acropolis, athens, greece-1348511.jpg

Ancient Greek Music

“Every man’s work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him.”- Samuel Butler

Music is one of those art forms, which acts as a mirror of the social and cultural structure. If the society or the culture of a place were degenerating the music of that place would also exhibit the same. Similarly when the society and the culture is flourishing, the music would also flourish. Thus music has a major role to play in the excavation of the past of a country and its culture. Greece has a rich cultural history, which shows in the literature of the period, and we can definitely hope that its music would show the same richness.

It is said that Greeks considered music to be a way of exalting the glory of God therefore they used music when worshiping their Gods and Goddesses. Apart from this music was also a part of their social life, which would imply that music was present in all kinds of auspicious social occasions. Since drama was also quite popular in Greece they also used music when drama was staged. Only few fragments of the ancient Greek Music are extant which gives us a very faint idea about what Ancient Greek Music was like and that too most of the information comes from the early vase paintings and the written papyrus texts of Greek dance and Greek music. Most of the information that we have on Greek Music is about the instruments that were used.

What was Greek Music like?

It is often considered that Greek Music did not have harmony; it was mostly sung by one singer and not in chorus as is commonly seen in Greek plays. In ancient Greece the laws of music were followed very strictly and one form was not allowed to mix with the other. The rigidity of rules was to this extent that the audience or the listeners could not even clap or applaud. The purpose of the musical shows was not to entertain but to train the common people. It is said that Pythagoras proposed the use of numbers to denote musical scales, which he identified when studying the differences in sound frequencies of varied length strings of of a musical instrument. This concept began to be used in Ancient Greek Music and Pythagoras was conferred with the title of father of music theory. Most of the Greek Music as stated was monophonic therefore had not much of a difference when played but when artists started experimentation with music so that it sounds good, experts like Plato considered it to be sacrilege of the purest form of music.

Instruments used in Ancient Greek Music

Greeks used many musical instruments to create sound that would be soothing and calm for the listener and the instruments were quite interesting as well. There were string instruments, percussion instruments and wind instruments. Here is a list of some of the popular musical instruments:

  • Panflute or the Pan Pipe is a combination of modern flutes and the legend says that Pan made this musical instrument from reeds an the reeds were nothing but a nymph who tried to hide from Pan.
  • Kithara is another instrument which is much like a lyre which has strings that are attached to a frame. The strings are stretched across the frame and the when played with a plectrum; it produces soothing and serene sound.
Scroll to Top