Music in History

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technical characteristics

ancient Greece

Technical characteristics of  ancient greek music

In ancient Greece, the musicians who played guitar (kithara) while singing were called  kitharoedes. Some musicians  played guitar but they did not sing . Those musicians  were called  guitarists.  Similarly, an aulode  played flute and sang, while an aulete  only  played  the flute (aulos).
The aulites and guitarists used various patterns appropriate to accompany songs, dances and recitations. They called them "laws". Likely,  each "law" was a particular rhythm or a sequence of rhythms and sound effects. For example the  Pythian law was   determined by a specific sequence of rhythmic patterns and a sound effect produced by the aulos . The sound effect was used to represent  an imitation of a snake's whistle .
There were several laws, for example the multihead law (πολυκέφαλος νόμος) or the erect law (όρθιος νόμος)


The ancient writers gave great importance to the distinction of  consonant  and dissonant  intervals. Let us use some contemporary musical terms in order to understand  this distinction. During those  times, intervals like  fourth, fifth and eighth were considered as consonant . The rest of them (third, sixth, etc.) were classified  as dissonant intervals.  However those dissonances were  considered  to be acceptable inside the  tune.


Greek musical scales  were descending.  Scales  limited  musical notes  and intervals in an ordered group.  All scales were structured in tetrachords. Tetrachord, was a system of four sounds (actually four strings of the lyre) covering the interval of a perfect  fourth . The Greeks  theorists used the tetrachord  for their tuning  (today we use the interval of the perfect eighth).
According to Aristoxenus, scales were consisted of tetrachords. These tetrachords  were either conjunct or disjunct .
a) conjunct: they had one note  in common. for example GFEDCBA
b) disjunct: they did not have any common note. For example  DCBA  GFED'
When we put two  conjunct tetrachords together (one on the other), a  heptachord is formed. When we put two disjunct tetrachords  together (one on the other)  an octachord is formed. It is said that Terpander (7th century BC) created a heptachord for first time. According to Nicomachus, Pythagoras (6th century BC) was to create the first octachord.  
(pythagorean tuning ,comma )


Genera of tetrachords

“Genus” is a term referring to the intervals' order in a tetrachord. The first and last note of each tetrachord were fixed  so to create a perfect fourth. Those notes were called "εστώτες" (fixed notes).
Both internal notes changed their tuning less than a semitone up or down (Microtone). Sometimes they changed their tuning about 1/4 of a whole tone. Those  changes  were to modulate the  tetrachord's genus. The internal notes of the tetrachord were called "κινούμενοι" (movable)
There were three genera of tetrachord: i) diatonic tetrachord. According to Aristoxenus "diatonic genus" was the first that had  ever been used  and it was the most natural. Everyone was able to sing it, even if he had no musical education. ii) chromatic tetrachord iii) enharmonic tetrachord.


1) M.L West , Αρχαία ελληνική μουσική, Παπαδήμας, 1999

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