Spiros Skordilis

                     Talks about the History of the Bouzouki                                                                                    

The unlimited staccato sound of the Bouzouki   fascinates audiences that fall under the spell of its strings.  The Bouzouki is the descendent of ancient greek and eastern instruments.  The Bouzouki was known to many pre-Hellenic cultures like Egypt, Assyria, and China. The instrument is closely related to the Laouto.  In recent  discoveries of  ancient wall paintings and sculptures, the Bouzouki did exist during the Byzantine era.  During the Byzantine period, the Bouzouki was known as  Thampoura or the Tampoura.

The Bouzouki was reintroduced and brought to Greece by immigrants from Asia Minor and Turkey in the early 1900's.  The Trichordo Bouzouki has three pairs of strings, each pair tuned the same.  It is tuned to "re", "la", "re", (d,a,d,) The (re) string is the basis for the melody, while the A and second D strings  are used for playing chords.  The first bottom (D) string is known as Kantini. The sound of the top (D) string is known as Bourgana.  In the olden days, the Bouzouki was tuned to accompany the different modes (styles of songs) being played. This type of tuning is called Ntouzeni (Du-zeni), and is essential to preparation to playing. The bouzouki is played with a pick, but in the past it was played with a feather or a piece of wood carved from a cherry tree.  This helps to create the distinctive sound of Bouzouki playing.  In the early part of the 20th century the "Rebetes" played the Bouzouki and the (baglama), later they added the guitar for chords.  The (baglama) is a smaller version of the Bouzouki.  The baglama is tuned (re,la,re) exactly like the (trichordo) Bouzouki. The baglama was an easy instrument to carry because of its small size.  Today the baglama is used to add color and to give a precise, distinct, vibrato sound to the composition.

In the 1950's the bouzouki with four pairs of strings was introduced.  The three strings limited the musician to playing the "Rebetika" songs only.  The four strings gave a new dimension to the capabilities of the instrument.  The new Bouzouki that was developed in the fifties is named (tetrachordo) and has four pairs of strings that are tuned (c,f,a,d).  The chords played on the Bouzouki are the same as a guitar.   A distinct characteristic of the Bouzouki is the taxim.

TAXIM :  Many rebetika songs start with a taxim.  The taxim differs from strokes of the pick, the rhythm, and the essential value of the song.  The taxim demands that  the player be versatile.  The player has to also know how to apply himself to this type of improvisation.  In order to improvise and to play the taxim correctly, the Bouzouki player has to become familiar with the different (dromous).  Knowing the tones minor and major is not enough to play a taxim correctly.  For instance, if we want to play a taxim in the minor tone we have to know the (dromo).  If the (dromo) is niavende it would still be in the minor tone with a different characteristic in the playing.  Ousak  is another minor tone with different characteristics in the playing.  If we are playing in the major tone the appropriate (dromo) has to be applied. (Hejazz, Hejazzsiar Houzam)  and many more.  A good way to become familiar with the taxim is to listen to songs that have improvisations to recognize the (dromo) and the characteristic of the playing of the taxim.

In 1960 Greek music was rapidly gaining world-wide recognition.  Never on Sunday served to highlight the fact that the Greeks had something new and fresh to offer to those of us who had been nourished on French, Italian and Spanish popular music. The dynamic Greek sound---The  Bouzouki and the colorful, vigorous and unusual rhythms of Greece soon captured the ear and fancy of the devotees of Continental music. Although the bouzouki was and is the main lead instrument of the "Rebetika" and "laika" songs it does not stop there.  With some fantasy and daring compositions unusual sounds of creativity can be produced.


Home  Song History  CD's & Audio