Ancient Egyptian Music and Dance

Ancient Egyptian music was said to have been invented by the God Thoth, and used as a tool to civilize the world by the gods. The God Bes is thought to have used singing, dancing and music to frighten away snakes and other evil entities away from women and children.

For the people, music was used for many purposes, including entertainment in banquets, religious rituals and war... 

The musicians usually performed in segregated same-sex groups, and they were musicians by profession. These bands would be hired for banquets and rituals. They would also sing and chant along with the music.

Musical instruments

Ancient Egyptian Music - Harp

The harp is one of the inventions and instruments of ancient Egyptian music – and it came in the small hand-held size as well as the large ones we're used to seeing that stand on the floor.

Other instruments include:

  • The flute
  • Clarinets
  • Cymbals
  • Trumpets
  • Percussions
  • The lute

The lute is the original form of the Oud, which is used in Egyptian music today. Take a look at this video for a nice sample of Egyptian Oud music. 

The ancient Egyptians also had little clapping sticks made of things like ivory that are tied together, and make rattling noises when shaken. Clapping with the hands was also used by the group to form the rhythm of sons.

Sadly, the music itself has been lost and we can only guess what it may have sounded like based on the contemporary Egyptian folk music...

There is, however, a project underway these days to reconstruct this lost art and its instruments. Also, the Coptic church has preserved some remanent of the ancient style of music, using chants and cymbals in their rituals.

Ancient Egyptian Music - Dancers

Most musical performances were also accompanied by professional dances. These were usually done by dancers in the nude, except for a necklace, belt or simple loin cloth.

They would sometimes wear perfume cones on their heads and have weights tied to their hair so that they would use it in their dance. They would flick their hair from side to side – which is still a traditional form of dancing in some Arab countries...

Ancient Egypt also had a type of marching band composed of trumpet players and drummers. They would help troops march in time as well as alert them to any changes in battle tactics.

Ancient Egyptian music in homes and temples

Ancient Egyptian Music

Although dancing and playing music was usually done by professionals, some nobles and royalty took them up as hobbies to pass the time.

They would not put on performances for guests, but they would just learn and use them at home.

Some of the more famous noblewomen that used singing were the chantresses of Amun, called Asru.

Asru was a type of priestess who would sing prayers and incantations in worship to the God Amun at the Temple of Karnak. Most priestesses were dancers or musicians that performed in temple rituals and processions.

Some of my favorite wall paintings are of the all-female musicians playing their instruments.

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