The ancient Greeks had a special place for music in their culture. It was commonly believed that music nurtured a man's relationship with the Gods. In fact, many ancient Greek myths included musical instruments, especially the lyre. It was believed that this instrument was invented by the god Apollo. One example is that Amphion, son of Zeus, used a lyre to help build the walls of Thebes. According to the myth, as soon as Amphion started playing, the stones started building themselves into a wall.
The lyre was a stringed instrument originally made of a tortoise shell with anywhere from three to twelve strings. The lyre was played with a plectrum, or pick. All the strings were strummed, but the player would press down the strings that he didn't want to be heard. The lyre was distantly related to the harp. The lyre was also used in Egypt and Sumeria. While the lyre was an instrument that amateurs could play, it's bigger brother, the kithara, was used by professional musicians. Similar in appearance to the lyre, it was bigger, heavier, and usually made of wood. The lyre migrated to Europe, but became rarer in medieval times to be replaced by the lute in popularity.
Woodwinds also had their place in ancient Greece. Panpipes, another instrument allegedly invented by the gods, were cane tubes arranged in a scale. Sound could be produced from them by blowing across the holes. A more complicated version of panpipes is known in Thailand as the khaen. The aulos was a wind instrument which was extremely difficult to play. The cheeks of aulos players had to be fastened with a leather strap so they wouldn't burst. The aulos sounded similar to today's oboe.
In Ancient Egypt, music was not only an important part in ceremonies and festivals, but also a part of daily life. For instance, farmers would sing while sowing and harvesting crops. Large groups of flutes or stringed instruments were known to entertain at royal parties. Common people would dance to the music of smaller groups of stringed instruments. The Egyptian army marched to the sounds of the trumpet and drums.
The Egyptian harp was seven feet tall. Most commonly played in temples by priests, a 2500 year old example of this instrument is displayed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Another stringed instrument, the lyre, was also used in Egypt after being brought over from Greece.
Strings were not the only type of instrument in ancient Egypt. A very important part of Egyptian culture was the trumpet. The legend in Egypt was that the trumpet was invented by the god Osiris. Osiris was frequently worshiped to the sound of trumpets. It is also known that the Egyptians used a double-reed instrument similar to the oboe.
Percussion instruments also had a major role in Egypt. Egyptian cymbals came in various sizes and pitches. The tambourine, commonly used today in folk and rock music, originated in Egypt. The sistrum, an instrument similar to a tambourine was also used commonly in Egypt. Similar to a rattle in appearance, the sistrum made a jangling noise when shaken.
The Aborigines of Australia came up with one of the world's oldest instruments - - the didgeridoo. Consisting of only a long, hollow tube, the didgeridoo is thought to be one of the earliest instruments made my man. A didgeridoo player blows into the instrument in a similar manner to a trumpet player. The didgeridoo produces a muffled tone that can be continuous through the use of a special kind of breathing. Above the one note drone that the instrument produces, the didgeridoo player can sing while playing, creating complex harmonies.