The Egyptians, The Celts, and The Indians

& Their Musical Tastes.

These civilizations, while drastically different, all shared a source of music that was important to their culture. Their music was specific to them and gave them a sense of individuality. The practiced music was always for something that was close to them whether it be for religious reasons or battle reasons or even just to pass the time. Each civilization contributed something to the music scene. There were various instruments created by them and a series of ways to produce music and control how it sounded. Music was something beautiful and important to them back then and, much like today, they took pride in the tunes they created.

The Egyptians

Although music existed in prehistoric Egypt, evidence of its existence was only solidified during the historical period that was after 3100 BCE. Music was an important part of life for the Egyptians as it was often associated with their everyday life. Music was found in temples, palaces, workshops, farms, battlefields, and the tomb. Music was always played when it became too dark to work but the people continued to sit together. There was almost an economic dependence on it as work was boring and it was often endured but it was made bearable by chanting or by listening to music, creating more efficient workers. It was also an integral part of religious worship in Egypt which isn't surprising as they have gods associated with music (ie. Hathor and Bes). The musicians of Egypt often occupied a variety of positions in society whether it be the highest status of a temple musician or a lower scale where they were strictly there for entertainment. Temple musicians were often particular to a god or goddess and played on their behalf in temples where people could worship that god or goddess. Ritual temple music was largely a matter of rattling a sistrum with a voice to go along. Sometimes there may have been a harp or something from the percussion section. There were also musicians connected with royal households which gave high esteem as it was usually extremely gifted singers or harp players. Musicians who played strictly for entertainment were seen in parties and festivals, frequently accompanied by dancers and usually came as an ensemble that consisted of lyres, lutes, double and single reed flutes, clappers, drums, and presence of singers. They were there to create a nice background tone that could be enjoyed thoroughly if someone were to give their full attention. There is little evidence of amateur musicians in the pharaonic Egypt mostly because music was unlikely seen as an achievement or a desirable goal for the individual as a profession.

The Instruments

As already known, Egypt has been split into three different kingdoms: Old, Middle, and New. This means that the popularity of instruments would change through each kingdom like a phase, constantly bringing something new to the table to appease those interested in the sounds of music.

In the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 BC), the instruments that mostly appeared were pipes resembling a clarinet, end-blown flutes, and also the harp. The hieroglyphics also painted pictures of singers and dancers that were side by side with instruments. Pictures also depict that it was mostly men playing the music although there are some women portrayed.

In the Middle Kingdom (2133-1786 BC), the barrel-shaped drum came into existence and the groups became smaller and contained more women. There is also evidence that melodies were getting more complicated and moving in larger intervals. There were still harps in this kingdom as well as sistrums and rattles. This is also the period where the first scene of a lyre takes place.

In the New Kingdom (1580-1085 BC), improvements and additions are made to the musical scene. New instruments such as pipes of the oboe type with a double reed, trumpets, tambourines, lutes, and lyres are being presented in pictures. Melodies were seemingly moving in smaller intervals now. It was being seen that the trumpets were often associated with war battles during this period as well.



  • developed from hunting bows
  • 8-12 strings made from animal guts
  • both men and women played either standing or kneeling
  • New Kingdom brought various shapes and sizes and number of strings increased as well as sound boxes were improved. Although rare, some even had columns.
  • decorated in flowery/geometrica
  • embellishment
  • played at social party gatherings as well as ceremonial events

Lutes: (New Kingdom)

  • small oblong wooden box, flat on both sides with six or eight holes and a long neck
  • often decorated with ribbons from which two to four strings were strung
  • played with a plectrum or bare fingers
  • like the modern guitar but didn't look like it


Sistrum & Menat:

  • two small flat slabs of wood/ivory similar to castainet
  • generally dedicated to Hathor, goddess of banquets and music making
  • sistrum used in worship of other gods, the Aton during Amarna period or Ptah


  • circular or square shaped
  • played by hand
  • mainly used during popular or religious festivals
  • used in New Kingdom


Musicianship was a highly valued job and, in the New Kingdom, were often female relatives of high officials. They were to officiate ceremonies of both female and male gods. There are many tombs in the Old and New Kingdoms with inscriptions of songs as well. It was often seen that singers were accompanied with clappers and became integral to Egypt culture and it was sacred and secular. It was also known that chanting was tedious job within Egyptian culture.


The sound of ancient Egypt was based on a minor pentatonic scale of five full tones without halftones which can be inferred through the position of holes on the flutes. In the New Kingdom, people were experiencing new sounds of music by foreign conquest from the Asian people. They brought new instruments and new sound qualities. Egypt had kept their traditional music mostly but in the New Kingdom one begins to see they start using a heptatonic scale. The Greeks in Delta and Fayum had a great impact on Egypt's music as Pythagorus had come from Egypt and created a musical theory with mathematics.

Music inspired by ancient Egypt

The Celts

Evidence of Celtic music relies primarily on Greek and Roman sources as well as archaeological finds and interpretations of reconstructed instruments. Most of the Celtic music was for military conflicts so as to set out orders or to scare off enemies. The musical instruments from the ancient Celtics show the evolvement in changes for the Celtic culture. Many of the Celtics instruments were actually origins from the Etruscans and were adapted and changed in order to fit their culture. Much like other civilizations, the Celts used their music towards the gods whether to appease or protect them or even just worship them. There would have been music for festivals and religious events but it wouldn't be often that someone would pursue it as a serious career. Although, there were positions in the military for musicians who were to play out orders and such to the other troops. It was often said that the Celts went into battle singing, showing the true entanglement of music and battle for them. Their instruments were often constructed with bells that could have been representations of clans and chiefdoms while others suggest mythological components. There is also music within their Celtic legends. For example, Dadga's Harp which is a legend about a harp that held exquisite, commanding music. Simply by plucking its strings, the Dagda could create many wonders. He could put the seasons in order; when it was time to fight his enemies, the Dagda plucked the strings of that harp and every warrior was instantly ready for battle, prepared to defend their people. The harp was also played following battle, and was used as a way to heal wounds, and help the warriors forget and injuries or pain. The tale continues on when his precious harp is stolen to which him and his army get it back through magic. He leaves with his harp while the enemies who stole are left to cry and writhe in pain from the music he played.

The Instruments

Many of the ancient Celtic instruments consisted of various horns that let out loud, harsh sounds. Most of their instruments were crafted with bronze and were adaptations of what already existed from other civilizations. In battle, they often used Roman instruments. Their instruments were also made from brass to obtain some of the loud noises during battles so all of the military could hear orders in the form of music. It was also used in attempts to scare off any enemies. There was a widespread use of the carnyx in Britain, France, parts of Germany, eastward to Romania and beyond, even as far as India, where bands of Celtic took it on their mercenaries.

Most of the Celtic instruments were portrayed on different types of coins. For example, Gallic coins showed the carnyx behind the head of goddess Gallia or held by a chieftain or charioteer or Gallic Victoria. The British coin had the instrument being swung by mounted Celtic warriors or chiefs. On Aetolian victory coins, the bell of the carynx was shaped as the head of a dragon.

The Celtics were creative with their instruments when they began using them for things such as battles. Their artwork with the bells was a great touch to represent their civilization and it was no wonder that they sang into battle as their music was worth it.


The Carnyx:

  • brass instrument
  • f-shaped valveless horn made of beaten bronze
  • a tube between one and two meters long, diameter unknown
  • bells represent various features of Celtic culture
  • lugubrious and harsh due to loosened tongue of bell
  • held so sound would travel from more than three meters above the ground
  • melodies created by producing harmonics with overblowing techniques
  • dynamic range and used to frighten Roman army

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