prisoners were using small dry gourds or other similar types of materials
such as carved sound box to make small size baglama, which they would
conceal on them and smuggle in their jail cells. These instruments were
also known as “Gonato” which means “The knee”
because they would fasten it on to their knee when they were entering
the jail in such a way that the guards would not be able to detect them.
The soundboard was made from animal hide stretched over the box in the
older days and later out of wood, such as spruce.
Instruments of the Tamboura family were played in the older days as single
instruments without being accompanied by other rhythmic instruments. The
musician would play the tune on the first string being of higher pitch,
which is also known as the “Kandini” and at the same time
would use the other strings open usually wound and known as Mourganes
or Mbourganes to produce isotonic, tonic or 5th sound etc.
This was always analogous to the number of strings and the tuning. In
time this method of playing has progressed to what we know today, with
the harmonic accompaniment based on a specific scale.
INSTRUMENTS of the Tamboura family, with long thin neck and a small round
sound box were present in Greece since about the 4th century BC. In those
days these instruments were known as “PANDOURA”. This is firmly
documented by various painting and mosaics from that epoch, depicting
a musician playing the Pandoura with a plectrum or penna. More evidence
of their existence could be found in later years of the 10th, 12th, 16th,
18th and 20th centuries by official letters, memos and reports written
by various scholars and notable personalities of those years. For example,
a respectable author by the name of Constantine Porfirogenitos had made
mention in one of his reports, of Pandouras and Pandourists (The Player)
being present at a high profile dinner in the 10th century, where another
writer had made mention of Tambouras and other instruments entertaining
high caliper invited guests of a gala event at the Constantinople Race
Track in the 12th century.
The Lauto, also known as lavouto or lagouto, has been named as such from
the Arabic word “OUD” which means wood. This instrument or
a variation thereof is also known as “Lute” which was very
prominent during the renaissance and baroque eras. It is worth noting
at this point that an instrument maker is called a “LUTHIER”
which is a derivative of the word LUTE. The sound box of the Greek Lauto
is unusually large in relation to other instruments of the Tamboura family,
such as the bouzouki. Saz etc.
It usually has movable/adjustable frets, 8 strings and a bridge glued
permanently to the soundboard and it is played with a plectrum. In the
older days players would use plectrums made from tortoise shell, or even
feathers of larger foul such as wild turkey etc.
At the end of the 19th century,
the Lauto was constructed in three sizes. Today however makers have chosen
the mid size Lauto as a standard size with minor intentional or un-intentional
variations depending on the maker and his moulds, as well as the demands
of the musician placing to order for construction. The construction revival
of Lauto/Bouzouki in Modern day Greece has been documented from the early
1800’s to date.
The Bouzouki has been part of the wider Greek musical tradition for centuries.
Although it has been associated with Rebetika music it has now elevated
its status to the more popular Greek music known as Laika and Elafrolaika,
as well as the classical composition of modern Greek composers. The Bouzouki
is a member of the "Tambouras" family of instruments of which
it is a variation. It is believed that the word Bouzouki is a derivative
of the Turkish word "Buzuk" which means broken, but can also
mean "small change".
Bouzouki has not changed much in the very many years of its existence.
Throughout the epoch however, it has evolved from a six-string instrument
to an eight-string instrument that is most popular with Bouzouki players
of today, and the playing style and technique have also been amended to
reflect today’s sounds and musical expectation.
The Bouzouki has been persecuted by the authorities in the past century
and part of this century as they had associated it to the criminal society
of Greece, (unfairly and wrongly). It is purely a "sole" instrument
and even though various qualified teachers have written many books it
may never be learned by just anyone. By this statement I mean that even
though everyone may have the ability with proper training, to make music
with a Bouzouki, few of us posses the ability to be able to perform with
it and to relay through the instrument our most inner feelings, thoughts,
and emotions, which change from moment to moment. In a nutshell it is
the "mirror" of our soul.
Other similar instruments belonging
to the Bouzouki family are, Tzouras, Baglamas, Bouzoukomana, and Gonato
that can be distinguished from each other by their means of construction,
size, shape, number of strings, etc. The most common length for a normal
Bouzouki is 70cm, in the older days it would resemble a pear-shape and
was somewhat smaller. In modern days however it is made larger and resembles
a large version of a Mandolin. It has a long neck with frets and sounds
somewhat like a Mandolin or Lute. The smallest instrument of this family
is the Baglamas, which is about 30-35cm long, and mostly with 6 strings
- Technique & Tuning
The Bouzouki is played with
a small plectrum, otherwise known as the "penna". As mentioned
before the most common Bouzouki today is the eight (8) string Bouzouki
that in essence consist of four (4) double sets of strings. The higher
tuned strings starting from the bottom up are called "katini"
and the lower tuned strings that are thicker and wound are called the
"bourgana". The sequence of tuning from the bottom up is as
follows: The first set of double strings is tuned as the "RE"
or "D" note. The second set of double strings, which are again
identical, are tuned as the "LA" or "A" note. The
third set of double strings which consist of one "kantini" and
one Bourgana string are tuned as the "FA" or "F" note
and the fourth set of double strings which also consist of one "kantini
and one "bourgana" are tuned as the "DO" or "C"
On the other hand the six (6)
string Bouzouki which is still used by many of the older players as well
as some of the younger ones, which is ideal for the true "Rebetiko"
sound are tuned in double sets from the bottom up as "RE" or
"D", "LA" or "A" for the second set and
again "RE" or "D" for the third set.
A good Bouzouki player must
be able to produce clean notes at a higher speed than other stringed instruments.
It takes years of studying and countless hours of constant practicing
on a daily basis. Once a player commits to playing the instrument he may
not be able to slack off and ignore daily practice time, as this will
result in a decline in his dexterity and agility. Keep in mind that regardless
of how much one devotes to practicing, not everyone may be able to master
the true sound and feel of a Bouzouki, as it is a reflection of the player’s