Ancient Egyptian music , music in Egyptian civilization

Facts about music in ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian music was an integral part of this civilization. The ancient Egyptian has introduced a different style of music and instruments that still in use until now.

According to the Egyptian mythology, god Thoth was the real inventor of the ancient Egyptian music and the god Osiris used it in the underworld.

The ancient Egyptians have used many types of musical instruments; they used the String instruments like Herb and guitar and wind instruments like flute and Mizmar.

Full bands of musicians and dancers were composed in ancient Egypt to play in the feasts and religious ceremonies. The ancient Egyptian has known the musical scale, which consists of five tones.

Ancient Egyptian music in the Old Kingdom

The music and singing in ancient Egypt life had a great importance since the 1st dynasty in 3400 B.C.

The high priests and king paid a great attention to the music because of its role in the religious life; as it was used in the prayers, rituals, and hymns.

The music in ancient Egypt gained a lot of appreciation; the priests were the responsible for this type of art.

The musical life in the Old Kingdom

The inscriptions and scenes were the first to reveal a lot about the music in ancient Egyptian society, even playing or singing.

The inscriptions also illustrated the types and shapes of musical instruments and the method of playing on such instruments.

These inscriptions reflect the sophistication of making the musical instruments at this very archaic period.

At the 5th dynasty, the hand-signs of singing appeared; as the singer put his left hand behind his ear and the right hand on his check to make his voice louder, this sign is still in use.

There were also inscriptions on the walls of temples, which bore the names of composers and singers. Such names belonged, predominantly, to the artists of the palace. Not only men who worked as singers and composers, but also women had that right.

Ancient Egyptian music in the Middle Kingdom

The scenes and inscriptions on the temples and tombs show that the system of music in ancient Egypt, even the religious and entertainment music, was the same of the Old Kingdom, except the difference of some musical instruments like a harp for example.

The defining characteristic of a musical band at that time as couples. The scenes of that time show that the man may participate with another man in a musical band and also a man with woman and woman with a woman as follows:

A man played on harp with a singer woman and player man of the flute with a player woman of the harp. The number of singers varied from time to time. The preferable instrument by the ancient Egyptians was the harp.

The harp in ancient Egyptian music has associated with the prayers, rituals, and presenting offerings at the temples and also had an important role in the happy social events; as it was adding the joy and happiness to the listeners.

At the Middle Kingdom, the scenes of blind harp-player appeared for the first time at the tomb of Mry-Re at Tall El-Amarna. Such scenes did not appear on the walls of the temples.

Facts about ancient Egyptian music
The scene of blind musician

In this era, the scenes and statues of animals depicted in shapes of players appeared; this phenomenon was a matter of laugh.

At this era also, the Lyre was introduced and became a sign of ancient Egyptian music at that time. The musical band at that time had a leader standing in the middle of the band and did not play any instrument.

Sometimes, the band had two leaders; one to control the players by giving signs by his hands and the other to adjust the rhythm by using his hands, snapping fingers, or hit on his knees.

Sometimes, the function of the bandmaster was not only lead and regulate the members of band but also singing and supporting them

Musical scale

The researchers carried out on wind instruments that were used in the Old and Middle Kingdoms illustrated that the musical scale at this time was pentatonic scale.

This was indicated by the number of instruments’ holes, which varied between 1 to 4 holes and also the number of harp’s strings, which varied between 4 to 5 strings.

Ancient Egyptian music in the New Kingdom

The number of temples at that era increased, their area became larger, and the lifestyle inside these temples became variable, so the temple was like a complete city of culture, science, education, work, and ceremonies.

The music gained a great role at that time; as it represents an integral part of the religious rituals.

The diplomatic relations between the Egyptian kingdom and other countries and exchange of gifts like odalisques and captives in the New Kingdom led to the presence of the Asiatic people in the field of ancient Egyptian music and singing.

The palaces of the pharaohs at that time contained two musical bands; Egyptian and Assyrian bands.

The inscriptions of the New Kingdom show the type of musical instruments that were used by those Asiatic people and the method of playing.

Pharaonic musical instruments


Ancient Egyptian instruments
Harp in ancient Egypt

It was a string instrument, known by the ancient Egyptians since the Old Kingdom. This instrument constituted the most important item in the pharaonic musical band.

This instrument transferred from Egypt to the other kingdoms 5000 years ago; as it was considered among the most important instruments of music in ancient Egypt.

The high priests in ancient Egypt paid a great attention and respect to this instrument; as it was used during the religious ceremonies and rituals.


Ancient Egyptian music

It is a string instrument like Harp and it gained a great fame in the ancient Egyptian music life. It was called in ancient Egyptian language “Kinnar” and it was a key instrument in the Egyptian musical band.

This instrument has developed regarding the shape, decoration, size, and number of strings throughout the ancient Egyptian history.

In Nubia, it was called “Tanboura” and its box was made out of squash or the turtle’s back.

Nowadays, it is called “Semsemya” and it was still in use in a number of Egyptian governorates like Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez.


It was called “Sheneb” in the ancient Egyptian language. The scholars have found three models of this instrument; one of them is preserved at Louvre Museum in Paris, the second one is in the Egyptian Museum, and the third model is unknown.

It was found about 18 models, dating back to the 18th dynasty, the reign of King Tutankhamen; they were made out of gold and silver and were found in a good condition.

These models are inlaid with wood from inside to protect them from damage. It was shown that the ancient Egyptian music occupied a great position in the ancient Egypt society.