Music is the secret language that can express all the things we can’t put into words but feel so deeply.
I play bouzouki and teach people to play bouzouki.
I’m a multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer and educator.
I started playing classical piano at 8 years old and then soon after took up the guitar at 11. I got my first bouzouki at 18. It was a gift from my uncle and aunt brought back from their trip to Greece (like most peoples first bouzouki). I studied music at University of Melbourne, School of Music entering on the piano and majoring in composition. After my formal studies I started a band called Ping that played at most of the major Australian music festivals. Around the same time I began learning to play other instruments including oud, flutes and whistles, erhu (in honour of my Chinese heritage), digeridoo (‘coz I’m a Strine) and percussion. I took traditional style bouzouki lessons with virtuoso George Spirou (Γιώργος Σπύρου) to further my knowledge of Greek music and skills on the instrument. I now specialise in playing and teaching the bouzouki and am currently writing a book of bouzouki technique exercises.
The traditional approach
For many centuries, music was taught in a purely aural tradition with daily visits to the teacher. In our present digital age it is easy to forget that prior to the relatively recent invention invention of audio recording, if one wanted to hear music then the only way was to either play it yourself or find someone who could play it. All music was live. The only way to learn to play music was directly from a musician. Even instruments were often made by the very musicians that played them. Every town or village would only have had a small group of professional musicians and would have had all of the gigs. All musicians played the same repertoire, which was the standard repertoire of their region or cultural group. As such, musicians developed a profound. relationship with each song they played, learning variations passed down through the generations and adding their own as they came up with them. Both professional and amateur musicians played the same repertoire, however, the professional added more ornaments and variations. Not having a notation system, all music and exercises were memorised. The music was internalised through constant repetition. The close relationship with the teacher meant that the students picked up every nuance of phasing and style. As the student advanced, the teacher would invite the student to a gig to play chords or some simple backing parts. Eventually, the student would be encouraged to play a song on their own without the teacher…and (if the teacher timed it well) the student would be able to play the whole repertoire by the time the teacher retired. This approach is slow, but incredibly thorough and focuses on traditional songs. The virtuosity of the traditional musician is often transparent as it is presented in the form of common songs and the playing is rich with idiosyncratic character.
The Western classical approach
The Western classical system is an rigorous academic approach to study of music with a systematic and thorough presentation of material. There is a detailed exposition and development of playing technique with specific exercises developed to address the technical challenges of playing each instrument. Scales, chords, arpeggios and études based on these are emphasised as a way to instrumental command. Repertoire is carefully graded to present pieces in increasing difficulty. Another feature of classical music is specialised repertoire including concert pieces such as concerti which require incredible amounts of preparation. The classical approach like the traditional method is quite slow but very thorough. Classical musicians have a profound understanding of music theory and harmony as well as exceptional mastery of their instruments.
In modern times there is an emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness. People are concerned with maximum results in minimum time and with minimum effort. There is also an increasing number of “self taught” musicians. In my experience, the quickest, shortest method is disciplined persistent practice. There are no shortcuts in music. Although technical proficiency can be attained in a relatively short time, musicianship takes time to develop. The greatest advances in music pedagogy is the use of audio and video materials, which can allow a student to have the benefit of having the teacher’s instruction at hand in between lessons. The modern approaches can be quicker than the traditional or classical methods, but often allow bad habits in playing technique and leave large gaps in musicianship and knowledge.
My personal approach to teaching the bouzouki
My approach to teaching the bouzouki reconciles the traditional, classical and modern teaching methods to reap the benefits of each of the three. I always begin with an interview to asses student needs and determine goals.
Each student is different with unique goals and their own strengths and weaknesses. I structure the bouzouki lessons based on my evaluation of the student and determine the most efficient and effective method to reach their goals. Some people are visual and need to see what they are learning, others need to hear it, some need to try it themselves and feel it in their hands others need an explanation. I am constantly developing and refining my approach to teaching am always learning as I encounter new students and guide them through their journey with the bouzouki. Lessons focus on developing correct playing technique to support free expression in the traditional Greek style of bouzouki. Lessons include studies of scales/modes (dromoi), rhythms, chords, arpeggio studies, reading music, taximia (improvised solos) and is applied through traditional and modern repertoire. I use various resources including audio, video, music notation, my own notes, YouTube, Dropbox and email in order to provide my students with all the facilities they need to get the most out of their bouzouki lessons.
I use instrumental instruction as a vehicle to invite and encourage people to discover who they are. I focus on exacting detail to promote mindfulness and develop the correct technique to support free creative expression. I always aim to empower, encourage, liberate, inspire and motivate others toward positive action, drawing out the capacity in others to achieve their goals and reach their highest potential.
We can achieve anything that we put our mind to.
I’ve been taking bouzouki lessons for just over a year now. Michael has been my first and only bouzouki teacher and I am amazed on how much I have learnt. There are many different methods on how to learn and Michael uses one or even a mixture of them that accommodates me best. A great thing about Michael is the passion you see when he plays and teaches. And through this passion I always seem to reach my full potential with each lesson I go to. Not only does Michael go in depth with his teaching but always has a great story of where certain techniques and songs being taught originates from and why it needs to be learnt a specific way.
It makes me proud to play bouzouki in front of my family, especially my grandfather who played throughout his life and inspired me to learn for him as well as for myself.
Each lesson is very productive but also involves a good laugh along the way.
Michael is truly an amazing teacher who is dedicated in sharing his experience with his students. He has taught me that through practice, dedication and patience, you can not only hear, but also feel the music that comes out of this beautiful instrument.
Michael has been teaching my son (Constantine Georgiadis) bouzouki for 18 months. He uses the classic bouzouki technique to teach this challenging instrument combining both the theoretical and practical aspects in a fun and engaging way. Michael’s extensive knowledge and deep passion for the bouzouki clearly resonates with Constantine and I have observed some life changing transformations. The experience has significantly improved Constantine’s self confidence when it comes to expressing himself as he never shies away from playing in front of guests when we are entertaining at home. The experience has also taught Constantine the value of discipline and persistence when striving to reach a goal. He sets a constant time every day and applies it to all aspects of bouzouki playing whether it be playing a scale, arpeggio or learning a brand new song.
I believe Michael has played a significant role in extracting these great qualities in
Constantine. He is a fantastic role model for Constantine and constantly encourages and challenges him at the same time. Every lesson usually ends with both student and teacher playing a song in perfect unison and as an Australian of Greek extraction, this takes me back to the beautiful picturesque Greek islands.
I’ve known Michael now for approximately nine years and we he have performed together numerous times, written music together and exchanged information regarding teaching and referred students to each other. I have found him to immensely creative, intelligent and gathering from his students, a good teacher. Furthermore Michael has good interpersonal skills, is disciplined, punctual and takes care in everything he does. He loves to divulge information, which in my mind makes him a natural teacher.
Byron Triandafyllidis | professional musician
Michael has been teaching my son Ioan for approximately one year and it is proving to be one of the most significant and rewarding learning experiences in his life. Michael has tremendous skill in encouraging and challenging his students, in developing their skills at a pace that suits them and he is also able to engage with them in an intellectually stimulating way. He is clearly deeply knowledgeable and committed to his craft as a practitioner and as a teacher.
I could not recommend him highly enough.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes you will need an instrument when you begin your lessons. The bouzouki playing technique is quite exacting and needs practice to be developed. It is important to develop good technique early on so as to establish a firm foundation and avoid bad habits, which can be very difficult to correct further down the track. It is easiest to establish a regular practice routine from the beginning and make it a habit as this ensures the most rapid progress.
The original bouzouki is a three course instrument and up until the 1950s all bouzoukis had three courses. The revolutionary virtuoso Manolis Hiotis popularised the four course instrument and since then it has become the standard that is played by most professional bouzouki players. However, since the 1980s there has been a revival of rebetika and the three course instrument has gained in popularity. Generally, most laika are played with a four course and most rebetika are played on a three course. However, it should be kept in mind that since the bouzouki is mostly played on the two treble courses (D and A strings) most music can be played on either and that there are only a few songs that specifically require one or the other. It is easier to transfer from four course to three course than vice versa since there are more chord, scale and arpeggio positions on the four course bouzouki.
No. Traditionally the bouzouki was taught in an aural tradition. Bouzouki lessons were a daily meeting with the teacher and everything was memorised. Currently, there is very little notated music for the bouzouki and that which exists does not include all details of ornamentation and rhythmic subtleties. Music for the bouzouki needs to be learnt aurally. This does not necessarily mean that notation should not be used at all. Ultimately music is an aural art that is produced with physical movements. Representing music in a visual form is only a mnemonic device and though it may be useful the help remember music, it is an abstraction and not at all necessary. In some cases it may even be a distraction from the essence of music.
In Greece, notes are named according to the “Fixed Do” Solfège system using the syllables Do Re Mi Fa Sol La and Si (Ti) to name the notes whereas in Australia, the standard system uses the letters A to G. Having been originally trained in classical piano, I use the Western system, but use the “Fixed Do” system when I am speaking in Greek. I think that it is best for a musicians to know both the terminology traditionally used for their instrument as well as the standard terminology used in the country in which they live.
I do not recommend group lessons for learning the bouzouki. One of the most important aspects of a lesson is the feedback from the teacher. In a group situation, it is impossible to pay adequate attention or give adequate feedback to each person since different people will have differing needs. It is only in a personal one on one lesson that each student’s individual needs can be addressed.
Although they are both plucked fretted stringed instruments, the guitar and the bouzouki have distinctly different playing techniques. Both the picking and fretting hands on the bouzouki are used differently than guitar technique. Generally, the bouzouki is considered a melody instrument whereas the guitar is used as both a harmonic and melodic instrument. Also, most of the scale and arpeggio positions are different as the bouzouki mainly uses the two treble strings to play melodies up and down the neck favouring position shifts whereas the guitar plays scales across the neck favouring playing in one position. Different fingerings are used on the bouzouki to facilitate the highly ornamented playing style.
Overall, there will be an adjustment period while adapting to the new playing technique. It I important to consider the instruments as being separate and having their own distinct technique.
Yes, most definately. Many of the skills developed in learning any musical instrument will transfer easily to the bouzouki. The finger control and especially the association of a physical movement to a sound being produced helps in learning a new instrument. Also, musicianship skills such as a good sense of pitch and rhythm that were developed while learning your other instrument will accelerate your learning of the bouzouki.
This is such a relative question that I am always hesitant to answer it definitively. Basically it depends on what you mean by “sounding good”. Does this mean that you are able to play a confidently, accurately, with good rhythm and with a good tone? Well, then it could be in your first lesson. Or does it mean to be able to play at a professional standard, in which case it will take years of dedicated practice. Everyone’s goals are different and the answer is different for everyone. It mostly depends on how often you practice and how focused your practice sessions are. It is important to remember that your bouzouki lessons are only to steer you in the right direction and it is only in your home practice that you truly internalise the playing techniques and master the instrument.
The bouzouki has two melody strings (courses), which are tuned A3 and D4 and either 1 or 2 low courses referred to as bourgana (Gr:μπουργάνα) or plural bourganes (Gr:μπουργάνες).
The two melody strings are tuned on unison and the μπουργάνα/ες are tuned in octaves.The 4 course (τετράχορδο/οχτάχορδο) bouzouki is tuned C3/C4, F3/F4, A3, D4. This is the same as the four treble strings of a guitar transposed down a tone.
Some bouzouki players recently have been tuning the same as the treble strings of a guitar (D3/D4, G3/G4, B3, E4) but this is not very common.
The 3 course (τρίχορδο/εξάχορδο) is tuned D3/D4, A3, D4.
My teacher use to tell me after my bouzouki lessons “Να κάνεις πράκτις όσο μπορείς” (“Practise as much as you can”) and yes, he said “πράκτις” and not “άσκηση”.
Music involves many different things. It is both an accumulation of knowledge as well as a fine motor skill, it is both a mental and emotional art. In developing a physical skill it is much more effective to practice frequently rather than in long sessions. Five minutes a day is a lot more effective than an hour on the weekend, even though the total time is less. We need to remember that we are training our hands to move in certain specific ways and the best way to make this happen is to do it frequently. This ensures that we are approaching it fresh every time and that through constant repetition the movements become sub-conscious. In the beginning it would be best to practice between 15-30 minutes a day (in 2 or even 3 sessions) 5 or 6 days a week. The most important thing to do is to make sure that you are practicing correctly and accurately while avoiding any unnecessary tension. You can leave your bouzouki next to your desk (if you have the kind of job that allows you to) and pick it up for a few minutes every so often throughout the day.
Another important thing to consider is the effectiveness of your practice sessions. You should be setting specific goals for every practice session, not just “to play for 10 minutes”. Examples of specific goals could be “to practice this exercise so that I can play it smoothly with 100% accuracy at 60 beats per minute”. Most of your practice should be done with a metronome. That way practice advances your playing and you will see continual improvement.
Aural skills…by far. Music is an aural art and our ability to express ourselves in music is completely dependent on our ability to hear and to hear in detail. It is only when we can hear what we are doing that all of the playing techniques we practice have meaning. If we do not spend time honing our aural skills then all of the scales (δρόμοι) are just an exercise in memorisation, but if we learn to hear they become a vehicle for expressing ourselves.
The other important thing to practice is playing technique. We can only express what we want to freely when we have a playing technique that will support and execute our ideas.
There are both advantages and disadvantages of beginning music at any age.
When children are young, they have more time and fewer expectations of themselves, they also have a more lighthearted attitude toward what they do which keeps it fun, however as we get older, we have better ability to concentrate, are more disciplined, are more organised, have more developed listening skills (can hear melody, rhythm and harmony better) are more mature. The main trouble that adult music students have is making the time to practice.
Learning any bouzouki or any musical instrument takes time and requires effort, so it is important to be both patient and persistent. The one thing that keeps us going is the passion for the instrument and the music. Regardless of our abilities or at what stage in life we are, if we love it and have a passion for it we will continue to practice and we will achieve our goals.
One of the first main challenges with the bouzouki is holding it and children often struggle with this at first. A child should at least be large enough to hold the instrument.
If children talented then of course we want to nurture this, however we want to be careful not to put them off music by begining their study too early at a time when they are unable to keep up with the lessons.
My personal view is that the ideal age for a child to begin learning bouzouki is about 7-8 years old, when they are large enough to hold the instrument and old enough to take responsibility for their practice. However, every person is different and no one knows a child better than the parents. It may be appropriate for a child to begin earlier or later than this.
Yes of course you can, BUT there are some things you should be aware of. Often the limitations that self taught players have are a result of bad habits in playing technique. The best approach is to begin again from the beginning to address shortcomings in technique and correct all errors. The biggest challenge for the self taught player is often having the humility and self discipline to go back to the basics and realise that this is the best way to move forward and progress.
No. It is much easier to get a few lessons in the beginning and then go off and practice on your own. If you truly want to develop as bouzouki player and advance as far as you can as quickly as possible, it is much more efficient to have a competent bouzouki teacher guide you. This will make sure that you are doing things correctly from the beginning and wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel and figure everything out for yourself through trial and error. When you do go to see a teacher, most of the time will be spent trying to unlearn bad habits rather than learning correct bouzouki playing technique from the first lesson.
No, I would not recommend begining without proper instruction. This point cannot be emphasised enough. The initial stages of learning are quite crucial to developing correct playing technique and if you intend to progress in your playing you should find an experienced teacher to guide you from the first steps. It is in the first few days/weeks/months that the practice methods are developed and solid foundations will ensure consistent progress.
There are 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 sizes in other instruments such as the violin which are used to teach young children. If a child is very small or very young but would like to begin playing then this is a possibility.
The double strings often make things confusing as far as what to call the instruments. The bouzouki has four pairs of strings. Each of these pairs is called a course, however, it is commonly referred to as a string, even though it is a pair. So it is correctly called a four course or eight string bouzouki. During lessons or communicating with other musicians, most bouzouki players including myself would refer to the pairs of strings as though it were a single string. Just to make things a little more confusing, in Greek, the words for string and course are both “χορδή” so it is only the context that would allow one to know which is being referred to.
Historically, the bouzouki was also referred to in ancient times as a “τρίχορδο” (three string/course) as well as “πανδούρα” or “πανδουρίδα”, when the instruments began to be made with double strings, the name more specifically referred to the number of courses.
Yes. I even encourage you to make a video recording of the lesson material (if you have that facility on your mobile) to make sure that you are practicing correctly and to have as a reference for the future. Although many teachers will not allow you to record lessons, you are more than welcome to record lessons with me.
Although the bouzouki was introduced to Ireland from Greece in the 1960’s it is tuned and played differently. In Greek music, the bouzouki is considered a melodic instrument, whereas in Irish music, the bouzouki is used for chordal accompaniment with occasional melodic phrases. It is tuned either in fifths like a mandola (and is indeed often referred to alternately as an octave mandola because the bass strings are tuned in octaves) or like a three course bouzouki with a low G string. Furthermore, the Irish bouzoukis a built with a flat back and thus also have a different sound to the Greek bouzoukis.
Send a Message
Please feel free to contact me to book a time for your first lesson or if you have any questions and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.
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