Traditional Viking Musical Instruments

Viking Musical Instruments

The cultural heritage of the Vikings is filled with fascinating stories, rich mythology, and beautiful art. However, one aspect of Viking culture that remains relatively unknown is their music. Viking music played a vital role in their daily lives, from celebrations to religious ceremonies. Traditional Viking musical instruments were beautiful to behold and produced a unique sound that defined the very essence of their society.

In this article, we will delve into the world of Viking instruments, exploring the various types used during the Viking Age. We will discuss the significance of Viking music instruments and provide a comprehensive list of Viking instruments. We will also explore Viking horns instruments and medieval Viking music instruments. Stay tuned! 

What Kind of Music Did Vikings Make?

The music of the Vikings remains an area of intrigue and fascination for historians and music enthusiasts alike. While there is no definitive record of the exact music they created, we can piece together information from historical accounts, archaeological findings, and existing musical traditions of the time to gain an understanding of the kind of music they made. Here are some key aspects of Viking music:

  1. Vocal Music: Singing was an essential part of Viking music. Skalds, the poets and storytellers of the Viking Age, would recite or sing their stories, often accompanied by musical instruments like the lyre or the harp. These songs often focused on heroic deeds, the exploits of gods and goddesses, or the history of their people. The Vikings also engaged in group singing during celebrations, feasts, and rituals.
  2. Instrumental Music: The Vikings used a variety of musical instruments to create their distinctive sound. These included string instruments like the lyre and harp, wind instruments like bone flutes, horns, and the skalmejen, and percussion instruments like drums and rattles. The combination of these instruments produced a rich and diverse sonic landscape that was uniquely Norse.
  3. Rhythmic and Melodic Elements: Viking music likely featured a mix of simple and complex rhythms, with some tunes following a repetitive, steady beat while others incorporated syncopation or polyrhythms. Melodically, Viking music probably employed a combination of modal and pentatonic scales, allowing for various emotional expressions and moods.
  4. Improvisation: Given the oral nature of Viking culture and the lack of a written musical notation system, improvisation likely played a significant role in their music-making. Musicians would have been skilled at adapting melodies and rhythms on the fly, allowing for spontaneous creativity and individual expression.
  5. Music for Different Occasions: Viking music served a variety of purposes, from entertainment and social bonding to religious and ceremonial functions. As such, the type of music they made would have been influenced by the context in which it was performed. For example, celebratory music played during feasts and gatherings would likely have been lively and energetic, while music for rituals and ceremonies might have been more solemn and introspective.
  6. Influence of Surrounding Cultures: The Vikings were well-traveled, engaging in trade, exploration, and conquest across Europe and beyond. As a result, their music was likely influenced by the various cultures they encountered, including the Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Slavs, and other Germanic peoples. This cultural exchange contributed to the development of a unique and diverse musical tradition.

List of Viking Instruments

Here is a list of some of the most significant Viking instruments:

  1. Lyre
  2. Harp
  3. Rebec
  4. Drum
  5. Rattle
  6. Bone flute
  7. Jaw harp
  8. Viking horns instruments
  9. Viking lur
  10. Skalmejen

Viking String Instruments at the Glance 

The string instrument family is one of the most notable types of Viking instruments. Viking string instruments were often crafted from wood and featured gut, hair, or metal strings. Among the most common Viking string instruments were the lyre, the harp, and the rebec.

The lyre, a small handheld harp, was considered the most essential of all Viking string instruments. It was played by plucking the strings with the fingers, producing a haunting melody that could be heard throughout the Viking halls. The harp was also prevalent but was larger and more complex than the lyre. The rebec, a bowed instrument, was a precursor to the modern violin and was played by drawing a bow across its strings.

Viking Music Instruments: Drums and Rattles 

Viking music instruments were not only limited to string instruments. The Vikings also made use of percussion instruments, including drums and rattles. Viking drums were typically constructed from wood and animal hide and played with the hands or sticks. Rattles were smaller and often made from animal bones or shells, creating a rhythmic sound when shaken.

What Was a Viking Drum Called?

There is limited information about the specific names and types of drums used during the Viking Age. Yet, it is believed that the Vikings utilized frame drums or hand drums in their music. These drums, known as “skinntrumma” or “hvirveltrumma” in Old Norse, were typically made from a wooden frame with an animal skin, such as goat or calf, stretched across it. The frame drums were played by striking the skin with hands or using a beater.

Frame drums were essential to Viking music, providing rhythm and pulse to their songs and dances. They were used in various contexts, from religious and ceremonial events to celebrations and storytelling. These drums and other percussion instruments like rattles and bells contributed to the rich and diverse rhythmic landscape of Viking music.

It is important to note that while we can infer the presence of drums in Viking music based on archaeological findings and the musical traditions of surrounding cultures, definitive information about the specific names and types of drums used by the Vikings remains scarce. Nevertheless, the use of frame drums and other percussion instruments was likely an integral aspect of the Viking musical experience.

Viking Ethnic Instruments: What to Know? 

Viking ethnic instruments were an essential part of their musical culture. These instruments were not only used to create music but were also closely tied to the Vikings’ identity and traditions. Examples of Viking ethnic instruments include the bone flute and the jaw harp.

The bone flute, made from animal bones, was a popular wind instrument among the Vikings. It produced a soft, soothing sound, often used for ceremonial purposes. The jaw harp, on the other hand, was a small instrument made of metal or wood that was played by holding it between the teeth and plucking a flexible tongue, creating a buzzing sound.

What Is a Viking Flute Called?

A Viking flute, often referred to as a bone flute or simply a Norse flute, is a type of wind instrument popular among the Vikings during the Viking Age (approximately 793-1066 AD). As the name suggests, these flutes were typically crafted from animal bones, such as the leg bones of birds or the long, hollow bones of large mammals like deer or sheep. The choice of material was practical and imbued the instrument with a connection to the natural world, which was of great importance to the Vikings.

The bone flute was a relatively simple instrument consisting of a hollowed-out bone with a series of finger holes drilled along its length. To play the flute, the musician would blow air across a small hole at the top of the instrument, creating vibrations that produced sound. The pitch could be altered by covering or uncovering the finger holes, allowing for the creation of melodies and tunes.

Viking flutes were often used in ceremonial and ritual contexts, as the soft, haunting sound they produced was believed to have a spiritual quality. They were also used in storytelling and as accompaniment during feasts and celebrations, providing a soothing and ethereal backdrop to the festivities.

In addition to the bone flute, other wind instruments were prevalent in Viking culture, such as the skalmejen, a double-reed instrument similar to the modern oboe, and various types of horns, including the blowing horn and the lur. Each of these instruments contributed to the unique and captivating soundscape that defined the music of the Viking Age.

Viking Horns Instruments

Horns were another integral part of Viking music. They were often used for signaling purposes and played during ceremonies and feasts. The most famous Viking horn instruments were the blowing horn and the lur.

The blowing horn was made from a hollowed-out animal horn, typically that of a cow or a goat. It produced a deep, resonant sound when blown. The lur, on the other hand, was a long, curved instrument made of bronze. It had a conical bore and a flared bell, giving it a powerful and distinctive sound.

Medieval Viking Music Instruments

Medieval Viking musical instruments were an essential part of Norse culture, representing their musical and artistic expressions during the period. As the Viking Age transitioned into the Medieval period, their musical traditions continued to evolve, developing new instruments and incorporating influences from surrounding cultures.

One notable medieval Viking instrument was the psaltery, a zither-like string instrument that gained popularity in the period. The psaltery was played by plucking the strings with fingers or using a plectrum, producing delicate, ethereal sounds. It was often used in accompaniment with singing or storytelling.

The medieval period also saw the continued use and refinement of traditional Viking instruments such as the lyre, harp, bone flute, and various types of horns. These instruments were used for multiple purposes, including ceremonial, religious, and entertainment events.

In addition to their musical traditions, the Vikings were exposed to new instruments and musical styles through trade and conquest. This cultural exchange allowed them to incorporate elements of Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, Slavic, and other Germanic musical traditions into their own, enriching the complexity and diversity of their music.

Viking Instrumental Music

Viking instrumental music holds a special place in the historical and cultural landscape of the Norse people. Encompassing a diverse range of instruments and styles, it served as a means of communication, storytelling, and expression, capturing the spirit and essence of the Viking Age.

The foundation of Viking instrumental music lay in the variety of instruments employed by the Norse musicians. String instruments, such as the lyre and the harp, were commonly used, producing melodious and resonant tones. Wind instruments, like the bone flute, skalmejen, and various types of horns, provided haunting and evocative sounds. In contrast, percussion instruments, including drums and rattles, added rhythm and texture to their musical ensembles.

One of the defining characteristics of Viking instrumental music was its versatility. It was utilized in a multitude of contexts, from religious and ceremonial settings to entertainment and social gatherings. During feasts and celebrations, upbeat and lively tunes encouraged dancing and merriment, while more solemn and reflective music accompanied rituals and storytelling. The adaptability of Viking instrumental music allowed it to permeate every aspect of their society.

Improvisation played a significant role in Viking music, as written notation did not exist during this time. Musicians relied on their memory, skill, and creativity to develop and perform their pieces, resulting in a dynamic and ever-evolving musical tradition. The oral nature of their culture also contributed to the unique sound of Viking instrumental music, as it was closely intertwined with their storytelling, poetry, and folklore.

Viking Wind Instruments

Viking wind instruments were as diverse as their string and percussion counterparts. They included flutes and horns, as previously mentioned. These instruments played a vital role in the Vikings’ music-making, providing a wide range of sounds and textures to their ensembles.

The skalmejen was another popular Viking wind instrument. It was a double-reed instrument similar to the modern oboe, made from wood or bone. The skalmejen was played by blowing into the reed, producing a sharp, piercing sound that carried across great distances.

Viking Lur

The Viking lur is a fascinating and unique wind instrument that played a significant role in the musical landscape of the Viking Age. Made of bronze, the lur was characterized by its long, curved shape, conical bore, and flared bell, which together produced a powerful, resonant sound that could be heard across vast distances.

The lur’s primary function was as a signaling device during times of war, hunts, and other group activities. Its distinct, sonorous sound made it an effective means of communication and coordination among the Vikings. Still, the lur also held an important place in the broader realm of Viking instrumental music. It was often played during ceremonies, celebrations, and feasts, adding a rich and evocative layer to the musical ensemble.

Playing the Viking lur required a high level of skill and talent. The musician would place their lips against the mouthpiece, applying air pressure and controlling their embouchure to produce different pitches and tones. Unlike many other wind instruments of the time, the lur did not have finger holes or keys. As a result, musicians relied on their breath control, lip tension, and the instrument’s natural harmonics to create melodies and rhythmic patterns.

The Viking lur stands as a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Norse people. Its unique design and construction enabled it to produce a wide range of sounds, from low, rumbling tones to high-pitched, almost trumpet-like notes. This versatility made it a valuable addition to the Vikings’ musical repertoire.

In addition to its musical significance, the lur also held symbolic and cultural importance. Its distinctive shape and the use of bronze in its construction linked it to the wealth and status of the Vikings. Moreover, the lur’s powerful sound was associated with the strength and prowess of the Norse people, making it a fitting symbol of their culture and identity.

What is the Name of the Viking Violin?

While there was no specific “Viking violin” as we know it today, the closest equivalent in Viking culture would be the lyre or the tagelharpa, also known as the talharpa or jouhikko. The lyre was a stringed instrument with a small, hollow body and typically had between five and seven strings. It was played by strumming or plucking the strings with the fingers, producing a melodious, resonant sound.

The tagelharpa, on the other hand, was a bowed string instrument that originated in the Nordic and Baltic regions. It generally had two to four strings and a flat, elongated body. The strings were made from horsehair, and the bow was also strung with horsehair. The tagelharpa produced a haunting, ethereal sound, which made it a popular instrument for storytelling and accompanying traditional songs.

Both the lyre and the tagelharpa were integral to Viking music, serving various purposes in religious ceremonies, storytelling, and entertainment during feasts and celebrations. While they differ in some respects from the modern violin, these stringed instruments played a significant role in creating the unique soundscape that defined the music of the Viking Age.

The Significance of Music Instruments in Viking Culture 

Music played a vital role in the lives of the Vikings, influencing their daily routines, spiritual beliefs, and social customs. The variety of musical instruments the Vikings used helped create a distinct sound that resonated within their society and remains a significant part of their cultural heritage. In this section, we will explore the importance of musical instruments in Viking culture, highlighting their various uses and their impact on the lives of the Norse people.

Ceremonial and Ritual Purposes

In Viking culture, musical instruments were important in religious and spiritual ceremonies. They were often used to invoke the gods, express devotion, or accompany rituals and sacrifices. The haunting melodies produced by instruments such as the bone flute and the lyre helped create an atmosphere of reverence and mysticism, connecting the Vikings to their spiritual beliefs.

Storytelling and Oral Tradition

Music instruments played an essential role in preserving and sharing Viking oral traditions. Skalds, the poets and storytellers of the Viking Age, utilized music to convey tales of heroism, adventure, and the exploits of gods and goddesses. Using instruments such as the harp and lyre added depth and emotion to these stories, making them more memorable and engaging for the listeners.

Celebrations and Social Gatherings

Viking instruments were also integral to social events and celebrations, including feasts, weddings, and seasonal festivals. Music served as entertainment, bringing people together and fostering a sense of community. Upbeat rhythms from drums and the lively melodies of string and wind instruments encouraged dancing and merriment, strengthening social bonds among the Vikings.

Signaling and Communication

Some Viking instruments, such as the blowing horn and the lur, served practical purposes beyond music-making. They were used for signaling and communication, particularly in times of war or during hunts. The distinctive sounds produced by these horns could be heard over long distances, making them an effective means of conveying messages and coordinating group activities.

Cultural Identity and Expression

Music instruments were a crucial element of the Vikings’ cultural identity. The unique sounds and styles of their music reflected their values, beliefs, and the natural environment in which they lived. As the Vikings traveled and interacted with other cultures, their musical instruments and traditions became a powerful means of cultural expression and exchange, helping to shape the broader musical landscape of the time.

Viking Instruments VST

Viking Instruments VST (Virtual Studio Technology) refers to modern software plugins designed to emulate the distinctive sounds and characteristics of traditional Viking musical instruments. These plugins offer musicians, composers, and producers the opportunity to incorporate the captivating sounds of the Viking Age into their music, providing a unique and authentic sonic experience.

With advances in digital audio technology, the creation of high-quality and realistic VST plugins for Viking instruments has become possible. These plugins recreate the sounds of instruments such as the lyre, harp, bone flute, Viking lur, and various percussion instruments, capturing their unique tonal qualities and textures.

One key advantage of Viking Instruments VST is the ability to access and experiment with these ancient instruments without needing to source or learn to play the physical versions. This accessibility allows musicians to explore the rich and diverse musical heritage of the Vikings and to create new compositions that blend traditional and contemporary elements.

These VST plugins often come with various features, including adjustable parameters for pitch, tone, and dynamics, allowing users to customize the sound to their liking. Some plugins may also have built-in effects or articulations, further enhancing the expressive capabilities of the virtual instruments.

Viking Instruments VST serves as a valuable tool for musicians and composers and contributes to the preservation and revival of Viking musical traditions. By enabling access to these unique and historically significant instruments, VST plugins help ensure that the captivating sounds of the Viking Age continue to inspire and influence music for generations to come.


The rich and diverse world of Viking musical instruments has left an indelible mark on the history of music. From string and wind instruments to percussion and horns, these instruments created a unique sound that defined the essence of Viking culture. Today, musicians and composers continue to be inspired by the captivating sounds of Viking instrumental music, keeping the spirit of the Norse people alive in the modern world.