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Musical Instruments of Ancient Egypt


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Detailed view of the creation of instruments throughout dynastic egypt.

Detailed view of the creation of instruments throughout dynastic egypt.

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  • 1. Musical Instruments of Ancient Egypt
    By Cami Puz
  • 2. Ancient Egypt Divided into (years are approximate):
    -Early Dynastic Period (beginning in 3100 B.C.)
    -Upper and Lower Egypt are unified and first pharaoh rules.
    -Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.)
    -First Intermediate Period (2181-2055 B.C.)
    -Middle Kingdom (2055-1640 B.C.)
    -Second Intermediate Period (1640-1550 B.C.)
    -New Kingdom (1550-1070 B.C.)
  • 3. Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and Old Kingdom refer to periods of time that Egypt flourished and was prosperous.
    Intermediate Periods refer to times of turmoil, war, or unrest that Egypt went through.
    -During the Intermediate Periods, it is believed that a lot of vandalizating occurred of artwork and tombs, and not as much is recovered from these periods.
    Egypt (cont.)
  • 4. How do we know what instruments Ancient Egyptians had and how they used them?
  • 5. Tombs… Temples…. Sculptures… Find the instruments…
  • 6. Tombs and temples give us some of the best examples of how the instruments functioned in Egypt. From them we can decipher things like:
    -How they were held
    -Which instruments typically played together
    -Where instruments were played
    -If instruments were gender specific
    -If/how they were used religiously or were used for secular purposes
    -What classes (high class, middle class, low class) were associated with certain instruments
  • 7. Instruments are so often depicted in tombs because of Ancient Egyptian beliefs of the afterlife.
    Depictions of pleasurable aspects of domestic life were put on tomb walls in the belief that it would secure a “similarly prosperous and pleasurable existence in the other life” (Sachs, 87).
    Scenes on tomb walls were supposed to ensure that the dead would be reborn in the afterlife. Egyptians would depict erotic scenes to aid in the process of rebirth “duplicating the sexual act that began the first birth so that one could be ‘reconceived’ into the next life” (Bleiberg, 156)
    Tombs (cont.)
  • 8. Being as all of this happened a LONG time ago, it cannot be expected that all the instruments survived
    However, because of Egypt’s arid environment it contains some of the most well-preserved instruments
    Instruments Recovered
  • 9. Percussive Instruments
    Wind Instruments
    Earliest Instruments (Old Kingdom)
  • 10. First instrument (prior to 3000 B.C.)
    Thought to be an instrument to mimic human clapping, or adaptation of the primitive boomerang
    Typically found made out of ivory, wood, or bone
    2 types: one-handed (shown below), two-handed
    Commonly depicted as human arms/hands, or decorated with the head of Hathor (clappers frequently used in worship of this goddess)
  • 11. One-handed clappers were more commonly used than two-handed
  • 12. Means “thing shaken”
    Was a handle and a frame with jingling crossbars. (typically made of metal)
    Like the clapper was associated with the worship of the goddess Hathor; her head is depicted on some of them
    Another form of the Sistrum (“seseset”) was confined only to Egypt
    -”The upper end is carved in the form of Hathor’s head and supports the heavy frame which looks like the front view of a small temple with a door. Holes on either side of the frame have jingling cross wires strung through them” (89, Sachs).
    Sistrum (“sekhem”)
  • 13. Regular Sistrum with Hathor’s Head
  • 14. First wind instrument Ancient Egyptians made
    Held slanting obliquely downwards
    Played by blowing across a hole in the top of it
    Made out of cane/stalks of reed
    Number of fingerholes vary (from two to six), are placed near the lower end of the instrument
    Typically a yard long and half an inch wide
    Flutes (“mat”)
  • 15. Varying sizes of flutes found.
    How the flute was played.
  • 16. Could be a single tube or two tubes tied together and played simultaneously (double clarinet)
    Very different than the clarinet we know today, but what classifies it as a clarinet is that it has a single vibrating reed (reed was not attached, but cut into the main body of the instrument)
    Like the flutes, were made out of cane
    Clarinets (“mernet”)
  • 17. Hole at the very top of the instrument.
    The reed tongues at the top that vibrate would be taken fully into the players mouth, but not pressed down by the mouth.
    Blowing would set the reeds vibrating into motion.
    Clarinets (cont.)
  • 18. Because of the way the instrument is constructed, and comparing it to common practice of other clarinets of this style found around the world, it is believed that it would have been played by circular breathing
    Player would be unable to tongue
    One or more of the tubes act as a drone while the other would play the melody (Hoeprich, 11).
    Double clarinets would either be assembled in the shape of a V or tied together.
    Clarinet (cont.)
  • 19. Very similar to the Sumerian harp, so there is question as to whether Egypt got it from Sumer or if Sumer got it from them.
    Were vertical, “generally stood on the ground and were played by a kneeling man” (Sachs, 93).
    Arched Harp
  • 20. Harps functioned in religious context by accompanying songs about life and death.
    Was the most popular harp in all periods of Egypt
    Sound box and tuning mechanisms
    Played with hands or a plectrum
    Arched Harp (cont.)
  • 21. Drums (first appear in 2000 B.C.)
    Only real new instrument to come out of the Middle Kingdom
    Frame drum “ser” is the first
    Like a tambourine without shakers
    “Drum scene appears on a relief from Osorkon II’s festival hall in the great Bubastis temple; a frame drum, three or four feet in diameter, is carried on the shoulders of a porter and beaten by the bare hands of a second man” (Sachs, 96).
    Middle Kingdom Drums
  • 22. Depiction of frame drums and two-handed clappers being played.
    “Quite often they would be painted with symbolic scenes, which illustrated the drum's influence on evoking resurrection, creation and the natural rhythms of the universe. The beat of the drum was used to coordinate the rhythms of oarsmen on the boats that sailed the Nile. Also in ritual processions Priestesses are often depicted playing the frame drum as they accompanied the sacred boats of the deities” (The Ancient Nile website).
  • 23. More drums
    Middle Kingdom Instruments
  • 24. Cylindrical drums- like a snare drum without the snares
    Barrel drums-were more elongated than a “barrel”, were carried horizontally and struck on both ends (covered with skins)
    No depictions of sticks being used on the drums
    • How the barrel drum was played.
    Barrel drums used for military purposes.
    Made from tree trunks covered with hide.
  • 25. Was always used with two tubes put together
    Was similar to the Greek aulos and the shawm
    About two feet long and less than half an inch in diameter.
    As was the case with the mernet, one tube would serve as a drone and the other would provide the melody. This speculation is made from the way players’ fingers on Egyptian artworks appear and what the present practice is in other countries.
    The most commonly found fingerhole arrangement was three on the left pipe and four on the right (Sachs, 87).
    Oboe (“wedjeny”)
  • 26. The reed was taken fully into the mouth when playing
    Oboe (cont.)
  • 27. Made of reed stalks/cane
    Reed was taken fully into the mouth and the lips rested on a sleeve (pirouette)
    Resembled the Egyptian clarinet but the vibrating reed was not cut out of the body of the instrument. Instead 2 reeds were inserted at the top
    Oboe (cont.)
    Would resemble something like that 
    Unable to find a good picture.
  • 28. 2 feet long
    Made of wood or metal
    Used for military purposes of signaling and directing troops.
    Single tube with a bell shape at the end, no valves.
    Trumpet (“sheneb”)
  • 29. Oldest surviving trumpets taken from King Tut’s tomb
    Were made of silver and bronze with mouthpieces of gold and silver.
    Several attempts by professional trumpet players to reproduce the sound of them (1933, 1939, 1941)
    Each time only one note could be sounded out of the instruments (tone between C and C-sharp)
    Trumpet (cont.)
  • 30. Most trumpets had wooden cores/stoppers that are shaped like the trumpet and fit inside to prevent damage when not being played
    Trumpet (cont.)
  • 31. Lyre
    Angled Harp
    Other Instruments from New Kingdom
  • 32.
    Historical and Musical Outline
  • 33. Unclear how the music itself would particularly sound like (Ancient Egypt had no form of notation) but images give us an idea of which instruments would play together
    Typically wind instruments (flutes, reed instruments) played with plucked instruments
    How would all of these instruments sound?
  • 34. Reproductions have been made of Ancient Egyptian instruments and there have been attempts at recreating the same type of music that would have existed:
    In this example: Flutes, harp, lute, drum
    Take not of how the instruments are played
  • 35. Banes, Anthony. Woodwind Instruments and their History. New York: W. W. Norton &
    Company, 1962.
    Bate, Philip. The Oboe: An Outline of its History, Development and Construction. London:
    Ernest Benn Limited, 1962.
    Bleiberg, Edward. Arts and Humanities Through the Eras: Ancient Egypt 2675-332B.C. Thomson
    Gale, 2005.
    Burguess, Geoffrey and Bruce Haynes. The Oboe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press,
    Hoeprich, Eric. The Yale Musical Instrument Series: The Clarinet. New Yaven and London: Yale
    University Press, 2008.
    Sachs, Curt. The History of Musical Instruments. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1940.
    Double Clarinet. The State of Queensland (Department of Education). 2002. 21 April 2010.
    Works Cited (books)
  • 36.
    Works Cited Websites
  • 37.
    Works Cited Websites