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This article treats the music of Ancient Iraq,[1] (also known as Mesopotamia). The cultures of ancient Iraq were the first to develop writing, the first known Sumerian writing dating from the fourth millennium BC.

Cuneiform sources reveal an orderly organized system of diatonic scales, depending on the tuning of stringed instruments in alternating fifths and fourths. Whether this reflects all types of music we do not know. Besides "chords" (dyads, dichords) of fourths and fifths, thirds (and sixths) played also a considerable role.


Sumerian music

The discovery of numerous musical instruments in royal burial sites and illustrations of musicians in Sumerian art show how music seemed to play an important part of religious and civic life in Sumer. A lyre is an example of an instrument used in Sumer [2]. Before playing a stringed instrument, the musicians would wash their hands to purify them. Many of the songs were for the Goddess Innana. Dancing girls used clappers to provide rhythm, eventually drums, and wind instruments began to evolve. Music and dancing were a part of daily celebration and temple rites-music was played for marriages and births in the royal families. Music was also used to back up the recitation of poetry. Musicians were trained in schools and formed an important professional class in Mesopotamia.


Instruments of Ancient Mesopotamia include harps, lyres, lutes, reed pipes and drums. Many of these are shared with neighbouring cultures. Contemporary East African lyres and West African lutes preserve many features of Mesopotamian instruments. (van der Merwe 1989, p.10). The Sumerians also created music.

The vocal tone or timbre was probably similar to the pungently nasal sound of the narrow-bore reed pipes, and most likely shared the contemporary "typically" Asian vocal quality and techniques, including little dynamic changes and more graces, shakes, mordents, glides and microtonal inflections. Singers probably expressed intense and withdrawn emotion, as if listening to themselves, as shown by the practice of cupping a hand to the ear (as is still current in many Arab and folk musics). (ibid, p.11)

See also


  • Fink, Bob (2005) On the Origin of Music Section I, "Role of the Drone in Evolution of Harmony" Greenwich.
  • Kilmer, A.D. (1971) The Discovery of an Ancient Mesopotamian Theory of Music. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 115, 131-149.
  • van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-316121-4.
  • Wellesz, Egon, ed. (1957) New Oxford History of Music Volume I: Ancient and Oriental Music. Oxford University Press.
  • West, M.L. (1994) The Babylonian Musical Notation and the Hurrian Melodic Texts. Music and Letters 75, 161-179.


  1. ^ Peter Roger, Stuart Moorey, Ancient Iraq: (Assyria and Babylonia), Ashmolean Museum (1976).
  2. ^
  3. ^

External links

Ancient music

Music of ancient Iraq · Music of ancient Egypt · Music of ancient India · Music of ancient Greece · Music of ancient Rome · Pre-Columbian Maya music

Preceded by Prehistoric music | Succeeded by Early music

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