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The lyre (Ancient Greek: λυρα, French: lyre, German: Lyra, Leier; Italian: lira) is a musical instrument.

It originally meant an ancient Greek harp (a plucked string instrument), but it is also used for other instruments that came later that were close to it in shape.

During the Middle Ages in Europe, the name "lyra" or "lira" was used not only for plucked instruments, but also for bowed instruments that had similar shapes.

This also includes the family from which the fiddle developed.

However, "lyra/Leier" came to be used for a hurdy-gurdy, and "Leier" has already shifted to mean a "hand organ (barrel organ)."

Furthermore, there is even a percussion instrument shaped like an ancient Greek lyre that uses "lyre" in the name (bell lyre), which often invites confusion.

In ancient Greece, the lyre often accompanied recitations.


1 History

2 Emblems

3 Construction

4 Types


According to ancient Greek mythology, the lyre was invented by the young god Hermes.

He took a large tortoise shell (khelus) and wrapped an animal skin and antelope horns around it.

The lyre has a link with the Apollonian virtues of moderation and tranquility.

It stood in contrast with the Dionysian flute, which was ecstasy and exaltation.

Southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa have all been proposed for being where the instrument actually originated.

Stories of demigods (or heroes) who had a lyre are found on the coasts of Aeolian and Ionic Greek colonies in Asia minor (now Turkey) bordering the Lydian empire.

Further, another Greek colony, Trace, was believed to be the birthplace of mythical lyre virtuosos Orpheus, Musaeus, and Thamyris.

The ancient Greeks called the box-shaped stringed instruments from Egypt the kithara or cithara, indicating that they were themselves aware of the similarity between them and the Greek instrument.

The golden age of Ancient Egypt happened around the 5th century of classical Greece, and it's thought that the kithara was born around that time.

Thus, the instrument that was the basis for the lyre existed in the countries surrounding Greece (Thrace, Lydia, Egypt) before the ancient Greek civilization, and we can infer that Greece got it from them.


The lyre is the symbol of music, and so is often used on badges in American and European military bands.

It is used in Japan as well, for the badge for musicians in the Self-Defense Army's military band.

The lyre is also an emblem for fire department bands, police bands, and Coast Guard military bands.


The frame of a lyre is a hollow sound box with two arms standing out from it.

The arms are also hollow.

The outer side of both arms curve forward, and are connected at the tops via a yoke.

There is also a bar at the base, acting a a bridge conducting the vibration of the strings to the sound box.

Gut strings were strung between the yoke at the top and the bridge or a tailpiece below the bridge.

The strings were around the same length, but had different weights (thicknesses) and tension.

They have this in common with stringed instruments of today like guitars and violins.

The lowest note was the furthest from the player.

There were two ways to tune it: fastening pegs or adjusting the position of the string on the crossbars.

In all likelihood, both methods were used together.

The number of strings differed depending on the time period and also perhaps by each region.

The preferred number of strings were 4, 7, and 10.

There's absolutely zero documented evidence supporting that it had a fingerboard.

There also would have been no way to use a bow.

The flat sound board wouldn't have allowed it (translation note: imagine trying to play a classic guitar with a cello bow).

However, a plectrum was normally used.

It was held in the right hand and plucked the high-pitched strings (at the top of the string?).

When not in use, it was tied to the instrument with a ribbon.

The fingers of the left hand touched the strings (at the bottom?).

There is no evidence for how many strings were used for stringing in the Greek heroic age.

Plutarch says that Olympus and Terpander only used three strings to accompany their recitation.

As doubling the tetrachord led from four strings to seven or eight, so is a six-stringed lyre related to a trichord.

That six-stringed lyre is often depicted on ancient Grecian vases.

While it is conceivable that it would be somewhat annoying to show all of the small details of an instrument so these can not be expected to be accurate, it would be difficult to imagine they would have gone to the trouble of using a different number of strings.

Figures were often drawn with their right hand plucking the strings with a plectrum, and the fingers of the left holding them down.

Before the Ancient Greek civilization took the form it is known by now, there was a great deal of freedom and regionality in the tuning of the lyre.

This is backed by the ancient use of the chromatic and quarter-tone tunings, which points to abundance in antiquity, and an Asiatic tendency towards refining tone.


Even today, the lyre is a main folk instrument in many areas of Greece, such as the island of Crete and the Pontian areas of northern Greece (Macedonia).

That type of lyre is played by standing it on one's thigh and using a bow, like a violin.

Classical Greek Lyres



Other Folk Instruments

Cretan lyra

Ethiopian krar - a five- or six-stringed harp.

It is plucked string instrument used in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

It is tuned to a pentatonic scale.

There are modern krars that are amplified (electrically amplified) like electric guitars are.

They are traditionally and commonly made of wood and decorated with cloth and beads.

The krar is often associated with cozy meals, and musician-singers called azmari accompany themselves on it for love and secular songs.

Modern Lyres

This instrument is frequently used now in Waldorf education.

The sound box is curved into a doughnut shape and strings are strung side by side chromatically from one end to the other.

Strings corresponding to the white keys of a piano and strings corresponding to black keys have different lengths, with the white keys being longer.

The black keys are strung shorter.

The white keys are played with the right hand from the front of the instrument, and the black keys are played from behind through the doughnut hole with the left hand.

It is known for being used in "Always With Me," the theme song to the Studio Ghibli animated film "Spirited Away."

There are two main musical instrument companies that make them.

Date of last update:2013-10-31 16:16:18 jewel 2thumbs up   del.icio.usに追加   はてなブックマークに追加   twitterに投稿   facebookでshare
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