Ancient Greek Music

With the exception of times of war, the ancient Greeks were a happy and festive group of people. There were festivals, rituals to honor the gods, marriages and plenty of reasons to celebrate.

Historians don’t know exactly how ancient Greek music sounded. There is plenty of evidence about the instruments used to play ancient Greek music.

From this evidence we can only guess as to the actual sounds of the music.

Evidence of ancient Greek music

As mentioned, there is plenty of evidence about ancient Greek music.

The ancient Greeks were masterful at leaving evidence in the form of art, paintings and archaeological findings increase our knowledge.

From this evidence we can figure out what some of ancient Greek music sounded like but not all.

Ancient Greeks had a god for everything. Music was no different. In ancient Greece, Apollo was the god of music as well as truth, sun, light and healing.

The actual word music is derived from Muses who were the daughters of Zeus. They were the patron goddesses of intellectual and creative activities.

Along with gymnastics, music was a big part of education for young boys and girls.

Scales and tones

Ancient Greek music was based on modes which are tones in scales. There are two scales from ancient Greek music which influenced music in the Western world.

The two basic modes helped formulate classical and Western religious music.

Sometime during the 6th century B.C.E., the mathematician Pythagoras figured out a numerical connection amongst strings.

The numerical connection created tones with different pitches. His discovery led to musical notation.

Musical instruments of ancient Greece

Through paintings, sculptures and archaeological findings historians know more about the instruments played by ancient Greeks.

The instruments were a mix of different items that ranged from flutes to lyres to drums.

Ancient Greeks had their favorite instruments too. For instance, Plato preferred a lyre over a flute. Although at his funeral flutes dominated the music.

Some of the main instruments in ancient Greek music were the aulos. The sounds from an aulos were created by two reeds.

The aulos is one of the earliest known wind instruments. A pandura was an instrument with strings and was plucked not strummed.

A pandura is similar to a present day harp. One of the more favorite string instruments was a special lyre called a kithara. The kithara is more like a present day guitar.

Auditoriums and amphitheaters

One thing ancient Greeks liked to do is construct grand buildings as well as outdoor venues. The amphitheaters and auditoriums constructed by ancient Greeks focused on superb acoustics.

A performer could stand on stage and the audience would enjoy perfect sounds, even in the back rows.

Pericles, the ruler of Athens during the Golden Age of Greece, was a big supporter of music and the performing arts.

While he was ruler, he instituted a welfare program that allowed poor people to attend musical and theatrical performances.

Pericles also liked to construct large buildings. The Odeion was built on the slope of the Acropolis in Athens.

The closed roofed concert hall can still be viewed today when visitors are in Athens.

Facts about ancient Greek music

  • Apollo is the god of music.
  • Muses were the daughters of Zeus. They were in charge of intellectual and creative activities. The word music comes from the word Muses.
  • Evidence of musical instruments is found on vases, sculptures, paintings and in books.
  • Pythagoras discovered the tone relationship between strings.
  • Pericles, the ruler of Athens, instituted a welfare program for poor people to attend concerts.
  • Favorite instruments of ancient Greeks include the aulos, lyre, kithara and pandura.
  • Ancient Greek amphitheaters had perfect acoustics.
  • Music was an important subject for young boys and girls attending school.


1. Who is the Greek god of music?


2. What string instrument is the present day guitar named after?


3. What is the name of the concert hall in Athens constructed by Pericles?


4. Plato preferred which instrument over a flute?


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