Instruments Used in Ancient Greek Theater

Updated April 11, 2017

In ancient Greece, both music and theatre were highly prized and influential artistic forces. Music education was an integral part of general education, and theatre was an almost daily part of normal life in ancient Greek society. In addition to choruses of singers, musical instruments were used in ancient Greek theatre to highlight emotional meaning and engage the theatre audience.


The kithara was a seven-stringed instrument which was part of the lyre family. The body of the kithara was solid wood in order to support the tension of the strings. Gut or sinew was used to construct the strings, which stretched between two wooden sidepieces over a wooden bridge similar to that seen in the modern violin. The kithara had a large sound box and was typically played by professional musicians in public settings.


The aulos was a blown wind instrument with a sound believed to be similar to the modern oboe. The physical actions required to play the aulos were reputed to be quite strenuous. An aulos player's cheeks needed to be held with a leather strap so that they did not burst with the pressure of blowing the instrument.


Various percussion instruments were used to accompany Greek theatre. The traditional Greek chorus, which used rhythmic dancing and chanting to convey emotional meaning, was often accompanied by various small drums and bells. The action of a play in Greek theatre was frequently interrupted or underscored with songs and dances which were accompanied by percussion instruments.

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Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.