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lyre, generic term for stringed musical instruments having a sound box from which project curved arms joined by a crossbar. The strings are stretched between the crossbar and the sound box and are plucked with the fingers or with a plectrum. In ancient times Sumer, Babylonia, Israel, and Egypt had various sorts of lyres. Ancient Greece had two lyres—the kithara, which was the larger instrument used by the professional musician, and the lyra, the smaller instrument of the amateur. Each had from 3 to 12 strings, made of hemp. The tuning and playing techniques of modern lyres in E Africa are thought to be similar to those of ancient Greece and Egypt. After the 10th cent. the lyres of N European countries were bowed instead of being plucked. The bowed lyre that persisted longest was the Welsh crwth, known as early as the 11th cent. and still in use in the early 19th cent. At some time in its history a fingerboard was added, making it an early member of the violin family.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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