The Cretan instrument par excellence is the lyra, a three-stringed instrument played with a bow. In the past, bells known as yerakokoudouna or "falcon bells" were hung from the bow to help mark time.

Over time, various different versions of the instrument have been created: the lyraki or small lyra, with a small, shallow sound box that creates a sharp, piercing sound; the vrontolyra, with a larger, deeper sound box that is wider at the base, producing a deeper sound suitable for playing out of doors; the lyra, being the commonest type, which produces a mellower sound than the other two on account of a number of additions to the sound box, the neck and the head. The viololyra, played mainly in the Prefecture of Heraklion, was invented in about 1920 in an attempt to equip the lyra with the same range of capabilities as the fiddle.

Cretan lyra player, early 20th century (Nelly's, Benaki Museum, Athens)
Modern lyra with carved decorations
Cretan musicians, early 20th century (Yiannis Harkoutsis, Aski, Pediada)
Type of lyra known as the viololyra, 2004
A modern lyra, 2007 (Yiannis Harkoutsis)