The lyre is a stringed musical instrument which has been popular all around the world and is recognized for its prominence in classical antiquity. It has a yoke which includes a crossbar and two arms and has strings that stretch from the tailpiece to the crossbar.

Some lyres are bowed while most of these are plucked. It is regularly played by strumming with a pick similar to a guitar rather than plucking it like a harp. Based on Greek mythology, the lyre was made from a khelus or tortoise shell covered with horns of the antelope and animal skin by Hermes. It is also said to represent the Apollonian virtues which are equilibrium and moderation.


The lyre has a hollow body called sound-chest, resonator, or soundbox. From this, two curved arms are projected upwards and are attached at the top by a yoke or crossbar. The body has another crossbar which transfers the strings’ vibrations. The strings all have the same length so variation in pitch is either accomplished by different sting thickness or by different sting tensions.

The strings are made of gut. Gut is a cord made from the natural fiber in the animal intestines’ walls. The string with the deepest note is placed farthest away from the player. These are stretched between the bridge or tailpiece and yoke. Tuning could be done by either turning the pegs where the strings were fastened or moving the string’s position on the crossbar.

Lyre, zithers, and harps

Organologists say that the lyre from different periods and areas are all members of the zither family. For your information, organologists specialize in the study of musical instruments’ history. The zither gamily consists of many stringed instruments like the guitar, lute, and kantele.

Despite that, others regard the zither and lyre as members of two different classes. The difference is that the strings of the lyre stem from a somewhat common area of the soundboard while the strings of the zither are spread across most of the soundboard. To understand this better, picture out the violin which is sometimes regarded as a fingerboard lyre compared to the piano which is a keyed zither.

On the other hand, organologists all around the world has come to an agreement that harps are completely different from the lyre and zither. Zithers and lyres have strings that are fastened to at least a point on the tailpiece or wrest pins near the soundboard and lie parallel to it. In contrast, the harp’s strings stem straight from the soundboard and lie perpendicular to it.

The lyre in modern Greece

You can no longer see the classical lyre being played in Greece nowadays. In modern Greece, the term lyre refers to many kinds of bowed instruments connected to either the Persian Kemanche or the Byzantine bowed lyra.

There are two fundamental designs of bowed lyres. One has the shape of a bottle and is a descendant of the Cappadocian kemane. The other is pear-shaped and related to the Byzantine lyra.

Selecting strings

The main quality that you should keep in mind when selecting strings is its material. Steel strings produce a louder sound than nylon string but steel will place greater pressure on the lyre. It is recommended to use steel strings if your lyre has plywood for its back and belly because this benefits from the string’s loudness. Use nylon strings if it has a routed-out back and a single-grained belly because this will give a louder box and will make the nylon strings sound almost like gut strings.