Tips for Irish Bouzouki

Tips for Irish Bouzouki

So, I’ve been playing irish bouzouki (Amongst other instruments) for quite a while now, however, I’m desiring to delve deeper into zouk as well as music on the whole, and I figured this would be the place to find out the good stuff!

So, my bouzouki is tuned GDAD with unison strings and I’m equipped with a very reliable capo..My questions are:

1. I’ve seen two MAIN styles of play; individual picking and strumming. I want to be able to pick individually (With a guitar pick) but I’m really struggling with the technique, up to now, I’ve been strumming and doing some weird, wonky hybrid that involves picking two strings at once, which still sounds nice, but well…Does it depend if you’re playing melody or accompaniment? Or is it just personal preference? I LOVE how both styles sound.

2. WHERE ARE THE CHORDS?!? - I generally play one, MAYBE two, strings and let the others ring open, which is good for me as my fingers are reasonably agile.

I’ve done what any poor musician would do and downloaded some comprehensive bouzouki chord bible.pdf’s and all of the chords are an INTENSE stretch, or make the fingers really cramped up…I have no idea if I’m doing something wrong, but it’s bothersome..I’m well aware some zouk chords are a big stretch for some people. But then there’s the weird issue I’ve come across where; I watch an irish bouzouki basics tutorial on Youtube and the guy plays chords that aren’t even in the chord bible…Regardless of whether he calls them something different, according to that bible, the chords don’t exist..At all. So if some nice peeps could give me some links to some videos or books or DVDs that will actually HELP my problem, I’ll be very greatful.

3. Any extensive info on the various terms that are used with irish folk/bouzouki music? I’ve seen some strange terms being tossed around on The Session that I’m not at all educated in, like "counter point" for example.


Long story short, ANY information about the technical side of zouk playing, anything that’ll improve my playing, any (easier) chords…I WANT TO KNOW ALL OF IT…Thanks 🙂

I also realise all of this is probably available on the site, if I was to look, but having it all in one place and having the answers you folk give more "tailored" to my needs is what I’m after.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

4 course, don’t have time to get into this right now - but the subject of zouk tuning, picking, melody playing etc has been endlessly raked over by myself and many others in these pages over the years - just type ‘bouzouki’ into thesession Discussions and you’ll have reading material for a week - and probably the
answers you wanted……………….

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

Go to the "Jguitar" website. You can put in your tuning and it will give you all the chords you want. However, it also allows you to put in the maximum distance between frets that you want results for, so if you wanted 2, 4, 5, 6, fret fingerspan for chords, it will give you all that fall in that range.

Really though, I think it is better to focus on playing melody before starting with accompaniment. Honestly, I’m not a bit fan of strumming, or the way that most people use the bouzouki. I use it almost solely as a melody instrument, with the occasional counterpoint or light chording here and there. I think the melodic capabilities of the instrument are greatly underestimated, largely because it isn’t often used in this way by the majority of players, and doesn’t have a long history of being used in this manner. I think, as far as plucked strings instruments go, that bouzouki, cittern, and octave mandolin mix the best with other instruments, without being so much to the forefront of the sound or disrupting the nice legatto flow like a tenor banjo sometimes can when playing with others.

For some ideas, you might look at how good tenor banjo players approach melody playing and ornamentation, and adapt it, with the addition of utilizing some of the unique aspects of the bouzouki, such as ringing open strings (but don’t overly abuse them), or occasionally turning some notes or group of notes into simple chords, but paying special mind to keep pulse and as much legatto as the instrument allows for in your playing. I also tend to pay special attention to how harp players approach tunes, and liken the usage of open strings to the sort of things they may be doing with their left hand.

You should not be "strumming" the melody, though, and when accompanying keep in mind that accompaniment should not encroach on the melody players. I think it sounds much better for a bouzouki and a solely-melody instrument to be playing melody together in unison, and, rather than chordal accompaniment, for the bouzouki to fill things out a bit with some ringy bits here and there, but while maintaining primary focus on the melody of the tune.

5 course shorter scale instruments are more ideal for melody players who occasionally accompany, in my opinion. GDADA or similar tunings allow you have dronage there when you want it but still keep things very manageable for playing melody, as all of those high notes are right under your fingers. On a longer scale 4 course the high B note can be a bit difficult at certain paces, especially when you have your highest course tuned to D. Most tunes should be doable though, you might just have to plan ahead for those parts. Some tune melodies will work well in their common key with a capo on the second fret, and it makes it sit a bit more nicely on the instrument.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

Also, for a good example of counterpoint, look up Alec Finn’s playing, as he does it best, IMO.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

Thankyou for your messages everyone..I’ll try to reply to them all here!

Christy, yes, I’ll be having an in depth look into the forums when I have the time.

Callison, thankyou! That is a really good site! Going to buy the app for easier use!

Christopher Selby, yes, I do want to focus a lot on melody playing, I do agree that everyone seems to play by strumming, and while I do that; mostly because it’s easier and I like the sound, I’m ready to challenge myself and improve on my playing. Could you possibly recommend some good irish tunes to start off with? Something "easy" to get a grasp on the technique? And I’ll definitely check out Alec Finn, thanks!

Jeff, those chords are some of the only ones I’ve found where the stretch isn’t impossible, so yes, those help, haha. As for an example..I should have linked to it when I made the posting, but….
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oeK2g1zcKA


Now, I don’t know if I’m just not experienced enough or there are literally a thousand ways to play a chord (Pretty likely), but I couldn’t seem to associate these chords with any that I’ve seen.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

All those chords are in Han Speek’s PDF which I linked to above. The D is just one of those options without a third (which means that it’s neither major nor minor), the G is the easiest one-finger option, the A (again without the third) is a typical A shape (every mandolin player will recognise it). Remember that the lad in the video leaves the high D string open even though that note isn’t part of A (with or without a third), but he (probably) doesn’t strum it. The higher A has the major third as the lowest note - those shapes are REALLY handy, which you may already have seen in Han Speek’s examples of "runs". And finally the Bm is exactly how I play it, nine times out of ten. During the jig example (with the tin whistle, after ~10 minutes) he does the descending run in the last four bars of the B part. It’s a bit cliché to do it every time, but still, one solution is better than none.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

If traveling is in your future, I know Eamon O’Leary is teaching a week long bouzouki workshop at Acadia Trad Fest in Bar Harbor, ME in late June (excellent vacation spot). I am already signed up. While books and the internet are really helpful, there is nothing like listening and learning from a master.

Last year Josh Dukes was teaching a combine zook and guitar class at Catskills Irish Arts Week that got me started. Don’t know whats up this year.

Re: Tips for Irish Bouzouki

I am far from accomplished on the bouzouki, probably low intermediate level, but I’ll toss in my 2 cents. I started learning with the Zan McLeod Dvd and one thing he noted was that with a guitar you’re trying for a big sound using a lot of strings to form the chords, where with a bouzouki you’re using parts of chords. A lot of times you can just use a couple of strings or even one string to imply the chord instead of trying to use all four courses And of course the bouzouki is set up great to use drone strings, so a lot of the time you’re just moving a couple fingers and leaving strings open.

I have trouble with certain stretches and have a bad knuckle so certain fingerings are impossible, but the nice thing is there are workarounds and alternates you can use.

The first tunes I learned melody on we’re My Darling Asleep and Si Beag Si Mhor which seemed pretty simple.

I’ve taken lessons from several instructors and some taught strumming and some taught flat picking. Ideally I think you learn both.

Anyway best of luck!

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