About

A life in music

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  • About Slider
  • About Slider

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.

Bouzouki lessons…

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.

Modern methods

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.