The nine muses in a Roman sarcophagus (2nd c.)

The history of Western music begins in ancient Greece. They understand music as an art of divine origins. The word "music" derives from mousiké that means art of the muses. Many legends of Greek mythology link music to the gods. Music was thought to have magical powers that could cure illnesses and modify behaviours. That is why it was considered an essential discipline in the education of young people. 

  • The concept of music comprised music, poetry and dance.
  • Rhythm: it was organized into metrical feet.

1. Trochee: long – short
2. Iamb: short – long
3. Dactyl: long – short – short
4. Anapaest: short – short – long
5. Spondee: long – long
6. Tribrach: short – short – short
  • Melody: it was based on modal scales. The different sonority of each mode reflected an ethos or feeling.

A) Dorian mode: (mi’-mi) appropriate for expressing the sublime.

B) Phrygian mode: (re’-re) calm mode, appropriate for affections.

C) Lydian mode: (do’-do) appropriate for complaints, crying and pain.

D) Mixolydian mode: (si’-si) appropriate for passionate expressions.

  • Texture: monophony with heterophonic accompaniment was the main texture
  • Musical notation: they used alphabetic notation for the pitch of sound.
  • Instruments:
    - String: lyre (1), cithara (2), barbitos (3), pandura (4).
    - Wind: aulos (5), syrinx (6), hydraulis (7).
    - Percussion: tympanum (8).

One of the few preserved fragments of ancient Greek music is the Seikilos Epitaph.