How the Renaissance Changed Music: A Guide To The Musical Revolution

The Renaissance period was a flourishing time for art and literature; it was also a time of great change in literature and culture. While the period is best known for its rediscovery of classical knowledge and emphasis on humanism, there were also many changes in the arts. The Renaissance led to significant changes in the role of music, which began to move away from monastic traditions towards a more secular focus. It also marked the beginning of what would become opera as we know it today.

This article explores how the Renaissance changed music, including important figures and events, new types of music and instruments, and other factors that contributed to a musical revolution.

Musicians and Instruments of the Renaissance

In the Middle Ages, musicians were largely monks who played monophonic music (only one melodic line). The Renaissance brought a rise in secular music, which meant that musicians began to include more than just religious lyrics in their music. However, it wasn’t until the Baroque period that musicians began to write music for instruments with multiple melodic lines, creating polyphony.

Other instruments also began to appear in secular music as the Renaissance progressed. The lute, which was mostly used in religious contexts, became more common in secular settings. There were also new instruments that were invented during this time, including the violin and organ. The violin, which was originally a Chinese instrument, was imported to Europe during the Renaissance and took on a new shape and tuning.

The rise of polyphony

The rise of polyphony in music was a significant development during the Renaissance. During the Medieval period, music was largely monophonic. This meant that there was only one musical line that was being sung or played at a time and the most common type of monophonic music from this period was Gregorian chant. This style of music was largely designed for singing within a religious setting, and the intent was to focus on the words of the song.

During the Renaissance, polyphonic music became more common. This type of music is distinguished by two or more independent vocal or instrumental lines being played or sung at the same time. One common type of polyphonic music from the Renaissance period is the choral. The choral is often a religious piece, and the voices can be either operatic or Gregorian-like in sound. There are also instrumental pieces that are polyphonic, including Renaissance-era dance music.

Polyphony can be achieved in a variety of ways, including the use of different instruments playing the same melody at the same time, having multiple instruments playing different melodies at the same time, or having instruments play chords. Whether an instrumental piece is polyphonic or monophonic depends on the instruments being used.

The Birth Of Opera

One of the most significant Renaissance art forms was opera, which began as a synthesis of many different art forms. These included both Italian and French tragic and comic theatre, Italian song, and the monophonic vocal music that was common in the Middle Ages (but with multiple singers). Although the exact origins of opera are unclear, there is evidence that it originated in Italy sometime in the 16th century. It was likely a synthesis of Italian and French theatre, with the first example of opera taking place in 1532.

Opera was originally intended to be performed in aristocratic courts, but it began to move out of that setting in the 16th century. It was performed in public theatres for the first time in 1598 in Venice, marking the beginning of opera as we know it today.

Reimagining The Art Of Music

As music changed during the Renaissance, so did the role of the composer. Unlike in the Middle Ages, during the Renaissance, composers were often well-known and enjoyed great prestige. This was partially because more people were interested in music and it was becoming more mainstream. However, Renaissance composers were also often treated as artists and given the same level of respect as visual artists. Some composers even created their own paintings and sculptures, which is unusual because musicians are often not considered artists.

The roles of musicians and composers were also changing during the Renaissance because they were reimagining what music could be. As composers were experimenting with new forms of music, they were also changing how people thought about music. With the rise of polyphony, composers could create multiple simultaneous melodies and create more complex pieces. This led to an increase in the number of instruments being used. Composers also began to use instruments in new ways, including playing them in different keys.

Beyond just the composition of music and instruments, Renaissance composers were also reimagining the purpose of music. Rather than simply functioning as background noise, music was beginning to be seen as an art form in and of itself.

Why was there a musical revolution in the Renaissance?

The many changes that occurred during the Renaissance in the art and practice of music can be attributed to many factors. The rediscovery of classical knowledge and the emphasis on humanism likely contributed to more people being interested in music. More people were also able to receive musical training during the Renaissance, as education was becoming more accessible to all classes. The invention of new instruments may have also been a significant factor. Changes in religion may have also played a role, since musical styles were often connected to specific religions. Finally, it is possible that the rising popularity of dancing may have contributed to changes in the role of music.

Creation Of New Instruments

The invention of new instruments may have contributed to changes in the role of music during the Renaissance. While the invention of new instruments is not a new development, the invention of the lute in the Renaissance was significant. The lute was a popular instrument during the Renaissance and became a standard part of many musical compositions. The organ was also introduced during the Renaissance, and it quickly became one of the most popular instruments of the time.

The Renaissance also saw significant changes in the role of the trumpet. The trumpet was originally used for military purposes, but it was also used in religious music. The trumpet was often used to signal a change in the service, such as announcing the end of the sermon. The Renaissance also saw the introduction of the bass viol, which is a hybrid between a violin and a viol. This new instrument was often used in place of the double bass.

Change in societal values

The Renaissance brought about a change in societal values, including a growing interest in secular subjects. This shift in focus may have contributed to a musical revolution, as music became more secular and was used in settings where monks would not have previously been present. The rise of secular music in the Renaissance may have been influenced by the growing popularity of the humanist movement, which focused on the potential of the human being to produce great things.


The Renaissance was a time of great change, and this is most evident in the rise of polyphony and the invention of new musical instruments. New forms of music were being created, and composers were being treated as artists and given the same level of respect as visual artists. The Renaissance led to significant changes in the role of music, which moved away from monastic traditions towards a more secular focus. It also marked the beginning of what would become opera as we know it today.

These changes in music during the Renaissance led to a musical revolution that significantly shaped how music is conceived and practiced today.