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Specifically for music composed earlier than the third or fourth century A.D.

I have heard several reports about deciphering examples of ancient greek musical notation. And you can find CDs of "reconstituted" ancient music although I never had an opportunity to hear one.

  • Have we been able to reconstruct ancient instruments of these times?

  • Do we know if some melody we still play come from ancient greek or roman folklore?

  • 1
    Interesting question. I believe the Ancient Greeks used a primitive form of notation which the Romans inherited. Not a lot of music has survived from either culture, though undoubtedly they did later influence classical music. – Noldorin May 3 '11 at 22:10
  • I talked about this a few days ago. We agreed they used hexachords and the modi, though not with absolute certainty. – 11684 Dec 6 '13 at 8:01
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There's actually quite a lot of surviving information on how the Greeks tuned their scales. But as far as I know there's only one complete piece of music, the so-called "Seikilos Hymnus", a short epitaph:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seikilos_epitaph

It's a very nice little song, and I've used it in concerts.

About Greek instruments- aside from pictures, there's not much: a few fragments of kithera tailpieces, some fragmentary auloi, and that's about it. I've built two kitherae (the classical lyre) and have a third one underway, but how they are built is mostly guesswork. Here's the last one I built:

http://i578.photobucket.com/albums/ss221/therealzilch/kithara.jpg

  • Yes an answer with actual real citations – Neil Meyer Mar 6 '16 at 18:36
  • @NeilMeyer- yes, if only to Wikipedia. I didn't have time to look up more scholarly information, but the wiki on Seikilos seems pretty good. – Scott Wallace Mar 7 '16 at 10:35
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To paraphrase and oversimplify 'Mastering the Scales and Arpeggios' by James Francis Cooke, the answer (for Greek) is, 'not very much.' There is a very large problem with ancient Greek writing on the subject. We don't really know what the words mean. Much ink has been spilled by writers purporting to know what the words mean, but in the end, there's perishing little evidence to support their theories.

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As I noted in a comment already, I believe they used hexachords (scales consisting of six notes) and the four modi.

But now why I decided to write an answer: the instruments. They had harps and flutes as is to be seen in Greek art. It is possible there are more, but I have seen vases with harps on it (well, images of them) and statues with flutes (yeah, images) myself.

  • AFAIK, Greek music did not use hexachords, which weren't invented until much later, in the Medieval era. Greek music was based on tetrachords. – Caleb Hines Mar 6 '16 at 19:47

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