In ancient Greece there were two main types of instruments used. The Aulos (similar to the flute and Recorder) and the Lyre (similar to the guitar and harp). There were basically four different musical instruments of the Lyre type: the lyre, the barbitos, and two different types of Kithara - the cradle kithara and the concert kithara. Each of these instruments varied in size, shape, pitch and resonance (the length of time an object rings after being played). The lyre was perhaps the smallest and easiest to make, and most younger well-to-do Athenians learned to play it in their youth. Its base, similar to the bottom portion of a guitar, was made of a tortoise shell, covered with hide. Two arms made of wood or horn were attached inside the shell and left sticking out of the top. The arms were connected at the top with a stick, and strings (usually made of animal guts) were stretched from the stick to the shell. The barbitos (or bass lyre) was constructed much like the lyre, though it has a larger shell for the base and the strings and arms are longer. The kithara is also similar in design to the lyre, but the base is made out of a box of wood. The cradle kithara is small and lightweight like the lyre and the concert kithara is a larger version like the barbitos.
The most common lyre-type instrument among the more experienced
players was the concert kithara. The professional kithara players
were called kitharodes. The concert kithara was made of the most
splendid woods and often inlaid with precious stones and metals;
for instance, gold and diamonds. The cradle kithara was used primarily
by women because of its lighter weight and smaller size.
The lyre was used more frequently among the younger Greek musicians,
and the barbitos was used in an erotic and entrancing context.
According to Homer, instruments of the lyre family were used most
commonly by the aristocratic warrior society,
and were connected with the Apollonian cult.
In spite of the differences among the different lyre
instruments, the technique for playing each of them is similar.
These instruments are played as a guitar is
played. The strings could be plucked (this technique in ancient
Greece is called psallein) with a plectrum (a guitar pick) or
the strings could be played with the bare fingers (this technique
in ancient Greece is called psalteria). The left hand would pluck
the strings, usually with each syllable that was being sung. The
singer being the priority of their music, the instrument sounds
could not be distracting to the vocals; therefore, the right hand
would sweep over the strings with the plectrum only when there
was no singing.
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