Unprofitable Instruments



The monochord is a teaching instrument, revered throughout the Middle Ages as a tool to understand the relationship between number and sound. My monochord is designed to allow you to be the theorist and comes with a full set of tools and instructions to explore historical tuning systems in a new way.

  • Basic long resonating box, approximately 100 cm long and 9 cm wide and high.
  • Deluxe instruments have carved eagle heads and/or decorative soundholes.
  • The monochord is equipped with division sticks representing Pythagorean tuning, chromatic Pythagorean, an anonymous just tuning, and equal temperament. Deluxe sticks are made with inlayed wood and embossed letters; basic sticks are inked lines.
  • The instrument can be made with one, two, or three strings to allow chords.
Monochord, front viewDeluxe monochord with eagle heads
Monochord, side viewDeluxe monochord with eagle heads
Trichord with deluxe soundholeDecorative soundhole on a deluxe trichord
Trichords with deluxe soundholesDecorative soundholes on deluxe trichords

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A 12th century image of Boethius using dividers on a monochord. Trinity College Cambridge, R.15.22

Detail of the dividers

Guido teaching with the monochord

A monochordist working with bells. Early 12th century, St. John’s College Library, Cambridge, B.18, f. 1

Boethius using a monochord

Videos and Resources



For teaching with the monochord, please see my article co-authored with Russell Murray in the Journal of Music History Pedagogy:

The Monochord in the Medieval and Modern Classrooms

My favorite resource for studying monochord divisions:

Christian Meyer, Mensura Monochordi, 1996.