Ancient Greek Musical Instruments

Hi Everyone,

I thought I would write about Ancient Greek Music – I’m still learning heaps about it.

I’ve always read hymns, paeans, poems and lyrics from Ancient Greek Poets since I started learning about Ancient History, but I never actually sat down and listened to it. Of course I’ve listened to Modern Greek Music but there is a difference = time.

There were different types of instruments that the Ancient Greeks used and they are based on how sound was produced: string, wind, and percussion.

  • STRINGS – were struck, bowed or plucked.
  • WIND – could be single mechanical reed or double mechanical reed, lip reed,  air reed, vocal-cord reed and tuned.
  • PERCUSSION – could sound out a definite pitch or an indefinite pitch.

The instruments were the:

  • LYRE – a strummed and occasionally plucked string instrument, essentially a hand-held zither built on a tortoise-shell frame, generally with seven or more strings tuned to the notes of one of the modes. The lyre was used to accompany others or even oneself for recitation and song.

  • KITHARA, also a strummed string instrument. It had a box-type frame with strings stretched from the cross-bar at the top to the sounding box at the bottom; it was held upright and played with a plectrum. The strings were tuned by adjusting wooden wedges along the cross-bar.

  • AULOS – had two double-reed pipes, not joined but generally played with a mouth-band to hold both pipes steadily between the player’s lips. Modern reconstructions indicate that they produced a low, clarinet-like sound.

  • PAN PIPES, PANFLUTE, SYRINX – an ancient musical instrument based on the principle of the stopped pipe, consisting of a series of such pipes of gradually increasing length, tuned (by cutting) to a desired scale. Sound is produced by blowing across the top of the open pipe (like blowing across a bottle top).

  • HYDRAULIS – a keyboard instrument. It instrument used water to supply a constant flow of pressure to the pipes. Two detailed descriptions have survived: that of Vitruvius  and Heron of Alexandria.These descriptions deal primarily with the keyboard mechanism and with the device by which the instrument was supplied with air. What happens is the air to the pipes that produce the sound comes from a wind-chest connected by a pipe to a dome; air is pumped in to compress water, and the water rises in the dome, compressing the air, and causing a steady supply of air to the pipes.

Here is a collection of Ancient Greek Music I have pinned on my Pinterest:



7 thoughts on “Ancient Greek Musical Instruments

  1. Nice photos too! The aulos is the one most magical to me as I think I remember first reading about it in the Narnia Chronicles. I always think of Dionysos and the wild girls!

      1. Hi Rita,
        Not a problem, I love your posts. And it’s exciting that you can translate the Linear B ancient scripts and read their meaning. It must be hard! I watched an episode on Egypt and how a French man, Champollion was able to translate the Rosetta Stone and was the first person to read and understand hieroglyphs, so it’s amazing what you’re doing!

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