How to Play a Greek Bouzouki

Updated April 17, 2017

The bouzouki is an ancient middle eastern instrument that has origins in Egypt, Assyria and with roots in China as well. It was reintroduced to Greek culture in the early 1900s from Asia Minor and Turkey. The bouzouki is a pear-shaped instrument that is similar to the mandolin. It is played with a small pick or plectrum. The popularity of the instrument in traditional Greek folk music led to its inclusion in Irish folk music in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is now an essential instrument in Irish as well as Greek music. The essential difference between the Greek and the Irish bouzouki is the difference in the tunings.

Tune the bouzouki to traditional Greek tunings. The bouzouki is similar to a mandolin. The strings are tuned in "pairs" or "courses." In other words, each string is actually two strings tuned to the same note and played as one string. The traditional, or classical, Greek bouzouki is a three stringed instrument with the three strings tuned to D, A and D, respectively. The modern Greek bouzouki is a four-stringed instrument and the strings are tuned to C, F, A and D.

Purchase a Greek bouzouki chord book. Bouzouki chord books are available at music stores that specialise in acoustic instruments. The chord shapes for the modern Greek bouzouki and the classical Greek bouzouki are not the same. The modern bouzouki, with the C-F-A-D tuning, is easier to learn and is more accessible to guitar players because the chord positions are the same as the first four strings of the guitar. The modern bouzouki with its C-F-A-D tuning is tuned down one whole step from guitars, which have a D-G-B-E tuning. The chord shapes on the D-A-D-tuned classical bouzouki, will be more a little more unfamiliar to a guitar player. Concentrate on chords in the key of D major -- the majority of bouzouki music is in the key of D -- such as D, D7, G, G7, A, A7, Bm, Em, and F#m.

Practice playing the chords with a small tear-shaped guitar pick. Greek bouzouki players play the chords using up and down strokes. Set a metronome at a slow speed and practice playing a series of chords such as D/ G/ A/ D.

Learn the major scale and the important variations of the scale. Greek bouzouki music utilises a variety of scales. Begin with the D major scale which is D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# and D. The major scale forms the foundation for the other scales; the other scales are altered versions of it. The major variations of the major scale include the Houzon scale (D-F-F#-G-A-B-C#-D),the Tabahaniotiko scale (D-F-F#-G-A-B flat-C#-D) and the Hitzaz scale (D-E flat-F#-G-A-B flat-C-D. The scales are played within specific chord groups. The Houzon scale works with the I, IV, V and Idim chords. In the key of D major, these chords are D, G, A and Ddim. The Tabahaniotiko scale works with the I, IV minor, IV and I dim chords, D,G minor, A and Ddim.

Learn the D minor scale and the major variations of the scale. The D minor scale is D-E-F-G-A-B flat-C-D. The important variations include the melodic minor (D-E-F-G-A-B-C#-D), the harmonic minor (D-E-F-G-A-B flat-C#-D),the Niavent scale (D-E-F-G#-A-B flat-C#-D), and the Giourdi scale (D-E-F-G-G#-B-C-D. These are the primary variations of the minor scale used in Greek bouzouki music.

Practice playing the scales with a metronome to build speed and dexterity. Set the metronome to a slow speed, such as 40 BPM. Play each scale in a series of crotchets (one note per beat), eighth notes (two notes per beat), triplets (three notes per beat) and sixteenth notes (four notes per beat). Gradually increase the speed of the metronome and repeat the exercise.

Things You'll Need

  • Guitar pick
  • Metronome
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About the Author

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.