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Lyre, is  a stringed musical instrument, where the  two arms jut out on one side of the instrument's body and at their tips support a yoke or crossbar to which gut strings are attached. The strings run to the body, across the belly or soundboard, over a bridge, and to a stringholder at the lower end of the belly.

In the case of box lyres, the body and belly form a hollow wooden box adn the image of thebox lyre is shown below

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But in the  bowl lyres, the body may be a tortoise shell or carved bowl, and the belly is usually of animal skin. Box lyres with asymetrical arms were known in ancient Sumeria by 2800 bc and this western Asian lyre was also played in ancient Egypt, as was a smaller symmetrical lyre. Lyres were extremely popular in Greece and were associated with the god ApolloTh epicture of the bowl lyres is shown below

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Two main varieties were made. The kithara, played by professional musicians, was a box lyre with thick, symmetrical, hollow arms; it was plucked with a plectrum, or pick. The lyra, played by amateurs and plucked with the fingers, was a bowl lyre, typically a tortoise shell with a belly of bull's hide.

The kinnor of the ancient Hebrews, the instrument of King David, was like the kithara. In modern times similar lyres, with or without a bridge, are played in East Africa. They include the beganna, which was also like the kithara, and the lyra-like krar, both of Ethiopia. In African and ancient lyres the strings are wound around the crossbar and tightened by adjusting the windings or by inserting small wooden wedges in the windings.

The left-hand fingers are typically used to  damp the unwanted strings, while the right-hand fingers are used to sweep across all the strings, either directly or with a plectrum. In the Middle Ages box lyres were widely used in northern Europe until about ad 1000. These lyres usually had crossbars carved of the same piece of wood as the body and arms; they also had tuning pegs.

Until about 1000 they were plucked, but thereafter, bowing them was more common. Bowed lyres were able to survive into the 20th century in Finland and Estonia. In Wales, the crwth, which had a fingerboard running from the crossbar to the body, was played till the  19th century

 


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