Renaissance Music

Renaissance MusicRenaissance music became much different from the music of the Middle Ages. Melodies and harmonies changed. New forms of music developed because more music was being used for entertainment. Music also became a leisure activity for the upper classes. The invention of the printing press in 1439 helped to spread copies of music and music theory texts. This allowed more people to participate in music.

Changes in Renaissance Music

During the time of the Renaissance music changed in several ways. Composers used more variety in the range of the melodies, in the rhythm patterns, and in the harmonies. The use of 3rds and 6ths became much more popular. Also, the texture of the music was much richer – there were more independent melodic parts. Composers got better at blending all these melodies together. The writers of the music were more concerned about having the music flow freely and having pleasing chord progressions.

Sacred music was still in great demand. Composers continued to write masses and sacred choral music, but they added some new forms, like motets and chorales (hymns sung by the congregation). Secular music changed as well.  It increased in popularity, and that required new forms of music. Composers were writing madrigals and chansons for vocalists, but there was a greater demand for instrumental music as well. So, composers developed the toccata and the prelude – new forms for instrumentalists to play. Operas became more and more popular as well.

Remember, during the Middle Ages, musicians figured out how to write music on paper to make it easier to teach the music to others. More changes in notation happened during the Renaissance. Composers were not using bar lines to divide the music into measures. The note values in use were longer – instead of using a quarter note to define one beat the composers used whole notes. Also, when they wrote out parts for instruments or singers, they did not write a complete score (a copy of all the parts together). They just wrote the individual parts. So, you could not look at one part and see what a different musician was supposed to be playing at the same time. And, composers did not always write the necessary sharps or flats in the music. The musicians just had to adjust, based on the way the music sounded.

Instruments of Renaissance Music

Renaissance music included four key groups of instruments. The brass section included instruments such as the slide trumpet, the cornett, the trumpet without any valves, and the sackbut, a forerunner of the trombone. The string family of the Renaissance period consisted of the viol, the lyre, the Irish harp, and the hurdy-gurdy. The string family also included the forerunners of the guitar and the mandolin, the gittern and the mandore. The woodwind family members were the shawm, the reed pipe, the bagpipes, the panpipe, the hornpipe, the recorders, and the transverse flute.  The keyboard instruments of the time included various virginals and early harpsichords and clavichords.

Important Composers of Renaissance Music

Guillame Dufay – also included in the section on Early Music. He was the greatest composer of the 1400’s. He was one of the first to use the more pleasing melodies, harmonies, and phrasing of the early Renaissance.

Josquin des Prez – the greatest composer of the 1500’s. He was a very prolific composer and wrote music in all the different forms available at the time.

Palestrina – He believed that the flow of music was important. He thought that the melody of the music should have very few leaps. He also felt that music should contain limited amounts of dissonance, and that any dissonance should be resolved promptly. Listen to some music of Palestrina: Music of Palestrina

Giovanni Gabrieli – He was famous for using dynamics and for using specific lists of instruments in his works. He even used carefully chosen instruments and singers in more than two groups performing together. Listen to some Gabrieli: Music of Gabrieli

Claudio Monteverdi – He was known for being a key composer in the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque eras of music.  He was also the first great opera composer and was very effective at projecting human emotions in his music. Here you can listen to some Monteverdi: Music of Monteverdi

Carlo Gesualdo – He was the most experimental and expressive composer of the Renaissance. He was also famous for violently killing his wife.

Did you miss our previous look at the Music of the Middle Ages? Check it out here: Music of the Middle Ages

How about our look at Music of the Ancients? You can read that here: Music of the Ancients

How to Help your Child Practice Music

Help Child PracticeSo you got your child started on music lessons. Now he must practice. That’s right, your child’s music teacher expects your child to actually practice between lessons. And if you really want to make those lessons worthwhile, you will have to help your child with this. What does that mean? What does that look like? Keep reading for some suggestions.

Practice is NOT what is supposed to happen during a music lesson.

During your child’s music lesson, the teacher expects to hear how your child has progressed since the last lesson. Has he mastered the material that was assigned? Has she corrected the mistakes or difficulties that were discussed at the last lesson? Also, the lesson is the time to focus on new concepts, new techniques, new music. But if the student does not demonstrate mastery of the last material, how can the teacher justify presenting new material? Practice at home is what allows the student to master material already taught. No practice = no progress!

What does it mean to practice music?

I suppose a good definition of practice is the repeated performance of a new skill or technique with the goal of improvement and mastery. The goal of every practice session should be to improve or perfect at least one problem.

Ideas you can use to help your child practice

Be present, not absent

Be present at the lesson so you know what the teacher expects your child to do.

Be present at practice times to encourage your child, to be sure your child is doing what the teacher expects.

Be positive, not critical

Encourage your child while he is practicing. Tell him he is doing a good job at working through something. Tell her she is following the teacher’s instructions well. Encourage him to keep going.

Consider practice time as play, rather than work.

I know real practicing is hard work, but a young child should view practice time as fun, not a chore. Have a set time every day for practice and see if you can turn at least some of it into a game.

Give praise, not pressure

Praise your child for doing something well. Praise her for following instructions. Praise him for completing an assignment. Don’t let your child come to associate practice time as stress time or pressure time. Don’t threaten.

As a child gets older and advances with his music the demands on the parent change. You are not required to be at every practice session – he becomes more independent with his practicing. But even them some parental involvement in still important. Continue to take an interest in their music. What are they playing? How does his teacher want him to play the piece? Show interest in his work and accomplishments. Maintain good communication with the teacher – is your student meeting the teacher’s expectations?

Notes to musical moms

  • Don’t sit down and play every piece for your child before they begin to learn it! This will not help your child learn or improve his music-reading skills. And it will not help your child to think through and interpret a piece for himself.
  • Don’t over-correct. I had problems with this. Listening to my kids practice and play things incorrectly would drive me crazy! But if I told them everything they needed to fix, they would never learn to listen and find the errors themselves. What to do? Sometimes you just have to leave! Leave the room, leave the house. I have just gotten up, walked around the neighborhood until I figured they were done practicing, and then came back.
  • Play duets with your child – just for fun! Or accompany them – just for fun! That will help to teach them that music can be fun! They also will see that playing with others is truly enjoyable.

What further suggestions do you have for help with practicing? Let us know in the comment section!



Our music theory focus today is on rhythm. What is rhythm? Rhythm is a very important part of the structure of music, or how music is organized. It gives us patterns of sounds and silences in our music. Rhythm notation provides the tools to put the organization of sounds and silences on paper. We talked about some basics of rhythm notation last week. If you missed it you can check out that post here:


Remember, measures divide our music into smaller segments. Each measure can only hold a specified amount of music. The time signature determines how much music one measure can hold. Let’s compare that to baking. If you make cookies the recipe doesn’t just tell you to put in flour and sugar. It tells you how much flour and sugar to use. The recipe tells you to measure out a certain amount of the flour or sugar to make your cookies turn out just right. Our time signature does the same thing for our measures of music.

Time Signatures

A time signature has two numbers. The top number determines how many beats of music or silence allowed in one measure. The bottom number tells us what kind of note gets one beat. The most common time signatures have a 4 as their bottom numbers. Think of fractions here – the 4 tells us that a quarter note (1/4) gets one beat. So, if the time signature is 4/4 then we can fit 4 quarter notes’ worth of music in each measure. If the time signature is 3/4 then we can only fit 3 quarter notes’ worth of music in the measure.

Rhythm Notation

We have many ways to write 4 quarter notes’ worth of music. We can use one whole note, or two half notes, a combination of two quarter notes and one half note. If we want to make or rhythm more complex we can add eighth notes and sixteenth notes to our combinations. And if we don’t want sound on every beat we can use rests to substitute for sounds. We can write an entire measure of rests or we can write some notes and some rests. We can use any combination of notes and rests we like, as long as their total values don’t exceed the amount allowed in the measure.

Look at the following graphics. These will help you remember note values and their comparable rest values.

Rhythm Note Values GraphicRhythm Rest Values