Medieval and Renaissance Music: A Comparative Study

Medieval Music

Consists of songs, instrumental pieces, and liturgical music from about 500 A.D. to 1400. It was an era of Western music, including liturgical music used for the church, and secular music. Gregorian chant was sung by monks during Catholic Mass.

Renaissance Music

Music based on modes. Richer texture, with four or more independent melodic parts being performed simultaneously. These interweaving melodic lines, a style called polyphony, is one of the defining features of Renaissance music.

Church Modes

  • Dorian: The dorian mode starts on the second scale degree of the major scale, which changes the pattern to W H W W W H W.
  • Phrygian: The phrygian mode begins on the 3rd scale degree of the major scale, and the naturally occurring half steps are between the 1st & 2nd and 5th & 6th scale degrees.
  • Lydian: Starting on the 4th scale degree, the lydian mode’s naturally occurring half steps are between the 4th & 5th and 7th & 8th scale degrees.
  • Mixolydian: The mixolydian mode begins on the 5th scale degree of the major scale, and the naturally occurring half steps are between the 3rd & 4th and 6th & 7th scale degrees of a major scale.
  • Aeolian: The aeolian scale begins on the 6th scale degree of the major scale and is also known as a natural minor scale.
  • Locrian: This mode starts on the 7th scale degree of a major scale.


  • Josquin Deprez: Central figure of the Franco-Flemish School and master of high Renaissance polyphonic vocal music.
  • Giovanni Palestrina: Best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition.
  • Perotin: Most famous member of the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style.
  • Leonin: First composer of polyphonic music that we can identify by name.

Other Concepts

  • Word Painting: Musical technique of composing music that reflects the literal meaning of a song’s lyrics.
  • Gregorian Chant: Central tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic, unaccompanied sacred song of the Roman Catholic Church.
  • Hildegard de Bingen: German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath.