In one myth, he played the aulos masterfully, a double-piped reed instrument. One day, he found an aulos down on the ground, which had been thrown aside by the goddess Athena; she had made the aulos, but had cursed it and thrown it after the other gods mocked her of how her cheeks moved when she played.
In the other myth, Marsyas challenged the god of music Apollo to a contest of music. The contest was judged by the Muses, and Marsyas naturally lost. For committing hubris against Apollo, Marsyas was hanged inside a cave and was flayed alive. A source has it that Apollo later repented for the excessive punishment, and stopped playing the lyre for some time. Gods and nymphs mourned for Marsyas' death, and their tears were joined to create the river Marsyas which flew through the region of Phrygia. According to a different source, Marsyas didn't actually commit hubris, but it was Apollo who challenged the satyr to the contest because he was jealous of how masterfully Marsyas played the aulos.