The bouzouki is the most expressive instrument of the Greek folk music. It first appeared about 2300 years ago with the name three-stringed or pandoura. The ancient Greeks passed pandoura (now called bouzouki) to the Byzantines, who used it as a learning instrument of Byzantine music. It became known as a musical instrument in the hands of great musicians who played the rebetiko kind of music perfectly. After the Second World War another pair of strings (4 pairs) was added and since then it constitutes the primary instrument in both ‘entehno’ (art music) and folk kinds of music. The bouzouki is a special instrument with which the musician develops a unique emotional bond, making it thus the genuine instrument of the people!
The two main types of bouzouki are the three-stringed (trihordo) and the four-stringed (tetrahordo). The bouzouki is one of the few stringed instruments with so many different forms. Its increased use by the common people led to the need of its adjustment according to each owner’s personal taste. The bouzouki has brought about an unparalleled change in the artistic decoration of musical instruments. It is one of the few instruments with countless designs and decorations, serving the purpose of emphasizing its uniqueness among other instruments of the same kind. The music genres one may play with the bouzouki are mostly two, the Greek folk and ‘entehno’ (art music). However, Manolis Hiotis, the man who brought about the greatest change regarding the bouzouki (he added another pair of strings), managed to integrate the bouzouki in a symphonic orchestra!
One may start learning the bouzouki at about 6 years old. This varies according to the maturity and musical perception a child has developed until that moment. The student’s body type does not influence the learning process since the student can start lessons using a tzoura (a small-sized kind of bouzouki) and then move on to the normal bouzouki. As with almost all musical instruments, the lessons start by learning the notes, values and short easy pieces.
Students will be able to play short known folk pieces by the end of the first year and their progress solely depends on them. The personal interest, the study hours and the love for the bouzouki are elements that if combined together can turn someone from a beginner bouzouki player to a good musician in a very short time!
Bouzouki lessons, as all musical instrument lessons, are conducted on a private basis. That is, the classes are conducted with the teacher and one student only. This enables the teacher to give all his/her attention to the student for the best possible results. The duration of the lessons varies according to the level of each student. Since the lessons are private there is flexibility in terms of the day and time a lesson can be arranged. The exact days and hours are jointly agreed upon by the student and the teacher before the beginning of the academic year. As time passes by and as the student progresses, additional hours might be added in a classroom with students of other musical instruments in order to create small orchestras, ultimately aiming to familiarize themselves and coexist with other musical instruments.
The school offers recognized examinations for all of its departments. The majority of the examinations are from foreign universities and schools and especially from the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. The bouzouki however, due to its Greek origin, is not tested by the aforementioned institutions, which do not even offer this kind of examination! For this reason the school cooperates with recognized institutions from Greece, and conductors – examiners who perform examinations for traditional musical instruments and by extension bouzouki exams twice a year. All diplomas are recognized by the Ministry of Education and Culture as well as by all universities abroad. Therefore, regardless of what musical instrument one plays and the levels completed, the school diplomas can be used as additional qualifications for admission in overseas universities!
There are numerous bouzouki musicians in Greece. Tsitsanis, Papaioannou, Mitsakis, Hiotis, Zambetas, to name a few, are some of the bouzouki ‘prodigies’. However, the bouzouki ‘Master’ is Markos Bamvakaris who set off from a poor neighbourhood on the island of Syros, accomplished what few people ever will, while his songs will remain unforgettable in the music history. It is important to also mention Hadjidakis and Theodorakis, who never played the bouzouki, but as composers and through their songs created a different role for the bouzouki in the context of folk music.