The bouzouki is Greece’s national instrument. This stringed instrument comes from its predecessor, the pandoura. The bouzouki has an elongated neck and a round body.
Despite its limited number of strings, this instrument is known for creating a plethora of intriguing sounds, making it a beloved instrument of Grecians and Irish people alike.
It has been discovered that the bouzouki was around during the Byzantine era, when it was known as the tampoura. The three-course bouzouki, called the trichordo, is tuned to DAD.
In the past, musicians would play the bouzouki using a piece of carved cherry wood or a feather.
Today, musicians use a pick, though some prefer to stick with the traditional cherry wood carving, which gives this instrument its unique sound.
There is also a four-course version of the bouzouki, which is called the tetrachordo. It is tuned to GDAFC.
If you are interested in learning how to get started with the bouzouki, let this information be your guide.
Table of Contents
- Is the Bouzouki Hard to Play?
- How Much Does a Bouzouki Cost?
- What Can I Expect to Pay For A Bouzouki?
- What’s the Difference Between Irish and Greek Bouzouki?
- What Is the Best Way to Learn Bouzouki?
- Easy Bouzouki Songs for Beginners
Is the Bouzouki Hard to Play?
Like any stringed instrument, the bouzouki can be a bit challenging, but it is not overly difficult. The thing to remember with any instrument is you need to choose one that you want to play. That may seem overly simplistic, but it is the truth. If you enjoy playing the instrument, you are going to be more dedicated to practice.
If you are a guitar player, the skill set will definitely transfer over to the bouzouki. Those who have experience playing the bodhran will find the music style is very similar, making it easier to pick up the bouzouki and master it.
How Much Does a Bouzouki Cost?
The prices of bouzoukis can range considerably, depending on the size and design. It is important to note, just like many stringed instruments in this family, there are sometimes tourist-type bouzoukis that are meant to be decorations instead of playable.
Be leery when you see a cheap bouzouki because it is likely one you hang on the wall and admire rather than play.
The price of bouzoukis can range anywhere from about $200/ £146.14 to over a thousand.
What Can I Expect to Pay For A Bouzouki?
The median price for the bouzouki is around $400/ £292.33.
Before shopping around for the best bouzouki, you need to research the prices. Know the current market value, especially if you are purchasing a second-hand instrument that is marketed as vintage.
If you choose to buy a custom-made instrument, you can expect to pay a lot more.
While price does not always equate to sound craftsmanship, you do generally get what you pay for with purchasing instruments of any kind.
What’s the Difference Between Irish and Greek Bouzouki?
While, to an untrained ear, the two instruments can sound very much alike, especially when amplified, some differences set the Irish and Greek bouzouki apart.
The Greek bouzouki has a bowled back, whereas the Irish instrument is flatter on the back. The flat-backed Irish bouzouki often has a shorter neck than its Greek counterpart.
The scale length of the Irish bouzouki is shorter than the Greek. Round-backed Greek bouzoukis have typical scale lengths of around 670mm. Many musicians consider the Irish version of this instrument easier to hold than the Greek.
Another major difference between the two is the sound they produce. The Irish bouzouki has a brighter and more open sound than the Greek.
To decide which one is for you, it would be wise to visit an instrument shop that sells bouzoukis. Try playing them both. They sound quite different unless you have tuned them the same way, which is not traditional.
What Is the Best Way to Learn Bouzouki?
While the bouzouki is not a mainstream instrument, that does not mean you will have trouble getting help with learning how to play. The Internet is a vast sea of knowledge, and it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming attempting to find the right source of information.
Udemy is a website that offers a myriad of courses. By clicking the link above, you can sign up for their bouzouki lessons. These lessons are easy to follow and are not expensive. You can take a course on each aspect of learning to play the bouzouki, from holding the instrument to proper plucking style.
YouTube is also a great source of information for beginning bouzouki players. Here, you can find all types of videos that allow you to listen to bouzouki experts give you tips and help on learning how to play this special instrument. Before choosing any video, make sure to read the reviews and comments, to ensure you are hearing from a true expert.
Many helpful books on the subject can assist new and seasoned players alike, in improving their bouzouki playing skills. If you learn well from reading, the following are some of the best books you will find on the subject.
- Tobe A. Richards: The Irish Bouzouki Chord Bible
- Roger Landes: Irish Bouzouki Method (Hal Leonard)
- Andrew Brel: The Emergency Bouzouki Player
- Graham McDonald: The Bouzouki Book
When choosing a bouzouki book, make sure to research the author and learn about their background. On websites like Amazon, you can see the author’s page and you can often view a preview of the book. Ideally, the book should include images and diagrams to help you understand what the author is conveying in their instruction.
If you can find a local teacher, they can really help you increase your knowledge of this instrument and offer hands-on instruction, which is often easier to grasp.
Do your homework and learn as much as you can about the instructors in your area. A good place to start is of course Google, so you can read student reviews and learn what the instructor offers.
Many people find it beneficial to use a combination of the above resources. If you can get your hands on a good book, watch videos, and find a teacher, you will soon be well on your way to mastering this unique stringed instrument.
Easy Bouzouki Songs for Beginners
There are many traditional Greek and Irish songs that can be easily played on the bouzouki.
Consider the following sources to help you get started on learning some of these simple songs and gaining a repertoire of favorites.
- “Samiotisa” is a classic Greek song that is a good starting point for beginning bouzouki players. The chords of this song are simple, and the strumming style is easy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RFtBDKP9Zw
- “Foggy Dew” is a classic Irish song that pairs beautifully with the Irish bouzouki. Here, you can find a video that showcases the typical strumming pattern for many Irish songs like, “Foggy Dew”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRESWtxDT0I
- Here is a straightforward video that will help you learn some very basic chords to get started on learning your favorite songs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VK1yF5KJAxs
To help you learn to play the bouzouki, it is important to practice. Practice means picking and finger exercises. This video shows a few simple exercises you can carry out daily, to help you become a better bouzouki player.
You will want to choose the simplest of songs when first starting out playing the bouzouki. Songs with complicated chords and strumming patterns are only going to confuse you and lead to frustration.
Once you have a jig memorized, you can begin to add more complicated pieces to your repertoire. No matter your background, practice is going to be the number one way to learn beautiful songs on the bouzouki.
The Bouzouki, whether Greek or Irish, is one of the most beautiful instruments in the world. Not only is its craftsmanship considered a work of art, but it also offers the most melodic and amazing sounds.
If you love traditional Greek or Irish music, this is an instrument you are going to want to get your hands on as soon as possible. The feel of it in your hands is like no other instrument!
The bouzouki is not overly difficult, though there are some challenges, especially with holding chords, because the neck is so slender and long. If you have large hands, you may find the neck of the bouzouki to be very limiting, but it is still possible to master this instrument.
It is important to remember that persistence is key with any instrument, including the bouzouki. If you truly want to learn how to play an instrument, like the bouzouki, nothing is standing in the way but yourself.