as a lute were part of more kids education (girls too)!
    • Music had a fuller, richer sound.
    • Instruments were divided into loud (outdoor) instruments and soft (indoor) ones. A shawm was an outdoor instrument and a recorder in indoor one.
  • This choir has been singing for 500 years!

    1498 – Vienna Boys Choir began with 14-20 boys in the original choir created by Emperor Maximilian I. The composer Franz Schubert was one of their members in the 1800s. There are about 100 boys today from age 10-14 who live at the school and perform around 300 concerts a year.

    Popular Instruments


    The dulcimer is a type of psaltery (a wooden box with strings) played by striking hammers on the strings. The fretted version is common in folk music in the United States.


    The lute was one of the most popular string instruments in the Renaissance with a pear shaped body and animal gut strings. It was often used to accompany voices. It is also one of the origins of the modern guitar.

    “Sixtus Rauchwolff: Lute” The Metropolitan Museum of Art


    The serpent is a low brass instrument with S snake shaped body and six finger holes. It was an early predecessor of the modern tuba.


  • Baroque

    Years: 1600-1750
  • Girls can play music too!

    1703 – Antonio Vivaldi began teaching at Pio Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, Italy. This convent and school accepted abandoned babies through a special window. Some of the girls would learn and perform instruments such as the violin to become musicians when they grew up.

  • Popular Instruments


    The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument with plucked strings and sometimes more than one keyboard in order to play fuller and louder. It was used in most Baroque orchestras in a supporting role.


    Baroque Flute
    baroque flute

    The Baroque flute was a high woodwind instrument made of wood with just one key also called the traverso. It is the origin of our modern metal flute.

    baroque violin

    The violin family became the focus of instrumental music in the Baroque. The violin was different than our modern one because of gut strings, no chin or shoulder rest, and the shape of the bow. Some of the original instruments are still played today!


    Natural Trumpet
    natural trumpet

    The natural trumpet is a high brass instrument with no valves. Notes were produced by the player with their lips. It is a predecessor of our modern valved trumpet.



    The pipe organ produces sound by blowing air into a series of tubes. The player plays multiple keyboards and even uses their feet! Organs existed as early as the Middle Ages and were an important instrument in churches in the Baroque.

  • Quick Facts

    • Opera began during this time. Huge sets with moving parts, ballet, costumes, and an orchestra would all be part of an early opera.
    • Melodies were often decorative. Performers would often make up decorations to music as they played that were not written in the music. These were called ornaments.
    • The famous composers G.F. Handel and J.S. Bach lived during this time.
  • Classical

  • pso-young-mozart-classical

    Quick Facts

    • Woodwind and brass instruments were often used in pairs in the orchestra. An orchestra was often violins, violas, cellos, harpsichord, flutes, clarinets, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, french horns, and a timpani.
    • Symphonies were written by composers such as W.A. Mozart and J. Haydn in this period.
    • Melodies were often simple and balanced in this time period and could even be folk songs or popular tunes.
  • 5 year old composer wows the world of music!

    1761 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote Miniature Andante and Allegro K1a and 1b when he was 5 years old! Can you imagine a kindergartener you know doing that? Mozart also toured Europe to play for audiences starting around 6 years old and wrote a symphony when he was 8.

    Popular Instruments

    Antique Piano
    antique piano

    The favored keyboard instrument in the Classical period was the piano. Many concertos and sonatas were written for this popular instrument. The original piano was much smaller than our modern one and was known as a fortepiano, referring to its ability to play both loud and soft.


    The clarinet, a wooden woodwind instrument originally with 5 keys, was introduced into the orchestra in the Classical period. Mozart loved the clarinet and compared it to the human voice. It later developed many more keys to become our modern version.


    The bassoon is the lowest member of the woodwind family. In the Baroque and Classical orchestra it was a 5-keyed double reed instrument which was often used in pairs. It developed into the modern bassoon in the 1800s.



    The oboe is the higher member of the double reeds in the woodwind family. It too had fewer keys in the baroque and classical orchestra and reached its modern form in the 1800s.

  • Romantic

  • opera house

  • Toddler Sings Opera

    1847 – Georges Bizet entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9. His parents claimed that he could sing an aria at 18 months old! He won prizes in singing, piano, and organ when he was much younger than most of the students. One of his most famous pieces is the opera Carmen.

  • Popular Instruments


    The harp has existed in some form since well before the Middle Ages! The modern version has pedals played by both feet that change each note to flat-natural-sharp to play chromatically.


    The tuba is the lowest member of the brass family. It made its appearance in the orchestra in the 1800s.


    The piccolo is the smallest flute and is made of wood. It sounds an octave above the written note and is most often used in 1800-1900s orchestra music. It is the highest instrument in the orchestra!


    The modern piano plays an important role in the orchestra. It is a percussion instrument because of the hammers that strike the strings to create sound.


    The trombone was regularly used in the orchestra by the 1800s. It is a member of the brass family and uses a slide to change pitches rather than valves like a trumpet.

  • Quick Facts

    • Many of our modern instruments developed during this time.  They added keys, improved tuning, and even changed materials such as the flute from wood to metal.
    • The orchestra grew very large in this period. An orchestra might have been close to 100 people by the end of the century.
    • The trombone, tuba, piccolo and many percussion instruments became commonly used in this period’s orchestra.
  • The Twentieth Century

  • symphony orchestra

  • 12 Year Old Graduates from College

    1944 – Glen Gould received his Diploma from the Toronto (Royal) Conservatory of Music at age 12. Most people graduate around age 22! He later went on to become one of the most famous recording artists of the twentieth century.

    Quick Facts

    • Some of the early music from this period was considered harsh and shocking to its audiences.
    • The percussion section greatly expanded in this period. Sometimes instruments used were not even instruments at all such as the typewriter or brake drum!
    • World music greatly influenced composers in this period as the world grew smaller through things such as improved travel, recordings, and the internet.
  • Popular Instruments

  • Marimba

    The marimba is a percussion instrument consisting of wooden bars arranged like a piano that are struck with mallets. It was introduced into the orchestra in the 1900s but had been used in Africa and Central America for centuries.


    The snare drum is a descendant of the tabor drum that has been used since the Middle Ages. It is often associated with the military and was sometimes used to communicate orders to soldiers. It also plays a role in the percussion section of the orchestra.


    The cymbal is a percussion instrument made of metal discs with a dome in the center. It has been used for centuries all over the world but is most used in the orchestra in the later 1800s and 1900s.

  • Saxophone

    The saxophone is not a regular member of the orchestra but is used occasionally. This woodwind was invented around 1840 and is made of metal rather than wood like an oboe or clarinet.


    The tambourine is a percussion instrument consisting of a frame with jingles around the edges with or without a drum head. It too is used most commonly in 1900s orchestra music but has a long history originating in Rome, Greece, and the Middle East.


    The woodblock is a percussion instrument made from a single piece of hardwood with a slit in the center. It is struck with a mallet.