Sheet Music For Lyre!

One of the main goals I have in both creating this website and in creating my albums for solo lyre, is the in doing so, I may one day hope to create a future legacy, where once again, the lyre will become an essential ingredient of all modern music - this was the vision which inspired my ultra experimental LP, "Ascension of the Lyre"

Therefore, to further my cause, in collaboration with Luthieros Lyre Academy, I have published a 28-page book of sheet music for lyre...


The book can be ordered, directly from Lutherios:










Throughout the book, I have notated the tunes for 2 regular treble clef staves - the top stave is the melodic line to be plucked with a plectrum in the right hand, whilst the lower stave is for the finger plucked strings to provide the accompaniment to the melody.

Although limited to the constraints of modern musical notation, although most of the tunes appear to be written in C major as there are no sharps or flats, all the tunes are actually in the original ancient Greek Modes, finding their temperament root ( i.e. the starting note of the mode) on different degrees of the equivalent intervals a C major scale - as all the lyres I play are of different sizes with different string lengths, I treat them all as transposing instruments in C - all that matters, is that the equivalent intervals are used.

For example, in my arrangement of "Contemplationis (Contemplation)" from my album "The Ancient Roman Lyre", the temperament root is E, giving the equivalent intervals as the ancient Greek Dorian Mode (E F G A B C D E).

In all but one of the arrangements, the lyre strings are tuned to the equivalent intervals as middle C D E F G A B C D E.

When tuning to a specific ancient Greek mode - each mode is defined by the starting and ending notes of any scale played in relation to where the scale starts on any of the strings in this particular tuning. For example, the ancient Greek Dorian Mode starts on the 3rd string, giving a scale of the equivalent intervals as E (the temperament root) F G A B C D E, whereas the ancient Greek Phrygian Mode starts on the 2nd string, giving a scale with the equivalent intervals as D (the temperament root) E F G A B C D. 

The only other lyre tuning I have used, is the equivalent intervals as C D E F G A Bb C D E, in order to achieve the equivalent intervals which form the mournful ancient Greek Hypodorian mode starting on D (D F G A Bb C D) for my arrangement of "Tristitia (Sorrow)", from my album, "The Ancient Roman Lyre".

In all of these arrangements, I have also written the exact string number to be played next to each and every note, so hopefully the result will be rather like guitar tablature - for lyre!

Although all of these tunes were arranged for 10 string lyres, almost all of them will also work on a 9 or 11 string lyre as well. A lyre with less than 9 strings is only really suitable for providing basic harmonic accompaniment to a vocal line due to the limited number of strings and is therefore unsuitable for a solo instrument.

Please note - these arrangements are merely simplified versions of my original recordings and are not intended to be literally played "note for note"! To these basic outlines of the melodies and their basic harmonic accompaniment, a whole diverse palette of variations are possible, for example, playing tremolo for longer notes and alternating more between finger plucked notes in the left hand and plectrum plucked notes in the right hand. 

In most of the arrangements, sometimes a string used in both the melody and accompaniment line is simultaneously finger plucked by the left hand accompaniment, whilst the note is at the same time plectrum plucked by the right hand which plays the actual melody - the result sounds a bit like a guitar and harp playing in unison.

In order to play the lyre with both hands, I advise the use of a simple strap, or it becomes almost impossible to balance the lyre whilst playing it. Indeed, almost all ancient illustrations of lyre players show the use of a strap for two handed performance, as can be seen in this illustration of of a young female lyre player from an Etruscan tomb wall fresco (475 BCE):




In antiquity, lyre straps (known in ancient Greek times as the 'telamon') were made either of soft leather or some form of natural fibre – however, I find that simply twisting a pair of old nylon stockings creates an amazingly cheap, flexible and functional lyre strap! For a more authentic telamon, these are available to order from Luthieros:

Order an authentic lyre strap (telamon) from Luthieros!




1. With skill, the use of a strap (telamon) will facilitate the seamless transition between finger plucked and plectrum plucked tones, as well as the unique lyre playing of ‘string blocking’ – where notes not required to be strummed are dampened with fingers of the left hand, whilst leaving open only those strings which are required to be played. In this manner, it becomes possible to simple strum rhythmic chords or intervals, just like a guitar. This is a technique still practiced by the Krar lyre players of Eritrea today:




2. There is an ancient description of this actual lyre playing technique which I had previously inferred from illustrations of ancient lyre players and which is featured in all of my albums - alternating between finger plucked and plectrum plucked tones. I recently found a description of this very same technique in a passage of really interesting ancient text by the Roman poet, Virgil (1st century BCE):

This fascinating passage, which actually describes this ancient lyre playing technique, is from Virgil’s epic poem, "The Aeneid" (Book VI, line 645) :


 "...There Orpheus too, the long-robed priest of Thrace, accompanies their voices with the seven-note scale, playing now with fingers, now with the ivory quill" [nec non Threicius longa cum ueste sacerdos obloquitur numeris septem discrimina uocum,iamque eadem digitis, iam pectine pulsat eburno]

Also note in this passage, the specific mention of the use of a seven note heptatonic scale – presumably one of the ancient Greek modes?



3. Playing pure finger-plucked intervals with the left hand to accompany a plectrum-plucked melody in the right hand.


4. Playing plectrum-plucked bass notes to accompany a finger-plucked melody.


5. Playing a plectrum-plucked tremolo in the bass to accompany a finger-plucked melody.


6. Using tremolo in the actual melody line. This technique is still practiced today by the Simsimiyya lyre players of Egypt:




7. Hitting the strings percussively with a wooden baton like a hammered dulcimer - a technique I inferred from illustrations of lyre players seen in both the Bas Reliefs from the Palace of Nineveh (circa 700 BCE):




About 1000 years later, this same percussive lyre playing technique can be found in illustrations of lyre players depicted in the Pahos Mosiacs (2nd – 4th centuries CE) in Cyprus, which all seem to be using a small wooden baton to hit the strings of their lyres, rather than the usual plectrum to pluck the strings:




8. The use of harmonics by plucking the strings whilst lightly finger-stopping the strings at their centre with the left hand.


9. The use of accidentals, portamento and microtones by using the left hand thumb nail as a moveable fret on the string. This works even better, by also placing the middle finger against the string, so that it is pinched between this finger and the thumb nail.


10. The use of parallel motion - using finger-plucked and plectrum-plucked tones generally an interval of 3rd apart in sections of a melody.


With this almost infinite palette of tonal variations, coloured by the unique individual characteristics of each of the many ancient musical modes, almost an infinite number of wonderful melodies can be conjured out of the air with virtually no effort! The lyre truly was, the "magic wand" of the ancients...


Finally, for a truly authentic playing experience, here is a video I put together on how to tune the Marini Made "Davidic Harp" (featured in most of my albums since 2011), to the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity:


MP3s of the tuning tones heard in in the video can be freely downloaded here.

To tune any other type of lyre into just intonation, the incredibly affordable and versatile 'Cleartune App' from Apple App Store, (for use on any iPod or iPhone) has a setting called "Pythagorean Just Intonation", for which the 'temperament root' (i.e. the starting note) of any mode can be specifically selected.