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Music played a very important part in ancient Egyptian life. From all periods there are scenes in temples and tombs showing musicians playing. Music was present in Egyptian life in many ways. Workers in the fields sang folk songs and love songs.

Music played a large part in social life. Professional musicians were well paid and mostly were women. Professional musicians existed on a number of social levels in ancient Egypt.

Perhaps the highest status belonged to temple musicians; the office of "musician" (shemayet) to a particular god or goddess was a position of high status frequently held by women. Musicians connected with the royal household were held in high esteem, as were certain gifted singers and harp players.  Deities were praised in songs and many women of the elite had titles such as 'chantress of Amun', demonstrating the importance of music in the cults of the gods.

There were several areas where music played an important part: worship of gods, military and processional music, music at the court, music and sexuality, and the 'songs of the harpist'. The latter is a figure often shown in tomb scenes singing songs

Music found its way into many contexts in Egypt: temples, palaces, workshops, farms, battlefields and the tomb. Music was an integral part of religious worship in ancient Egypt, so it is not surprising that there were gods specifically associated with music, such as Hathor and Bes.

In the Old Kingdom there is evidence of the beginnings of music in Egypt. Percussion was basic to the orchestra, with various types of rattles and clappers in use as well as drums of different sizes. There were also wind and stringed instruments. The three instruments that appear most prominently in pictures are pipes resembling the clarinet, end-blown flutes, and also the harp. The hieroglyphics also indicate the presence of singers and dancers.



In the Middle Kingdom period we see some advancements in music with a wider range of instruments on offer and there is evidence that melodies are getting more complicated.

In the New Kingdom improvements and additions continue. The lute and the lyre were brought in from Asia, with foreign performers. There was only an early form of bagpipe. One picture during this time period indicates that there were certain rooms of the royal palace at El-Amarna that were devoted to music. There is also a dance scene that depicts ten girls, some who have tambourines, and others who have clappers or castenets. Trumpets are often depicted in military scenes. After the Conquest of Alexander the Great, the Greeks adopted some aspects of Egyptian music. Egypt's music later was greatly influenced by the Arab tradition.


Although most of these instruments can be seen throughout all periods in Egyptian history, many were refined and developed as time progressed. However from the pictorial evidence available we can associate certain instruments with particular times in Egyptian history.

Clarinet, flute, harp (usually pharaoh's head on the base) (Old Kingdom)

Barrell drums, clappers (made of bone/wood/ivory), the sistrum (percussion instrument which led all musicians with a beat), rattles (Middle Kingdom)

Trumpet, type of oboe, pipes (single/double reed), drums, tambourines (New Kingdom)


A percussion instrument of ancient Egyptian origin. Egyptian Cymbals consist of a pair of slightly concave metal plates which produce a vibrant sound of indeterminate pitch. Known in Europe since the Middle Ages.
In Egypt Cymbals are used today in Egyptian belly dances.


This is an example of winded instruments, something like the pipe but very modest and simple.

Not too long ago, a 3,000-year-old tomb of Egypt was uncovered on an archeological dig sponsored by the University of Cairo. During the excavation, an ancient reed Mizmar was discovered in the ruins. Although pictures of such musical instruments were depicted on the walls of other previously excavated tombs, this was the first incidence in history of actually uncovering the real object.


These ancient harps had a variety of shapes and sizes, but generally were either built from a sound-box and string-arm joined at an angle or on a bow-shaped or arched frame.

The strings, possibly made of hair or plant fiber, were attached to a diaphragm at one end, and tied around the string arm or neck at the other. The strings were tuned by sliding or rotating the knots that held them.



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