bass sordun

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Contextual Associations

The bass sordun is an end-blown, cylindrical-bore double-reed aerophone in use during the late 16th to early 17th centuries in some areas of Europe. A Renaissance consort of sorduns included five sizes, the bass being the second-lowest in register (Praetorius, p. 38). There are no surviving Renaissance instruments, the maker (Renaissance Workshop Company) realized the instrument pictured here from illustrations in Michael Praetorious’ Syntagma Musicum v.2 of 1619. A very few early Baroque period sorduns survive, but they differ somewhat from the late-Renaissance instruments pictured in Praetorius. The primary context of use today for sorduns is in early music ensembles that perform Renaissance period repertoire.


The bass sordun is a short instrument capable of producing low pitches, and its exterior shape does not reveal much about its internal structure. Its large, stocky double reed is placed on the end of a staple (a brass tube) that itself is inserted in a hole at the top end of the instrument. Inside its sycamore wood body a cylindrical bore doubles back on itself (the distal end is not an open bell as is the case with many wind instruments) and is therefore approximately twice the length of the instrument’s exterior. The end of the bore actually looks like a fingerhole and is located on the backside of the body very near the reed-end of the instrument--this contributes much to the muted and soft sound quality of the instrument. Additionally, the instrument functions acoustically as a closed tube, thus sounding an octave lower than an open tube of comparable length. There are 14 holes drilled in the instrument: two thumb holes; ten fingerholes (the index finger of each hand is used to cover two holes); the hole near the upper thumb hole through which the sound escapes; and a hole with a removable plug for emptying condensation.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The sordun is held with both hands so that the reed is pinched between the player’s lips, the side with the ten fingerholes is facing upwards, and the thumbhole side downwards. According to Praetorius the range of the instrument is from B-flat1 to G3, an octave and a sixth. The fingering chart accompanying this replica instrument gives its range as F2 to D4, which is the actual span of notes it produces. Overblowing is not used on this instrument, but if it were it would overblow at every other partial (like a clarinet). The manufacturer suggests that this instrument be used for the bass part in mixed instrumental ensembles and recorder consorts.


The earliest mention of the sordun is in a 1592 treatise, and Praetorius (1619) provides the first illustration of the instrument. It is not possible to assess with certainty just how common and widespread the use of this instrument was in late Renaissance and early Baroque musical life. It is speculated that the sordun was derived from dulcian, also called curtal, which, like the sordun, has an elongated U-shaped bore. However, the sordun differs from the dulcian in a few significant ways: its bore profile is cylindrical rather than conical; its bore terminates on the side of the instrument without a flaring bell as opposed to terminating at the end of the body with a slightly flaring bell; and its reed is affixed to a staple at the end of the body rather than to a curved bocal. These seemingly subtle differences actually result in instruments with markedly different tonal and dynamic qualities, and these differences in turn effected the instrumental combinations in which they would be incorporated.

Bibliographic Citations

Kite-Powell, Jeffery. 1994a. "Crumhorn," In A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music. ed. Jeffery T. Kite-Powell. New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 63-68.

________. 1994b. "Large Ensembles," In A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music. ed. Jeffery T. Kite-Powell. New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 228-232.

Praetorius, Michael. 1986 (1619).  Syntagma Musicum II--De Organographia Parts I and II. Translated and edited by David Z. Crookes. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tyler, James. 1994. "Mixed Ensembles," In A Performer's Guide to Renaissance Music. ed. Jeffery T. Kite-Powell. New York: Schirmer Books, pp. 217-227.


Instrument Information


Continent: Europe

Formation: European

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

422.111.2 aerophone--single cylindrical-bore reedpipe with double (or quadruple) reed: the pipe has a reed (usually a flattened stem) of paired lamellae which periodically open and close, controlling the flow of air; with fingerholes

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with closed distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation through mouth into air cavity; unidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: exposed concussion (multiple) reed

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: opening fingerholes to reduce space or shorten length of standing wave in air cavity

Overblowing utilization: not used

Pitch production: multiple pitches - changing length/shape of standing wave within single cavity with fingerholes


16.5 in. length (without staple and reed)

Primary Materials

reed - cane


Renaissance Workshop Company


Bass in F

Entry Author

Roger Vetter