Ancient Greek music theory is a fascinating subject that has captivated music lovers for centuries. While many people are familiar with the works of some of the most famous ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato, not everyone knows who developed ancient Greek music theory. In this article, we will explore the origins of this field and highlight some of its most influential figures.

Origins of Ancient Greek Music Theory

Music has always played an essential role in Greek culture. From ancient times, Greeks have used music to express themselves artistically and to communicate with their gods. Over time, they developed a system for understanding and analyzing music that we now refer to as ancient Greek music theory.

The earliest known work on music theory was written by Pythagoras in the 6th century BC. Pythagoras was a philosopher, mathematician, and musician who believed that all things in the universe could be explained through numbers. He applied this philosophy to his study of music and discovered that musical intervals could be expressed as ratios of whole numbers.

The Role of Plato

One of the most influential figures in ancient Greek music theory was Plato. The philosopher believed that music had a profound effect on human behavior and emotions. He argued that certain types of music could lead people astray and corrupt their souls.

Plato also believed that there was a mathematical order to the universe that could be found in music. He saw harmony as a reflection of cosmic order and believed that studying harmony could help people better understand the world around them.

Aristoxenus: Music Theory Pioneer

Aristoxenus was another prominent figure in ancient Greek music theory. He was a student of Aristotle and is known for his work “Harmonic Elements.” In this text, Aristoxenus developed a system for analyzing melodies based on their constituent parts.

He broke down melodies into individual notes and analyzed their relationships to one another. This approach allowed him to classify different types of melodies and understand the principles that governed their composition.

The Legacy of Ancient Greek Music Theory

The work of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristoxenus laid the foundation for ancient Greek music theory and had a lasting impact on Western music. Their ideas influenced later philosophers and musicians, such as Johannes Kepler, who used Pythagoras’ ratios to explain the motions of the planets.

Today, we continue to use many of the concepts developed by these ancient Greek thinkers in our study of music theory. From harmony to melody, these ideas have become an essential part of our understanding of how music works.


In conclusion, ancient Greek music theory is a rich field that has had a profound impact on Western music. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristoxenus were all influential figures who developed important ideas that continue to shape our understanding of music today. By studying their work, we can better appreciate the beauty and complexity of this art form.