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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For "bouzoukia", see nightclubs in Greece.
Greek (tetrachordo) Bouzouki
Greek (tetrachordo) Bouzouki

The bouzouki (gr. το μπουζούκι; pl. τα μπουζούκια) (plural sometimes transliterated as bouzoukia) is the mainstay of modern Greek music as well as other Balkan folk music, particularly of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also found in Irish music. It is a stringed instrument with a pear-shaped body and a very long neck. The bouzouki is a member of the 'long neck lute' family and is similar to a mandola. The front of the body is flat and is usually heavily inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The instrument is played with a plectrum and has a sharp metallic sound.

There are three main types of bouzouki:

  • Trichordo having three pairs of strings (courses).
  • Tetrachordo having four pairs of strings.
  • Irish having four pairs of strings and a flat back.


In Ancient Greece, the same instrument was known under the name "pandouris" or "pandourion", also called "trichord" because it had three strings; it is the first fretted instrument known, forerunner of the various families of lutes worldwide. The source of our knowledge about this instrument is the Mantineia marble (4th century BC, now exhibited at Athens Archaeological Museum), depicting the mythical contest between Apollo and Marsyas, where a pandouris is being played by a muse seated on a rock.

From Byzantium onwards it was called the tambouras. The modern turkish Tanbur is practically identical to the ancient Greek pandouris. On display in the National Historical Museum of Greece is the tambouras of a hero of the Greek revolution of 1821, General Makriyiannis. This tambouras bears the main morphological characteristics of the bouzouki used by the Rebetes.

The Turkish Saz belongs to the same family of instruments as the bouzouki. A middle-sized kind of saz is called a "bozouk saz". Bozouk in Turkish means broken. Here it is used in order to specify the size of the instrument. It is concluded, therefore, that the bouzouki has been named after the jargon of the Turkish saz. An alternative popular etymology maintains that the word "Bozouk" was used because different tunings (the Turkish 'düzen') are required for the instrument to play in different musical scales (known as Dromoi in Greek, Maqam (pl. Maqamat) in Arabic). A tuning known as the "bozouk duzeni" (broken tuning) still exists in Greek folk music.

Following the 1919-1922 war in Asia Minor and the subsequent exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, the ethnic Greeks fled to Greece. The refugees brought with them the music known as Smyrneika, which made use of the Arabic lute (Oud or "outi" as the Greeks called it). Soon the outi was replaced by the bouzouki and the Smyrneika style fused into the Rembetika.

The early bouzoukia were Trichordo, with three courses (six strings in three pairs) and were generally tuned to D3/D4 A3 D4. This tuning fits in well with the music of the Middle East, as an open chord is neither major nor minor, allowing great flexibility with the melody. Trichordo bouzoukis are still being made, and are very popular with aficionados of Rembetika.

After the Second World War, Tetrachordo (four-course) bouzoukis started to appear. It is not known who first added the fourth course. Possibly Stefanakis or Anastasios Stathopoulos. The tetrachordo was made popular by Manolis Chiotis.

The Irish bouzouki, with four courses, a flatter back, and differently tuned than the Greek bouzoukis, is a more recent development, dating back to the 1960s.

The trichordo bouzouki

Greek trichordo bouzouki

This was the usual type of bouzouki, once it had changed to having fixed frets, and it has 6 strings in three pairs, tuned D-a-d (or E-b-e). It is this type of bouzouki that is used for rebetiko. This particular bouzouki is a three course replica of one used by Markos Vamvakaris. The luthiers of that time often used sets of four tuners on trichordo instruments, as these were more easily available.

The tetrachordo bouzouki

This type of bouzouki has 8 metal strings which are arranged in 4 pairs, known as courses. It was conceived and established in the scene by a major Rebetis, Manolis Hiotis, during the early 1940's. In the two higher-pitched (treble) courses, the two strings of the pair are tuned to the same note. These are used for playing melodies, usually with the two courses played together. In the two lower-pitched (bass) courses, the pair consists of a thick wound string and a thin string tuned an octave apart. These 'octave strings' add to the fullness of the sound and are used in chords and bass drones (continuous low notes that are played throughout the music).

The original tuning for the four-course bouzouki is C3 F3 A3 D4 (where C4 is Middle C). In recent times, some players have taken to tuning their bouzoukis up in pitch to D3G3B3E4. This latter tuning is identitical to the tuning of the thinner four strings of a standard Spanish tuned guitar.

The Irish bouzouki

The Greek bouzouki was introduced into Irish Traditional Music in the 1960s by Johnny Moynihan and was quickly taken up by Andy Irvine. Soon after, the Irish bouzouki began to develop into something like its current form. Today, the Irish bouzouki is an important part of the Irish trad scene, most often (though not always) playing accompaniment, mostly a mix of two note chords, basslines, and bits of countermelody, rather than the melody. Perhaps the best known exponent of the Irish bouzouki is Dónal Lunny, who also created an electric version, known as the e-zouk.

The Irish bouzouki generally has a flat or lightly arched back (like that of a guitar or an Irish, American, or Portuguese style mandolin) in place of stave-built round back of the Greek bouzouki, and unlike the Greek instrument is usually tuned to GDAD or GDAE (an octave below the mandolin). For all intents and purposes, the modern Irish bouzouki is a member of the mandolin family, and a bouzouki in name only. However, the Irish bouzouki is distinguished from the somewhat similar-looking octave mandolin in that it has a longer fretboard and characteristic tuning. Like mandolins, Irish bouzoukis are variously made with flat, carved (arched) and bent tops. Hardly anyone uses the Greek bouzouki for Irish music today; Alec Finn is the only professional of any consequence to continue in playing one.

The typical scale length of the Irish bouzouki is 22 to 24 inches (550 to 610 mm), although some are as long as 26 inches (660 mm); an instrument in the same tuning with a scale length of 20 inches (500 mm) or less is generally termed an octave mandola (Europe, Ireland, and the UK) or octave mandolin (US and Canada).

The first Irish bouzouki was probably one built by Peter Abnett, an English luthier who continues to build bouzoukis and other mandolin family instruments to this day. Luthiers Stefan Sobell and Joe Foley have also been major figures in the development of the instrument.

See also

  • Music of Greece
  • Zeibekiko

External links

  • - Instructional DVD method on the Greek Bouzouki
  • You Can Be A Bouzouki Chord Genius Available in several tunings including "Irish".
  • - Learn How to Play the Bouzouki
  • Scales for trichordo bouzouki (dromoi)
  • Bouzouki Chord Finder
  • Han's Irish Bouzouki Homepage
  • Israel bouzouki center
  • Online Greek bouzouki lessons
  • Tuning information, scales, and tunes
  • The essentials of bouzoukia ... about the music scene, not the instrument, only remotely related
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