Lute vs. Lyre — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 5, 2023
The lute is a stringed instrument with a neck and a deep round back, while the lyre is a U-shaped stringed instrument held in the lap.
Difference Between Lute and Lyre
Table of Contents
The lute is a plucked stringed musical instrument with a deep, rounded body and a fretted neck. The lyre, by contrast, has a U-shaped frame and is also a stringed instrument, but it lacks a neck and is typically strummed or plucked.
A lute typically has a variable number of strings, ranging from 6 to 24 or more, stretched over a neck with frets, which allows for a wide range of notes and musical expressions. The lyre has a fixed number of strings that pass over a bridge that transmits the sound to the body; it produces a limited range of notes and is played by strumming or plucking.
Historically, the lute enjoyed popularity in the Arab world and later in Europe from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, often used in courtly music settings. The lyre is one of the oldest musical instruments, with its use recorded in ancient Greece and Africa, commonly associated with classical and folk traditions.
The playing technique for the lute involves using a pick or fingers to pluck the strings, similar to modern guitars. The lyre is played by strumming or plucking the strings with the fingers, and sometimes a plectrum, with one hand while the other hand stops the strings to create different notes.
Construction of a lute is a complex art, with a soundboard, a rounded back made from ribs of wood, and a neck with a headstock. The lyre, on the other hand, is simpler in construction, with a soundbox typically made from a single piece of wood, and a crossbar from which the strings are suspended.
Pear-shaped body with a neck
U-shaped body without a neck
Multiple, up to 24, with frets
Fewer, typically 7 to 10, no frets
Plucked with fingers or a pick
Strummed or plucked with fingers
Arab world, Europe (medieval to baroque)
Ancient Greece, Africa
Complex, with a rounded back
Simpler, with a soundbox and crossbar
Compare with Definitions
Lutes vary in size and shape but are distinct for their pear-like appearance.
The luthier displayed a beautifully crafted lute in his shop.
The lyre has a resonant soundbox that amplifies the vibrations of the strings.
She crafted a lyre with a soundbox of polished mahogany.
Lutes are characterized by their deep sound and intricate playing techniques.
The musician's lute solo captivated the audience.
The lyre is an ancient stringed musical instrument known for its U-shaped body.
The poet accompanied his verses with a lyre.
The lute is a fretted stringed instrument with a rounded back and long neck.
She played a baroque composition on the lute.
In classical mythology, the lyre is often depicted as the instrument of gods and heroes.
Apollo is frequently depicted with his sacred lyre.
The lute is an essential instrument in medieval and Renaissance music.
At the fair, lute music filled the air with ancient melodies.
Lyres are played by strumming or plucking the strings, often associated with classical poetry.
The melody of the lyre evoked the sounds of ancient Greece.
A lute ( or ) is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. It may be either fretted or unfretted.
The number of strings on a lyre typically ranges from seven to ten.
The young musician learned to play on a seven-stringed lyre.
A plucked stringed instrument with a long neck bearing frets and a rounded body with a flat front, rather like a halved egg in shape.
A stringed instrument like a small U-shaped harp with strings fixed to a crossbar, used especially in ancient Greece. Modern instruments of this type are found mainly in East Africa.
Liquid clay or cement used to seal a joint, coat a crucible, or protect a graft.
A stringed instrument of the harp family having two curved arms connected at the upper end by a crossbar, used to accompany a singer or reciter of poetry, especially in ancient Greece.
Seal, join, or coat with lute
They were luted with a heavy coating of calcined chalk and eggshells
An ancient stringed musical instrument (a yoke lute chordophone) of Greek origin, consisting of two arms extending from a body to a crossbar (a yoke), and strings, parallel to the soundboard, connecting the body to the yoke.
A stringed instrument having a body shaped like a pear sliced lengthwise and a neck with a fretted fingerboard that is usually bent just below the tuning pegs.
Any instrument of the same musicological classification; any yoke lute.
A substance, such as dried clay or cement, used to pack and seal pipe joints and other connections or coat a porous surface in order to make it tight. Also called luting.
A lyre-shaped sheet music holder that attaches to a wind instrument when a music stand is impractical.
To coat, pack, or seal with lute.
(obsolete) A composer of lyric poetry.
A fretted stringed instrument of European origin, similar to the guitar, having a bowl-shaped body or soundbox; any of a wide variety of chordophones with a pear-shaped body and a neck whose upper surface is in the same plane as the soundboard, with strings along the neck and parallel to the soundboard.
(rare) to play the lyre
Thick sticky clay or cement used to close up a hole or gap, especially to make something air-tight.
A stringed instrument of music; a kind of harp much used by the ancients, as an accompaniment to poetry.
A packing ring, as of rubber, for fruit jars, etc.
One of the constellations; Lyra. See Lyra.
(brickmaking) A straight-edged piece of wood for striking off superfluous clay from earth.
A harp used by ancient Greeks for accompaniment
To play on a lute, or as if on a lute.
To fix or fasten something with lute.
A cement of clay or other tenacious infusible substance for sealing joints in apparatus, or the mouths of vessels or tubes, or for coating the bodies of retorts, etc., when exposed to heat; - called also luting.
A packing ring, as of rubber, for fruit jars, etc.
A straight-edged piece of wood for striking off superfluous clay from mold.
A stringed instrument formerly much in use. It consists of four parts, namely, the table or front, the body, having nine or ten ribs or "sides," arranged like the divisions of a melon, the neck, which has nine or ten frets or divisions, and the head, or cross, in which the screws for tuning are inserted. The strings are struck with the right hand, and with the left the stops are pressed.
To close or seal with lute; as, to lute on the cover of a crucible; to lute a joint.
To sound, as a lute.
To play on a lute, or as on a lute.
Knaves are menThat lute and flute fantastic tenderness.
A substance for packing a joint or coating a porous surface to make it impervious to gas or liquid
Chordophone consisting of a plucked instrument having a pear-shaped body, a usually bent neck, and a fretted fingerboard
A lute's strings are tuned in courses, which are pairs of strings played together.
He tuned the lute carefully before the concert.
What is a lute?
A lute is a stringed instrument with a long neck and round body.
What distinguishes a lyre?
A lyre is recognized for its U-shaped frame and is an ancient instrument.
What music genres feature the lute?
The lute is prominent in medieval, Renaissance, and baroque music.
How many strings does a lute have?
Lutes can have from 6 to 24 strings, often arranged in courses.
Is the lute related to the guitar?
Yes, the lute is an ancestor of modern guitars.
Are lyre strings fretted?
No, lyre strings are not fretted.
Is lute music still performed today?
Yes, it's played in classical music circles and historical performances.
Did the lyre have any cultural significance?
Yes, the lyre was important in ancient Greek music and mythology.
Can you play chords on a lyre?
Yes, but the range is limited compared to fretted instruments.
What is the traditional way to play a lyre?
The lyre is traditionally played by strumming or plucking the strings with the fingers.
What is the historical period of the lyre?
The lyre dates back to ancient civilizations, over 3,000 years ago.
How do you tune a lute?
A lute is tuned by adjusting the tension of the strings, usually with tuning pegs.
Were lutes used in any religious contexts?
Yes, lutes were used in various religious settings throughout history.
Are lutes and lyres commonly taught in music schools?
They are taught in some music schools, especially those with early music programs.
What is the typical material for lyre strings?
Traditionally, lyre strings were made of gut, but now synthetic materials are also used.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.