The Greeks loved music, and made it an important part of their lives. They thought of music as a way of honoring the gods, and making the world a more human, civilized place. Music in ancient Greece was an important feature of religious festivals, marriage and funeral rites, and banquet gatherings.

Our knowledge of ancient Greek music comes from actual fragments of musical scores, literary references, and the remains of musical instruments.

Unfortunately we really have no idea what Greek music sounded like, because there were no tape recorders or anything like that then.

The thing that we know is what kind of instruments the Greeks had. They had pipe aulos, lyra, drums, kithara and cymbals

Greek Ancient Music Instruments

Aulos was invented by Ardalus the son of Hephaistus according to the Troezenians. The flute was used by Spartans as a military music instrument. Aulos were made from wood or reeds, with holes cut in it for your fingers to play the tune. Some were played vertically, like a recorder, and some were played sideways, like a flute. Aulos and drums were played in a loud,  lively way, for dancing, and people played this music when they were worshipping Dionysos, the god of wine and parties.

Lyra the other Greek instrument like small harps, and might have sounded something like a guitar. According to the Greek story, the first lyra was made from a turtle shell by the god Hermes when he was a baby, and then Hermes gave it to  Apollo. Apollo was the god of reason and logic, and the Greeks thought of music as a great expression of order and patterns.
Orpheus obtained the Lyra from Apollo when he was a child and lessons how to play it. Historical it is an instrument that was known at least around 3000BC. The lyra was known in Crete at least before 1400BC. Lyra music was played calmer, and more soothingly, than the pipes and drums.

Kithara (guitar) , an instrument of the lyre family, had seven strings of equal length and a solidly built, wooden body, usually with a flat base. Strings of gut or sinew were stretched from a holder at the base of the instrument over a bridge to the crossbar that joined the two sidepieces. The musician (kitharode), who usually stood while playing, made music by stroking the plektron in his right hand across the strings, sounding all those not damped with his left fingers. During performances, the instrument rested against the musician’s shoulder, and was supported by a sling that wrapped around the left wrist. The musician could regulate pitch by the tension and, perhaps, thickness of the strings.  Originally it had 5 strings, but later there were 7 and finally 11 strings. These were stretched from the sound box across a bridge and up to a crossbar fastened to the arms. Since the strings were of equal length, tuning was determined only by the thickness and tension of each string.

The word music comes from the muses, the daughters of Zeus and patron goddesses of creative and intellectual endeavours.

Greek Music & Greek Gods

Dance, poetry, rite, and music seem inseparably associated in the early history of music in ancient Greece. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey report vintners’ songs, dirges, and hymns of praise to Apollo (paeans). Music was described as an art exerting great power (ethos) over human beings, and certain musical styles came to be associated with particular peoples and deities. The Kithara, a plucked string instrument, came to be linked with Apollo, the god of the Sun and reason, while the aulos, a loud double-reed instrument, came to be identified with Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstatic revelry. The most important of mythic musicians in ancient Greek culture was Orpheus, whose music had the power to cause inanimate objects to move and even influence the forces of Hades.

Among the earliest Greek musicians whose existence and accomplishments seem to be rooted in reality as well as legend are Terpander of Lesbos (7th century BC), the founder of lyric kithara performance, Pindar of Thebes (6th-5th century BC), whose odes represent the rise of Greek choral music, and Timotheus of Miletus (5th-4th century BC), a virtuoso performer on the kithara whose inventions contributed to his infamy as well as his fame. The musical and lyrical tradition represented by these personalities reached its apex in the Athenian drama of the 5th and 4th centuries BC, a dramatic tradition in which solo and choral singing, instrumental music, and dance all played essential roles.

Although little of ancient Greek music survives, Greek musical thought has profoundly affected the manner in which Western culture has expressed itself in this art.