Did they play music in ancient Egypt?
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Music in Ancient Egypt

Egyptian musicians
Egyptian musicians

May 2016 - People in Egypt, like other people in Africa, have probably been playing music since the early Stone Age, long before there is any definite evidence of it. The earliest definite evidence of music from Egypt comes from about 3100 BC, at the beginning of the Old Kingdom.

Because there wasn't any way of recording music or writing down notes in ancient Egypt, nobody knows what Egyptian music sounded like. From pictures, we do know what kind of instruments the Egyptians had. As you can see in this picture, there were stringed instruments like guitars and harps. There were also wind instruments like recorders or clarinets, with reeds for the mouthpiece like clarinets today, and by the New Kingdom there were bronze trumpets, too. The woman in the thin white dress is playing two recorders at the same time. And there were percussion instruments like drums and rattles, which is what the little kid is playing.

As the picture shows, a lot of Egyptian musicians were women (though not all of them). Music was a good opportunity for women to work at a skilled job. But just as women in the music industry do today, sometimes Egyptian women musicians had to wear thin or revealing clothes, and dance as well as singing. And many musicians were probably slaves.

Musicians often performed at religious festivals. They also played at private parties. Probably workers in factories and fields often sang and clapped as they worked, to help keep up a rhythm.

Learn by doing: Play a recorder or a drum
More about African music
More about ancient Egypt

Bibliography and further reading about Egyptian art:

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. Easy reading.

Ancient Egyptian Art, by Susie Hodge (1998). Shows kids how Egyptian art relates to Egyptian religion and culture.

Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 1: Art Activities about Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Islam, by Yvonne Merrill and Mary Simpson. Art projects for kids, though the directions are really aimed at teachers or parents.

The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (Yale University Press Pelican History of Art), by William Stevenson Smith and William Kelly Simpson (revised edition 1999). The standard for college courses.

Egyptian Art, by Cyril Aldred (1985). Another standard.

More Old Kingdom Egyptian Art
More about Ancient Egypt
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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