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Musical Instruments You Never Knew Were From Greece

Team Hoo
8th April 2021

Music has always had a way of uniting people together, with it being an essential feature of religious events, including marriage and funerals, as well as festivals and celebrations. The history of music goes back as far as 43,000 years ago, with the oldest musical composition going back referred as “Seikilos Epitaph.” This piece by Greek composer Seikilos is the oldest known song, and was found inscribed on a tombstone pillar!

Because of the love and appreciation the Greeks have for music, many instruments we know today date back to Ancient Greece, and here are twelve of them below. 

Music In Ancient Greece

The history of music dates back to Ancient Greece as mentioned above. It became a huge part of their lives, with them going as far to believe that music was a gift from the gods. Famous Greek composers created patterns using mathematics to weave lyrics and sounds together to make beats. 

For the Greeks, music was everywhere. It was integral to their lives as was dance, poetry and learning an instrument. Music was always used at weddings, funerals and festivals, similar to today with most Greek men even being trained to play an instrument competently as well as singing and performing choral dances. These men were usually given higher status, clearly displayed by their robes and even ranking high in royal households due to their gift. 

The need for music even spread into sports. In Ancient Greece, they introduced music into large sporting events, such as the Olympics. They found that the music helped encourage, motivate, and support the participating athletes. 

Music In Modern Greece

In more modern music, folklore songs about Greece date back to ancient poetry and music we’ve mentioned above. The music from Ancient Greece has helped influence other styles we even hear today. There are many musical styles the Greeks created, but one of the more famous and renowned is the Rebetiko style. It became famous amongst Greek refugees who famously used to express their poverty, hunger, pain and betrayal. 

From this style, laiko was born. Having a similar sound and helping to birth what we now know as urban folk music. Entehno, an orchestral type of music, mixes elements with Greece’s folk rhythm and melody, becoming famous in 1950 and a style still used in Greece today. 

One of the instruments, the bouzouki, which we will talk about in a second, actually grew rapid popularity worldwide in the 1960s, inspiring many musicians with the sounds this instrument created. It sooned charmed lovers of traditional music, helping put Greek music back on the map. 

Both folklore and rebetiko styles are still types of music which are still popular within modern Greece today. 

12 Lesser-Known Greek Instruments

Daouli

Source: greekfolkmusicanddance.com

A two-headed drum, the daouli is hung by a belt or a strap over the shoulder. The right-side has a lower-pitched skin, with the left-side being higher-pitched, striking the daouli stick against the sides, creating the musical sounds. Many of the leading dance beats are played with the daouli, even in modern classical orchestras.

Bouzouki

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouzouki

The bouzouki is a long-necked stringed musical instrument of modern Greece, deriving from thabouras instruments dating back to Ancient Greece. One of the most distinctive instruments in Modern Greece and a member of the lute family. It has three pairs of strings, although it has also been known to have four, creating the sound for folk, laika and rembetika songs.

Kithara

Source: ancient.eu

The kithara is an instrument belonging to the lyre family and played at significant events and banquets. It has seven strings of equal length and made from wood with a flat base. Terpander of Lesvos, named the father of Greek music and poetry is thought to have invented the kithara in the 7th Century BC. In Greek Mythology, Apollo taught Orpheus how to play the lyre when he was a teenager.

Tsabouna

Source: pontosworld.com

The Tsabouna is a bagpipe from Ancient Greece, allowing the musician to play without taking pauses for breath, and is different in that it does not have a separate, low-toned drone pipe. The bag is usually made from goatskin, with both pipes having the same number of holes, resulting in a melody being played in unison on two pipes simultaneously.

Oud

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oud

Also known as outi, it belongs to the family of lutes and is a simple instrument without a neck. It has five double strings, and it was played originally with the fingers and later with a pick. It has no frets and a smaller neck, making it different from traditional lutes.  

Laouto

Source: 12fret.com

It is related to the lute, the laouto founded in Greece. It has a higher string tension due to its long neck, making it brighter in tone. The laouto is used in many genres of Greek music, especially in Greek folk songs.

Pandoura

Made from walnut tree wood, while it appears similar to the bouzouki, it is tuned differently. It can also be called the ‘tambouras’, and the predecessor to the lute. Originating back to the 10th century, the neck of the tambouras is divided into commas and not semitones, with strings ranging from two to six strings. This makes the sound it produces deep and sweeter.

Cretan Lyra

Source: Stevepeterson at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

A Greek pear-shaped, the Cretan Lyra is a three-stringed bowed musical instrument originating from Crete. Made from wood, the Lyra is played on the lap vertically. It is vital to do this because the player has to touch the strings with nails on the side rather than tap. The Cretan Lyra is different as it has four strings. 

Aulos

Source: ancient.eu

Aulos is a wind instrument and has been depicted often in Greek art, and was often the sound within slow dances. It is usually a double reeded instrument similar to the karamuza and klarino and very similar to today’s clarinet variant. 

Defi

Source: musicaroundthemediterranean.wordpress.com

While the defi appears similar to the tambourine in construction, it is made with a metal screw system that can be tightened and tuned. This instrument has a stunning, low tone, with the bangles also low pitched. It is a popular instrument even today, especially in Epiros in Northwestern Greece, where they are still handmade. 

Kanonaki 

Source: Yanajin33, CC BY-SA 3.0

This is a triangle-shaped instrument and is tuned according to the chromatic scale. With it having 72 plastic strings which produce 24 notes each, and the bass strings are over-spun with copper, are arranged in groups and tuned in unison. It is considered one of the oldest Greek music instruments.

The Hydraulis

Source: greekreporter.com

The earliest known organ was the Hydraulis, which is a water-driven pipe organ created by Ctesibius of Alexandria. It works by pushing air into the reservoir with hand pumps to make pressurised air through the pipes. Later in life, it developed into the modern pipe organ known in European churches.

Music was a massive part of the Ancient Greeks’ lives, inspiring them at events and being the background sounds to special occasions. Their love for music spread across the world, giving us sounds we owe to the Greeks even today. 

Without the musical instruments above, music wouldn’t be shaped the way it is today. Thankfully, music is a huge part of the Greek’s lives today, with them using music to express love, death, and their fears, just like many others worldwide. 


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