Find of the Day: Ancient Sumerian Music

Geek Culture

Playing a Lyre in Sumer. Image: Public Domain.

One of the many advantages of homeschooling is the opportunity to learn about things that are not normally taught in schools. For the subject of history, we mostly adhere to the Classical four year cycle, studying ancient history, medieval history, early modern history, and then late modern history. I’ve homeschooled for four years now, so we’re circling back to ancient history this year. Since I consider dinosaurs and the evolution of man to fall under science, we start our history studies around 5000 B.C. with the ancient Sumerians and Mesopotamia. We’ve learned quite a bit so far about the origins of farming and herding, and the rise of cities.

Never in my own schooling did I learn about the Sumerians. I’m so pleased to be able to share as much information as I can with my own kids, while still trying to make it interesting. Since there was plenty of art and music in Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations, we’re also aligning music appreciation and art appreciation with our history timeline.

We’ve moved on now to other ancient cultures, but we spent so much time on Sumer (five weeks compared to Ancient Egypt’s two) that it now has a fond place in my heart. It was the earliest known civilization, and their music was quite beautiful. So for our first music appreciation lesson of the school year, and I managed to find some recordings of Sumerian music on YouTube. The internet makes our homeschooling experience much richer than it would be otherwise. It’s amazing what you can find! Apparently much of what we know about music reflects what was known about music in Sumer. They had a system of scales, and used chords and thirds, among other bits of knowledge. They played lyres, harps, and lutes, and they later used drums and wind instruments. Musicians in Mesopotamia were well-trained and were a recognized professional class.

Almost immediately after I started a video that played the ancient music, my six year old son asked me if he could dance. “Of course!” I said. My nine year old daughter sat there with her eyes closed and took in the music. After a few minutes, she started to interpret the music with arm movements and swaying. It was totally spontaneous and it made my day.

I really enjoyed filling the holes in our knowledge with treasures such as ancient Sumerian music. We found the music relaxing and mesmerizing. Give it a listen! And perhaps pair it with some ancient recipes ala Brown University‘s Cuneiform Cuisine and make a night of it.

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