Music was an essential part of Greek life in the ancient world. It played an important role in religious festivals, banquets and funerals. Our knowledge of ancient Greek music comes from actual fragments of musical scores, literary references, and the remains of musical instruments.


Although the ancient Greeks were familiar with many kinds of instruments, three in particular were favoured for composition and performance: the kithara, a plucked string instrument; the lyre, also a string instrument; and the aulos, a double-reed wood wind instrument.


The Greeks were very creative when it came to creating sound effects. One major source of sound effects was the music provided by an aulos (like the one in the picture above)

Performers also used to shake pebbles around in bronze jars, mimick the sound of thunder. This would be an early example of what we call a ‘soundtrack’ today. A soundtrack is the music and sound effects that accompany the actions in a film or play. Soundtracks today are very sophisticated, including a lot of music and digitised sound effects. But you can create your own soundtrack without too much technology, simply by getting creative- like the ancient Greeks did.


In this activity you can make and play your own ancient Greek style musical lyre. 


What you will need:

  • Empty shoe box with a lid

  • Empty toilet paper roll

  • 3 long rubber bands

  • 12 small nails

  • Scissors




  1. Using scissors, cut a hole slightly off-center on the top of an empty shoe box. Make the hole around 8 centimetres in diameter.

2.    Push the 12 small nails into the shoe box, placing six on one end and six on the other end. Space the nails out evenly.

3.   Loop one long rubber band around the ends of two nails then stretch it across the hole, looping the other end to the opposite nails.

4.   Take your empty toilet paper roll and slip it underneath the strings above the hole you cut in the lid, lifting the strings up slightly as you go.

Your Greek lyre is now complete!


To go with your performance of a scene from the Argonauts’ adventures or using your newly created musical instruments, here are some suggestions for sound effects…


Consider making up a leitmotif to represent the characters in your performance:


A leitmotif is a tune which plays when a particular character appears. For example, think of the tune that plays when Indiana Jones appears or the shark motif in Jaws. 


Suggestions for character leitmotifs:


Jason - Create music expressing the actions of a captain and adventurous hero. This could include strong, brassy sounds or a drumroll, for example. 


Sirens - Try to create enchanting music, perhaps using singing voices or tinkling sounds. You could create the tinkling sounds by lightly striking glasses with spoons, or using windchimes. The Sirens were three mythical creatures, half-bird, half-woman, who lured sailors to their deaths with their magical music. They lived on an island surrounded by jagged rocks, so any sailor who tried to get closer to the beautiful music would get shipwrecked on the rocks.


Excerpt from the Argonautica (Book 4): ‘… soon they saw a fair island, Anthemoessa, where the clear-voiced Sirens, daughters of Achelous, used to beguile with their sweet songs whoever cast anchor there, and then destroy them … they were fashioned in part like birds and in part like maidens to behold …’ 


Hercules - Make sure that you come up with a bold leitmotif for the strongest hero in Greek mythology! (See Hercules’ character profile).


Excerpt from Argonautica (Book 1): ‘… when the sea was stirred by violent blasts which were just rising from the rivers about evening, tired with toil, they ceased. But Heracles by the might of his arms pulled the weary rowers along all together, and made the strong-knit timbers of the ship to quiver.’


Medea - Create mysterious, enchanting sounds for this sorceress. For the song she sings to put the dragon to sleep, use your singing voices or play a song and lip-sync the words. You could also accompany the song with gentle music using instruments like the lyra activity above. Or gently strike glass bottles with spoons to make soothing, tinkling sounds. 


The Colchian Dragon - Experiment with different ways of making a hissing noise. You could also add heavy, thumping music and menacing sounds to convey the terrifying nature of the monster. To create a sense of fear, you could take the idea from the ancient Greeks and shake pebbles or marbles in a tin to sound like thunder.


The Stymphalian Birds - Squawk to your heart’s content to imitate these man-eating birds! 


Excerpt from Argonautica (Book 2): ‘At last they spied above them, hurtling through the air, one of the birds of Ares which haunt that isle. It shook its wings down over the ship as she sped on and sent against her a keen feather, and it fell on the left shoulder of goodly Oileus and he dropped his oar from his hands at the sudden blow, and his comrades marvelled at the sight of the winged bolt.’

The Winds - Make the sounds of the whooshing winds billowing the Argo's sails by blowing, whistling and hissing.

© Hellenic Museum Argonauts Club