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The Melodic Legacy of Ancient Egypt: From Clappers to Harps

The Melodic World of Ancient Egypt

From the grandeur of Pharaohs to the silent tombs of mummies, Ancient Egypt has always been a subject of fascination. Expanding over thousands of years, this civilization left an imprint on the world that cannot be erased.

Along with numerous marvels of architecture, religion, and science, one of the most prominent features of Ancient Egypt was its music. Music played a vital role in the Egyptian social and cultural life, with many instruments bringing life to their musical traditions.

In this article, we will explore the different instruments of Ancient Egypt and their significance, as well as the importance of music in Ancient times and its influence today.

Egyptian Instruments

1.1 Darbouka (Goblet Drum)

One of the most iconic musical instruments of Ancient Egypt is the Darbouka or Goblet Drum. This small, handheld percussion instrument was a staple in many musical performances, both secular and religious.

Used by Egyptians for centuries, the Darbouka produces a sharp, crisp sound that is instantly recognizable. The drum is made from clay or metal, and its unique shape is what sets it apart from other percussion instruments.

Its stem makes it easy to grip and allows for intricate rhythms to be played using the fingers or the palms of the hand. This instrument was popular during ancient Egyptian times and is still commonly used in traditional Middle Eastern music today.

1.2 Sistra (Hand-held Percussion)

Another type of hand-held percussion instrument is the Sistra. This instrument has a unique history and significance to Ancient Egypt as it was often associated with goddesses such as Hathor and Bastet.

The Sistra was crafted from metal or wood, and its jangling sound was believed to please the gods or to drive away evil spirits. Its distinctive sound was created by shaking or jangling its numerous metal rods, bells, or rattles.

Egyptian wall art provides evidence of this instrument being played, usually in religious ceremonies or during worship rituals. 1.3 Benet (Egyptian Harp)

One of the string instruments of Ancient Egypt was the Benet or the Egyptian Harp.

This instrument was made of wood, strings, and frames, and it was regarded as a pharaonic symbol of musicality. It was usually played by the palace harpists during royal banquets, or by funeral mourners during processions to the tomb.

One interesting feature of this harp was that it was played in a vertical position, unlike the modern-day harp, which is played in a horizontal position. Evidence of this instrument can be seen on the walls of tombs and temples throughout Egypt.

1.4 Cymbals

Cymbals were another popular instrument in ancient Egypt, and their history can be traced back to ancient civilizations in China, Greece, and Rome. Cymbals, made from metal plates, produce a sharp sound when struck together.

In Ancient Egypt, they were used in both religious and military contexts, often portraying the strength and power of the gods. The vibration of the cymbals was believed to awaken the deities and was used in conjunction with the chanting of hymns or prayers.

1.5 Castanets (Clappers)

Castanets, also known as clappers, were a common instrument in Ancient Egyptian music. They were made from hardwood and were pear-shaped with hollowed-out centers.

One remarkable feature of these clappers was that they would have Hathor’s face carved on them, the goddess of music, dance, and fertility. Castanets were used in celebrations and ceremonies, often accompanying the sound of strings and percussion.

1.6 Trumpets

Trumpets were one of the few brass instruments used in Ancient Egypt, with evidence found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. These instruments were made from brass or silver and were fitted with valves or slides for tuning.

Trumpets were used in both secular and religious contexts; they were employed in battle to signal or lead troops, as well as in ceremonies and offerings to gods. 1.7 Lute

The Lute was a string instrument that was characterized by its pear-shaped body and the use of tortoise shells for its frame.

The Lute was played by plucking strings and was believed to produce a resonant sound. The instrument was held in the player’s lap, different from the modern-day guitar.

The Lute was used during poetry readings, ceremonies, and banquets. 1.8 Pipes

Pipes were also prevalent in Ancient Egyptian music.

The Ney, which is an end-blown flute, was a popular instrument used in Ancient Egypt. The Zummara was an ancient clarinet made of reed and featured finger holes.

Egyptian dancers often accompanied the Zummara with their movements. These instruments were used in both secular and religious contexts, often accompanying other instruments during celebrations and rituals.

1.9 Bells

Bells were primarily used in religious ceremonies and worship rituals. These bells were believed to recreate the sound of the stars and were used in ceremonies honoring the god Osiris.

They were made of metal, bronze, silver, or gold and were often used in conjunction with other musical instruments to create harmonies and melodies. 1.10 Lyre

Lyre, much like the harp, was also a popular string instrument in Ancient Egypt.

The Lyre was much lighter than the harp, and players would hold the instrument on their laps. The instrument’s soft and relaxing sound was perfect for various ceremonies, including banquets, poetry readings, and other social events.

Importance of Music in Ancient Times

2.1 Music as an Integral Part of Everyday Life

Music played an integral part in the social and cultural life of Ancient Egypt. Music could be heard everywhere, from the bustling streets to the fields where farmers toiled to the grand halls of the pharaohs’ palaces.

It was used not only as a means of entertainment, but it also served to evoke feelings of joy, grief, and reverence. Music played a vital role in Ancient Egyptian celebrations, and no event was complete without music accompanying it.

Even in death, music played a significant role during processions to the tomb. Music was an essential part of life in Ancient Egypt, and it touched all aspects of society.

2.2 Music’s Influence on Today’s Scene

The rich history of Ancient Egyptian music has influenced modern music significantly. Its influence can be heard in a variety of genres, from classical to contemporary.

Ten popular Egyptian instruments have left an imprint on today’s music scene that cannot be ignored. The use of percussion instruments such as the Darbouka, Sistra, and Castanets can be found in modern-day Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music.

The unique sound of the Benet harp can be heard in classical and folk music, while the trumpet is an integral instrument in military music. We can hear the soft, relaxing sound of the Lute in various genres, including medieval, classical, and folk music.

The influence of Ancient Egyptian music has left an indelible mark on modern music that still resonates today.


The music of Ancient Egypt was an integral part of the social and cultural life of its people and has influenced music throughout history. The numerous instruments that were employed during ceremonies and worship rituals are still used today in a variety of genres, from classical to contemporary.

The blending of various musical elements created a unique sound that is still revered today. From the small Darbouka drums to the soothing sound of the Lute, Ancient Egyptian music was a melodic experience that touched all aspects of society.

Through its music, a glimpse into the past has been preserved, and its influence on today’s music scene will be long-lasting.

3) Significance of Sistra

In Ancient Egyptian culture, music was an integral part of everyday life and played a pivotal role in the religious ceremonies. The Sistra is an essential instrument in Ancient Egyptian music, especially in the worship of the goddesses Hathor and Bastet, known as the goddesses of music, dance, and fertility.

The instrument had sacred importance, and it was believed that its jangling sound pleased the gods and drove away evil spirits making it an essential feature in religious ceremonies.

3.1 Sistra as a Hand-held Percussion Tool

The Sistrum, also known as the Rattle, is a uniquely shaped Ancient Egyptian percussion tool that comprises a metal frame featuring a curved handle welded to a box or frame.

Several metal loops radiate from the frame, which has a series of loose discs or metal rods that create a jangling sound when shaken. The sounds produced by the Sistra were used in Ancient Egyptian music to signify celebration, and the ceremonial rituals concerning Hathor and Bastet.

Often paired with other instruments, the Sistra creates a unique sound, and its use was critical to Egyptian music. The Sistrum was considered a holy instrument, and only priests or priestesses who were trained in the religious practices of Ancient Egypt were allowed to use it.

The Sistra was not only an instrument of worship, but it also had mystical powers that could ward off evil spirits and ensure the success of an undertaking. The musical instrument was also used in the coronation of pharaohs as a symbol of power and influence over Egypt.

3.2 Sistra Ownership and Use in Ceremonies

The Sistra was one of the most expensive musical instruments in Ancient Egypt, and only people of high rank could afford to own one. Ownership of the Sistra afforded the owner particular privileges during ceremonies and was a symbol of their wealth and social status.

The Sistra was an essential tool during ceremonies, such as the celebration of the harvesting season. It was also used to honor the goddesses and glorify the pharaoh of Ancient Egypt.

The Sistra often played a critical role in religious ceremonies, and its significance has been evident in Ancient Egyptian art, scripture, and texts.

4) Evolution of Harps

The harp is one of the oldest musical instruments in the world dating back thousands of years. The instrument has undergone many changes throughout history, with the earliest forms of the harp resembling an archer’s bow.

The modern-day harp is a larger instrument with a wooden neck, a curved soundbox, and a soundboard made from animal skin that requires sophisticated construction methods. 4.1 Earliest Forms of Harps

The oldest forms of harps were developed approximately 5,000 years ago in Ancient Sumeria and Ancient Egypt.

The earliest forms of the harp consisted of a soundbox made of gourd or other similar material with a crossbar attached to it, resembling an archer’s bow. These early harps were usually small and had few strings, making them suitable for only simple melodies.

Evidence of the earliest harps can be seen in paintings on the walls of tombs dating back to around 2500 BCE. As harps gradually became more common, they grew in size and complexity.

The number of strings increased to enable musicians to play more elaborate melodies, and the shape of the instrument evolved. The harp’s construction evolved, resulting in the creation of more significant instruments with soundboxes formed from materials such as wood.

4.2 Development of Modern Harps

The development of modern harps began in the Middle Ages, when the instrument started to grow in size, with additional strings being added to the instrument. The harp gradually transformed into the sophisticated instrument most people know today, with more than forty strings and a larger, more resonant soundbox, which is capable of producing a more extensive range of tones.

The modern harp has a wooden neck and curved soundbox, which is typically constructed of different woods to achieve the desired sound. The strings of the harp are made of gut or nylon today, and the soundboard is made of specialized woods and covered with animal skin to provide optimal sound quality.

Notable innovations in amplification have made modern concert harps capable of projecting their sound over an orchestra, cementing its position as one of the world’s most treasured musical instruments.


The Sistra and Harp are two of the oldest musical instruments in the world, and their significance has been visible throughout history. The Sistra’s jangling sound is considered sacred, and it was used in religious ceremonies to honor the goddesses of music, dance, and fertility.

The Harp began as a small instrument resembling an archer’s bow and evolved into the large and sophisticated instrument that we know today. From Ancient Egypt to the present day, these instruments’ evolution clearly demonstrates the role of music in human society’s development and evolution, both socially and culturally.

5) Clappers and the Goddess Hathor

In Ancient Egyptian culture, music played a significant role in the worship of the gods and the goddesses. The Clapper is one of the oldest musical instruments known to humanity, and it was widely used in Ancient Egyptian music.

It played an essential role during celebrations and religious ceremonies. The goddess Hathor was worshipped in the capacity of dance, fertility and music and is often depicted with clappers as a part of her divinity.

5.1 Ancient Design of Clappers

The Ancient Egyptian Clappers had a distinctive design in comparison to other percussion instruments. They comprised two curved arms, which opened up the palms of the hands.

The insert of the arms vibrated against each other, creating a clapping sound. The Clappers were made from hardwood, such as ebony or cedar, and had Hathor’s face carved into them.

The Clappers were a popular instrument used during the Ancient Egyptian celebrations and festivals. Dancers and musicians would often perform with the Clappers and create a rhythm to accompany various songs and dances.

The Clappers were also used in Ancient Egyptian religious practices, where their sound was considered to ward off evil spirits and attract the attention of the gods and goddesses. The instrument played an important part in the worship of Hathor, who was associated with dance, music, femininity, and beauty.

5.2 Hathor’s Importance in Ancient Egyptian Culture

Hathor was one of the most important Ancient Egyptian goddesses, primarily because of her association with music. She was believed to be the goddess of fertility, dance, music, and womanhood, and had a significant role in Ancient Egyptian culture.

Hathor’s worship was widespread throughout Ancient Egypt, so much so that her cult had a lasting impact on the country’s culture and can still be seen in various forms today. The Ancient Egyptians believed that Hathor had the power to regulate funerary rites and judge the souls of the dead.

Her cult’s popularity led to the creation of musical instruments, such as the Clappers, that were used extensively in her worship. Her face is often engraved onto the Clappers as a symbol

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