What Musical Terms Came From Ancient Greece?

What Musical Terms Came From Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece is widely regarded as the birthplace of Western civilization, and its influence can be seen in various aspects of our modern world, including music. Many musical terms that we use today have their roots in ancient Greek culture. In this article, we will explore some of these terms and their meanings.

The Importance of Music in Ancient Greece

Music held a significant place in ancient Greek society. It was not just seen as a form of entertainment but also as a way to communicate with the divine and evoke different emotions. Greek philosophers, such as Pythagoras and Plato, believed that music had the power to shape one’s character and influence society.


Melody, derived from the Greek word “melōidía,” refers to a sequence of musical tones or notes played or sung in succession. Melodies were an essential component of ancient Greek music, and they were often accompanied by various instruments like lyres, flutes, and harps.


Rhythm comes from the Greek word “rhuthmos” and pertains to the pattern of beats or durations in music. The concept of rhythm was highly valued by the ancient Greeks, who believed that it mirrored the natural order found in the universe.


In ancient Greece, harmony referred to the combination of different musical sounds played simultaneously. The idea of harmony evolved over time and became more complex with advancements in musical theory.

Musical Instruments

Ancient Greece had a wide range of musical instruments that were used for various purposes. These instruments had unique names which are still recognized today.


The lyre was a stringed instrument that resembled a small harp. It had a U-shaped body and was often associated with the god Apollo, who was considered the patron of music. The lyre played a crucial role in ancient Greek music and was used in both solo and ensemble performances.


The aulos was a double-reed instrument, similar to modern-day oboes or clarinets. It had two pipes, which were played simultaneously. The aulos was commonly used in processions, religious ceremonies, and theatrical performances.

Musical Modes

Ancient Greek music consisted of different modes, also known as scales or tonoi. These modes provided the framework for melodies and were associated with specific emotional characteristics.

Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode originated from the region of Doris in ancient Greece. It is often associated with courage and strength. This mode has a distinct sound characterized by its unique arrangement of whole and half steps.

Phrygian Mode

The Phrygian mode, named after Phrygia in Anatolia, is known for its passionate and intense quality. It features a distinctive half-step interval between the first two notes of the scale.

  • Dorian Mode: Courageous and strong
  • Phrygian Mode: Passionate and intense
  • Lydian Mode: Joyful and uplifting
  • Mixolydian Mode: Lively and energetic

Ancient Greek music influenced the development of Western music, and many of these modes continue to be used today, albeit with some modifications.

The Legacy of Ancient Greek Music

Ancient Greek music played a crucial role in shaping the foundations of Western music. The concepts and terminology that originated in ancient Greece continue to be used by musicians and scholars worldwide.

By understanding the musical terms that came from ancient Greece, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich history and cultural significance that music holds. So, the next time you listen to or play music, remember the contributions of ancient Greece and let their legacy resonate.