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Piepan and strings and a coat hanger make a Greek lyre

Greek lyre, made by 6th graders at Laurelhurst School, Portland

Ancient Greek music

People in ancient Greece loved music, which they thought was a way of creating order out of chaos – you could make random rocks into beautiful buildings, you could make random movement into athletics, and you could make random noise into music.

What was a lyre?

One of the favorite instruments of ancient Greek musicians was the lyre, which was a very early form of guitar. Like a guitar, a lyre had strings, and you plucked them to make the sound. Also like a guitar, a lyre had a soundbox to make the sound louder. But a guitar has a neck, so you can press down on the strings to change the note. Lyres didn’t have that, so there were fewer notes available for Greek musicians to play.

Greek vase of Apollo playing a lyre

Apollo playing the lyre

Make your own lyre

You can make a lyre like this one with a coat hanger, rubber bands (or yarn) and a metal bowl. Really the strings should run over the top of the bowl, so that the bowl will work as a resonator to make the music sound louder when you pluck the strings. This student painted the inside of the bowl to look like a turtle shell, as in the story of Hermes making the first lyre out of a turtle shell. Find out more about Greek music.


* Olympic games
* Play reading
* Vase-painting

Bibliography and further reading for Ancient Greek projects:


Hands-On Ancient People, Volume 2 : Art Activities about Minoans, Mycenaeans, Trojans, Ancient Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans (2004) For kids ages 9-12.

Ancient Greece!: 40 Hands-On Activities to Experience This Wondrous Age (Kaleidoscope Kids), by Avery Hart, Paul Mantell, and Michael P. Kline (1999). Gives ideas to get kids thinking, rather than step-by-step instructions.

More about Ancient Greece
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