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Music in the Ancient Greece Term Paper

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Updated: Feb 6th, 2019


This paper is about music in the ancient Greece. The paper opens with a brief overview of music and how it was practiced in ancient Greece. There is also an in-depth observation of how this form of art was perceived by ancient Greeks. There is also a discussion of the various ways through music reflected the cultural aspects of the Greeks at that time.

This paper cannot be complete without a description of some of the musical instruments that were used by different ethnic groups in the ancient Greece. Finally, there is a brief discussion about how the aspects of music in the ancient Greece will tend to differ from those of the ancient China. Without a doubt, music was a common feature in ancient Greek society, where it would serve various purposes in people’s lives.

Music during the Ancient Greece Period

The history of music in ancient Greece dates back to the 6th century BCE when the first music lessons were introduced in the learning institutions. Music was held in high regard in the ancient Greece for a number of reasons. First of all, Greeks would see music as a divine form of art that helped to heal the hearts of the listeners.

As a matter of fact, music in ancient Greece was viewed as something that had a magical touch in people’s lives, and not just a system of rhythm and pitch that could be used for entertainment purposes (Norris 78). This form of art did not only inspire people, but it also soothed them in a special manner. In this regard, music would play a very important role in the course of unpleasant moments, thus helping to make common challenges and hardships more tolerable.

Music was also closely associated with some key aspects of education in ancient Greece, and for that reason, it served as a significant subject in Greek learning institutions. Mathematics and philosophy, both of which were significant subjects in the ancient Greece were some of the sciences that would have a close link to this form of art. The connection of music to education can be observed in the view of Plato that, the perfect kind of music is one which helps to discipline the brain and arouse courage and temperance within an individual.

Ancient Greeks held strongly to the belief that music had a direct influence on people’s ethical characters or ‘ethos’. In this regard, music bearing a message of advice was normally sung to people, especially the young ones, as a way of giving them moral lessons in life. This, however, would enable them to gain good characters and behaviors in the society. The Greeks would also view music as an effective mode of communication, thus using it to relay information.

This sense was enhanced through Aristotle’s theory of imitation which observes that, the art of music plays a significant role when it comes to representation of a person’s interests and passions. Another reason why music was highly regarded in the ancient Greece was due to its great contribution in the development of cultural aspects of the Greeks. In fact, Greeks saw music as a gift that had been given to them by the gods, considering the big role it played in the society.

How Music Reflected the Greece Cultural Aspects

The art of music played a very important role in the cultures of ancient Greece where it served as a unifying element. In this regard, people from various social backgrounds would play and listen to music as a way of appreciating different cultural aspects associated with their ethnic backgrounds. As it would be observed, music was an integral part of everyday’s life in the ancient Greece. This form of art was apparently used to inform people about early life, psychology, and history of the Greeks in different aspects of life (Anderson 42).

Even though there were other various forms of art that were practiced in Greece at that time, music was a common practice that was universally used to mark different rituals and ceremonies in ancient Greek society. For example, except being a significant element in private and public festival celebrations, music was a common feature in key celebrations such as social meetings, banquets, and rites of passage, among other moments of joy.

The key rites of passage where music was commonly applied included, but were not be limited to, initiation, marriages, and death. Music also served as a form of encouragement and motivation in the ancient Greece. In this case, it was used to accompany people as they performed their daily chores at home, in the fields, or in any other place of work. On the same note, music was also used to cheer up soldiers on their way to battlefields.

More importantly, music in ancient Greece was also closely connected to sports, where it served the role of encouraging athletes to do better in their sporting activities. Music and music practices were also used to accompany processions on important religious activities in some cities and towns in Greece. Some good examples of such religious occasions are the festivals of Great Dionysia and Panathenaia, both of which were commonly practiced in the city of Athens.

Music was also sung during religious rituals such as making of offerings and in the pouring of libation, among other religious practices. The Pan-Hellenic festivals that were conducted in some regions of the ancient Greece were other notable cultural practices where music remained a key activity.

As a matter of fact, a wide range of festivals were held annually in the ancient Greece, and all these featured numerous musical elements. Some of these musical elements would include singing processions, dances, and accompaniment of musical instruments.

Music Instruments used in Ancient Greece

In order for music to achieve its full meaning in ancient Greece, instruments had to apply in almost all aspects (Bundrick 55). Ancient Greeks used a wide range of musical accompaniments that would comprise of percussion instruments, wind instruments, and plucked stringed instruments.

Common percussion instruments would include accompaniments that were identical to snare drum, cymbals, and timpani. Plucked stringed instruments consisted of the harp, the ‘kithara’, the ‘psaltery’, and the ‘lyre’. Finally, there were the wind instruments that comprised of the pan pipes and the ‘aulos’, among other simple instruments. Other instruments that were commonly used by the Greeks would include the guitar, conch and triton shells, bagpipe, ‘maracas’, shallow drum, clappers, harps, and xylophone, to name but a few.

Of all the instruments mentioned above, the most popular ones were the ‘aulos’, the ‘lyre’, and the clappers. The ‘aulos’ was a double-reed instrument that was commonly known as the double reed pipe. The instrument comprised of double tubes connected by a mouthpiece. In order for the most desirable music sounds to be produced, wind was blown through the mouthpiece as a series of holes on each of the two pipes were systematically closed and opened using the fingers.

The ‘lyre’ was another string instrument that comprised of a main body and a pair of protruding arms that would be connected to the body using a crossbar. Thin strings were fastened close to each other around the body and the cross bar. The ‘lyre’ came in many types, ranging from the round-based models to the square-based models.

The ‘clappers’ were the other category of music instruments that were commonly used in the ancient Greece. As it would be observed, humans have always possessed the desire to follow to the natural rhythm or beat of music. This feeling, however, can be expressed through a number of ways such as through stomping of feet, clapping of hands, and slapping of a particular part of the body. This, actually, was the case with the Greeks, who had fully adopted the use of ‘clappers’ as a way of adding rhythm to their music.

The ‘clappers’ used by ancient Greeks were constructed from ranging materials, with the most popular ones comprising of sticks that could be hit using a piece of metal to produce musical sound. This kind of instrument kept on changing over the years, and this would lead to the development of more advanced types of ‘clappers’ that made music in the ancient Greece more entertaining.

Differences between the aspects of music in the Ancient Greece and the Ancient China

Even though the aspects of music for both the ancient Greeks and Chinese have a lot in common, there is a number of ways by which these aspects differ in both cultures (Pangle 45). One common difference here is that, both the ancient Greece and the ancient China had varied approaches for music.

For example, while music was an integral part in the lives of ancient Greeks where it was applied in almost every ritual, the Chinese would only use music for some specific events, especially ones that marked events of happiness in the society. Another major difference between the two cultures in regard with the aspect of music was that, music was observed to have had an extreme influence on the Chinese government.

This, however, was not the case with the Greeks, whose music never played any significant role in the government affairs. Another common difference was observed in the symbolic interpretations of music in the two cultures, which varied greatly. The other major difference between the aspects of music in the two cultures was in the music instruments used. It is clear that, the musical instruments and accompaniments used in the ancient Greece were not the ones that were used in the ancient China.

As has been noted in this paper, music was highly regarded in the Ancient Greece, where it served as an integral part of everyday lives of the Greeks. This form of art had very a meaningful purpose among the people of ancient Greece, and for that reason, it fulfilled a significance role in the entire Greek society.

As it has been shown, Greeks used a wide range of instruments to improve the sound of their music. It is also clear from this paper that, there were some notable differences between the aspects of music of the ancient Greece and those of the ancient china.

Works Cited

Anderson, Warren. Music and Musicians in Ancient Greece, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994. Print.

Bundrick, Sheramy. Music and Image in Classical Athens, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Print.

Norris, Michael. Greek Art from Prehistoric to Classical: A Resource for Educators, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Print.

Pangle, Thomas. The Laws of Plato, Seattle, WA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2010. Print.

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