Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a bouzouki to start learning?

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.

Should I get a 3 or 4 course instrument?

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.

Do I need to learn to read music?

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.

Do you use Fixed Do Solfège or Western nomenclature?

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.

Do you teach group lessons?

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.

I can play guitar… is this an advantage or disadvantage?

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.

I can play (used to play) another instrument, will this help me?

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.

How long will it take before I start sounding good?

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.

How is the bouzouki tuned?

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.

How much/often should I practice?

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.

What is the most important thing to practice?

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.

Am I too old to learn to play bouzouki?

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.

My child is very interested in music. Is it too young to learn bouzouki?

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 are talented then of course we want to nurture this, however we want to be careful not to put them off music by beginning 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.

I’m self taught and have been learning songs off YouTube/CDs/DVDs. Could I get a few lessons to help me out?

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.

Would it be better to learn on my own for a while and go as far as I can and then get lessons?

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.

I already have a bouzouki and am very keen to begin, is there something that I can practice before my 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.

Should I get a tzoura/baglama for my child to begin on and then get a bouzouki when then grow up?

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.

I’ve heard both τετράχορδο and οχτάχορδο. So, is it called a 4 or 8 string bouzouki?

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.

May I record the lessons?

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.

Is the Irish bouzouki the same as the Greek bouzouki?

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.