Ancient Egypt Music
Zummara, a double pipe with reeds
In a culture as full of religious rituals as ancient Egypt, music tends to be a significant part of every day life. With countless wall murals showing musicians playing while dancers danced and others stood off and watched. Instruments have been unearthed as well. But, despite knowing how they played, the ancient Egyptian music itself -- the notes, the composition -- is wholly unknown to us.
Percussion instruments were the most common instruments used in ancient Egyptian music, with the simplest being the human hands. Clapping was depicted on many walls as being a large part of most musical performances. Drums were also popular during the Middle Kingdom, and bells were used frequently later, during the Late Period.
While most percussion instruments have a very limited pitch range, other types of instruments -- those of the wind and stringed variety -- were used as well. It is believed that the flute may have been invented in ancient Egypt . Other wind instruments included the trumpet, the parallel double-pipes and the divergent double-pipes. These were often made using reeds, until later, when bronze work was more common.
Stringed instruments were also used in ancient Egyptian music, predominantly in the form of harps, lutes, and lyres. The lyres were introduced around 2500 BC in nearby Syria , while the lute was used more widely during the New Kingdom period.
Harps were special instruments in that they were of a much more complex design than other string instruments, and it was also common to deck out a harp with precious materials such as ebony, silver, gold, lapis lazuli, malachite, or anything valuable both monetarily and aesthetically.
As for the ancient Egyptian music itself, there is very little notation from before the time of the Greek invasion. It is believed that some of the music was either spontaneously created, or perhaps singers were able to direct their accompanying music with arm gestures to indicate pitch and tempo. Once the Greeks came along, there is evidence of musical notation on papyrus, though the resulting music and what is on the papyrus itself is Greek, not Egyptian.
During the Old Kingdom, only the male musicians were allowed to play almost any instrument available while the women were given options for the harp and percussion. By the Middle Kingdom, however, ensembles of both genders were common, and during the New Kingdom, it was even common to see female-only musical ensembles at rituals, celebrations, and where ever a song was needed.
Music is generally important in any society, for many reasons, and ancient Egypt is no exception. Whether honoring the gods, mourning the deceased, or celebrating a joyous event, the art of song was one utilized frequently, and most likely will continue to for a very long time.