Music of the Ancients

Music of the Ancients
Music of the Ancients

It’s music history day again, and we are going to look at the music of the ancients. I know some of you think that anything that happened over a week ago is ancient, but we’re looking back a lot further than that! Ancient music history deals with anything we know about music before 400 A.D. And yes, there was music long before that!

Music of Ancient Mesopotamia

The Standard of Ur is an ancient artifact from about 2500 B.C. It shows a picture of a person playing the lyre and a singer, both entertaining the king at a feast. Other artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia show that they had harps, lutes, wooden flutes, reed pipes, drums, and tambourines.

Music of Ancient India

The Vedas, the sacred writings of Hinduism, were written in ancient India about 1500 B.C. Instead of just reciting the Vedas, it seems that people chanted, or sang them. Sometimes instruments accompanied the chanting of the Vedas. The ravanatha, an ancient Indian bowed string instrument, was made from a coconut shell and bamboo.  The veena was a stringed instrument that was plucked. Ancient Indians also had a double-sided drum called a mridangam.

Music of Ancient China

Music was very important to the ancient Chinese. One of their ancient philosophers (great thinkers) said that music reflected the fundamental order of the universe. The ancient Chinese even had a department of the government for music. The Imperial Bureau of Music regulated all the court and military music in ancient China. Chinese opera developed in the 3rd century B.C. And no, Chinese opera is not at all like the opera we know today! The Chinese used zithers, flutes, bells, chime stones, and shengs – like mouth organs, but made from bamboo. Here is a link to what people think ancient Chinese music sounded like:

Music of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptians thought music was very important. They used music in their religious ceremonies and rituals. Music was also important for their official government ceremonies. They had music for dancing, music for love, and even music for death. Archaeologists have found pictures of ancient Egyptians playing instruments and dancing. Here is a link to what people think ancient Egyptian music sounded like:

Music of the Ancient Hebrews

The Old Testament of the The Bible tells us much of the history of the Hebrew (Jewish) people. The Bible contains many references to music and musicians in the Old Testament. The worship in the tabernacle and the temple included a set group of musicians and singers. King David was a skilled harp player. The priests blew trumpets when they marched around the city of Jericho. The book of Psalms mentions singers and musicians repeatedly. Psalm 150 lists several of instruments: trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, stringed instruments, organs, cymbals. Where did they learn about all these instruments? Abraham came out of Mesopotamia. The Hebrew people spent time in ancient Egypt. They interacted with other cultures around them. Music spreads.

Music of Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks believed that music was very important to all aspects of life. They thought that music was both a science and an art, and they developed themes and systems about music. Remember learning about Pythagoras in math class? Pythagoras established the mathematical foundations of music. He set out the laws of proportion in music and introduced the seven-tone scale. Even Plato (a famous Greek thinker) was a big supporter of music. He believed that rhythm and melody produce a certain mental harmony important to a person’s well-being. The ancient Greeks invented the organ. They used water to pressurize the air to make the organ function. You could even say that the Greeks invented the musical – the ancient Greek dramas were all accompanied by music, choral singing, and even their own version of “rap” (called declaiming). The most important musical innovation of the Greeks was the invention of musical notation. This wasn’t really like the notation we have today, but the ancient Greeks did assign letters (24 of them!) to represent different tones.

Music of Ancient Rome

The ancient Romans were really into the organ – they had the organ accompany the gladiator contests! They improved on the organ as well. Instead of using water pressure for the organ, they moved to a system of leather bellows for the air. In 350 A.D. the church in Rome set up a School of Singing.


Scholars and archaeologists discovered pictures from the ancient times of people performing music. They found written literature from ancient times discussing music. They also found artifacts from ancient times of instruments used to make music. Unfortunately, they have only found a couple fragments of actual music from the ancient times. For that reason, music of the ancient times isn’t really included in music history.


Finding a Music Teacher

How to Find a Music Teacher

So, you decided that your child will take music lessons, and now you must find a music teacher. How do you do that? Obviously, you want to find a teacher who is qualified, who will work well with your child, who will inspire your child to greatness, and will make every lesson as exciting as a favorite video game. Is there such a person? Probably not, but I am sure you can find a music teacher who is just right for your child! I managed to find at least 10 different music teachers for my children, so I am pretty sure you can find one too!

Finding the right music teacher
Finding the right music teacher

How or where to look for a music teacher:

  1. Word of mouth is probably the best way to start looking for a music teacher. Ask your friends if they know anyone qualified. Does your child have any friends at school taking lessons on the same instrument? Ask them who their teacher is. Is there anyone at church who plays that instrument? Ask them if they know anyone who teaches that instrument.
  1. Ask the music teachers at your child’s school. They often know people in the area who teach lessons. See who they recommend.
  1. Also, ask at your local music store. Sometimes a music store has teachers who teach lessons there. Or they might have a list of private music teachers in the area. One of my girls took lessons for a while from a teacher at our store.
  1. Are there any universities, colleges, or community colleges in your area? Check with them. If the school has a good music program, there are probably students who would be happy to earn some extra money giving lessons. Also, some music departments have a “prep” school connected with them. This gives their music students an opportunity to give lessons in a supervised environment. Other colleges may have a community music program that offers lessons by qualified instructors to the general community. Three of my girls taught at their college music prep school. Three of my boys took lessons from the community music school at a local college.
  1. Search the internet – there are professional organizations that list music teachers by area. Sometimes music teachers have their own websites. Do some research.

Okay, so you narrowed your search down to a couple names, now what? How do you proceed? What things do you need to consider before making a final choice?

What to look for in a music teacher:

  1. Does the teacher have openings in her schedule, or would your name go on a waiting list?
  1. Where does the person teach? At school? In your home? At the music store? In his/her own studio? And are you willing to drive to this location every week? (Or clean your house every week before the teacher appears? Been there, done that!)
  1. Does the teacher have good references? Ask for some names you can contact as references.
  1. Do you think this person will be a good fit for your child? Will their personalities work well together?
  1. Can you (or your child) deal with the teacher’s expectations? I took my son to a trial lesson with a music teacher once, and I thought the teacher was just a bit too intense for my son. A few years later we came back to that same teacher, and my son had developed enough so that this teacher was just what he needed. They worked together for several years after that.
  1. Ask for a trial lesson before making a commitment. Sit in on the lesson. See how your child and the teacher interact. See if you are both comfortable with the teacher’s style.
  1. Also, be sure you understand how the teacher expects to be paid.

Don’t settle for the first teacher you find, look for someone who will challenge and inspire your child. Look for someone who will care about their progress and who will motivate them. I hope you find a great music teacher!

What other suggestions do you have? Leave them in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you!

Music Theory – What Is It and Why Should I Care?

What is music theory and why should I care?
What is music theory and why should I care?

Music theory is a way to explain how music works.

Some people explain music theory by comparing it to grammar. Just like grammar helps us to learn the rules for writing sentences and paragraphs, music theory is the rules and structure for the language of music. The rules  are not restrictive rules; rather, the rules are the foundation on which the music is built, the structure, or the skeleton, for our music. It is a way of explaining why some sounds work better than others. The ideas that help us understand music and how it is put together is music theory. On its most basic level music theory deals with the notation, structure, rhythm, melody, and harmony of music. Music theory explains how to take the sounds a composer wants and express them on paper.

Why should I care about music theory?

If you are learning to play music, knowing some basics of music theory will be a big help to you! Can you look at a piece of music and understand what all the black stuff on the page means? That is music theory.

Knowing music theory will help you learn your music faster.

At some point you need to learn your music by reading it off the page, not by listening to someone else play it for you. If you know music theory you can read the notes off the page, understand how the notes should be played, and understand why they work together. The better you can do that, the better you can learn new music.

Knowing music theory will help you memorize music more easily.

Sooner or later, if you keep taking music lessons, you will have to memorize some music. The more you understand how the music is put together, the easier you will be able to memorize your music. You can look for patterns in the music, you can understand what the music is doing. Can you tell if a group of notes is just a scale in disguise, or if it is a chord with the notes played one at a time instead of all together? Understanding the logic behind the music will make memorizing your music easier.

Knowing music theory will make you a better sight reader.

Have you ever had anyone place an unknown piece of music in front of you and tell you to play it? Can you do that without panicking? Music theory to the rescue! If you have some understanding of music theory, you know what to look for before you start to play. You know to check the key signature and the time signature. You know to glance through the music and look for patterns. Music theory helps you look for all the clues that make playing the piece a little bit less intimidating.

Music theory helps to improve your improv.

If you want to improvise on your instrument knowing some music theory will help you do a better job! Do you know what key you’re playing in? Is the piece major or minor? What chords are you using? Knowing how to figure out all those things helps you be a better improvise.

Some basic music theory knowledge helps you help your child.

Are you the parent of a music student? Do you know anything about music? If not, learning some basic music theory will help you help your child. You can listen to them play and hear that something is not quite right, but can you help them find what they are missing, what they are getting wrong? Learn some basics along with them, and you can help them find their playing errors.

Learning some basic music theory will help beginners learn music better and faster, it will help more experienced students understand their music better, and it will help parents be able to help their children. Stop by next week, and we will learn some of the basics!