Why do people who thrash the Bouzouki, not just stick to the Guitar instead? Surely there's a good argument for keeping the style of playing of those two instruments completely separate?


Let's face it, if there's a Guitar & a Bouzouki in the same session, what is the point in them both thrashing away?


Here's an example of the way many folks think the Bouzouki should be played in Irish Music.


Now isn't that really tasty & a far cry from the metal thrashing so many Bouzoukis get in sessions.

The Bouzouki has a unique voice, but I think so many of its finer qualities are completely lost, when it is just treated like an 8 string chord machine or Guitar.


In contrast, here's Donal Lunny, with a much more heavy handed approach to the instrument.

In this case, for me at least, I find the treatment of the Bouzouki far, far too heavy handed & instead of providing the subtle backing for the Fiddle that the Bouzouki could so easily have done, it is actually competing for attention, is far too strong & dominant & sadly detracts from the overall sound of the whole piece.


That whole jangly wall of sound, could have been just as easily have been provided by a thrashing chord player, using a Guitar.


So, how many people here actually make the effort to really play the Bouzouki in a lovely melodic style, like Alec above?


Also, does anyone else here agree with me that it is just a little sad, that so many people today, treat the Bouzouki like a thrash box?




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So here's a little challenge: point the way to some places where it is explained how to play the bouzouki in that more subtle way. I'm not for one moment defending thrashing, but as far as I can see, none of the exponents of the more subtle style has ever set down what it is that they actually do. It would be good to know, and there's only so much one can get from YouTube clips.

Hi Ian,

Aside from watching video clips closely (over and over), listening intently(over and over), having a good ear, and figuring it out,the only one that I know of definitely would be Zan McLeod's "Irish Bouzouki" DVD (www.homespun.com).  It's pretty basic but he does get into right and left hand techniques and a variety of expressions (strumming, plucking, walking, etc.). Of course there are hands-on classes/workshops available. You'd have to do a search in your area (county, country) to see if any are coming up, their cost, etc. and if they have a "bouzouki workshop". Also. www.oaim.ie has something with bouzouki training. I only checked out the demo but there is an online class. perhaps you can contact them for particulars. OR,.......hook up with another zouk player and exchange notes, techniques, etc. Sorry, wish I could be more helpful. Perhaps other TC members reading your (and this) comment might be more helpful. Cheers,


Hi Danny, you summed it up in one - 'figuring it out'-  and that's why more people don't play this way - it's very difficult to figure it out. I struggled even when I was sitting eight feet away from Eoin... There is very little helpful instruction out there - I know, I have looked exhaustively. No bouzouki workshops round here either. The OAIM lessons are fine as a far as they go, but again mostly basics for beginners. I know the people at OAIM and have asked them to persuade Eoin to do an advanced course, but no luck yet. Another person to watch is Cyril O'Donoghue (see clip, right, in videos section). Awesome playing - but just what is he doing?




I think it's really difficult to play Irish music well on the guitar or the bouzouki, but (in general, with notable exceptions) the people who tend to choose these instruments are not the most musically adept, they gravitate to the guitar/zouk because these are easy instruments to learn to play simply and/or they have already learned to play other easier forms of music on the guitar.

Hi Bernie, hmm - exceptions noted, but I think you might get a few protests from that comment ;-). Which is not to say that it's entirely unfounded, of course; it quite possibly explains the thrash syndrome, not to mention watching too many Bothy Band clips of Donal Lunny...  I think it comes back to the wisdom, which I have found to be true, that you need to be able to play the tunes before you can accompany them well.

In my case, I also play the mandolin (a lot) and the fiddle (a bit) and have a reasonable repertoire. That does indeed make accompanying life easier in some respects, but it doesn't necessarily move you much further on with regards to technique.



Ok...I will try to be polite ...

"...the people who tend to choose these instruments are not the most musically adept, they gravitate to the guitar/zouk because these are easy instruments to learn to play simply and/or they have already learned to play other easier forms of music on the guitar."

Are you serious Bernie???

This music is difficult to play well on many instruments....I've heard some absolutely aweful fiddle players too! and whistle and banjo, not to mention stuggling pipers(i just did)... etc...

However, there are many players of guitar and bouzouki that would take serious offense to your comment....Maybe your speaking from ignorance , but neither instrument is simple to play well(or maybe you do have experience playing one of the afformentioned instruments and have found it so simple you were bored to death). Furthermore, I don't know of any instrumnet that is easy to play WELL in any style.  I have put forth great effort in learning music over the past 23 years in various styles and on multiple instruments.  I felt more comfortable and have had more sucess in some styles than in others,  but have always tried to pay attention to the nuances of each style.. I have found that many believe the guitar to be one of the most versatile instruments invented, and when played WELL can find a place in just about all forms of music. The roles of Guitar vs Zouk in ITM can and do overlap, but the bouzouki should be treated as it's own animal. 

So I respectfully ask you to please think twice before you categorize an entire group of musicians as "not the most musically adept."   ...oh, and one question...Were you born with an inate ability to play music well, or were you at one time not adept?



Like Ian, I also play mandolin and believe that nobody should try to accompany a tune without first knowing the tune...that should be a given in this style...and Danny and Ian nailed it when they mentioned the learn by ear aproach (figure it out)...we all know that's one of the foudations of this tradition, but ...(playing devil's advocate here)

Does anybody think it would be really boring if we ALL played like Alec Finn?  That's not to say that his playing is by any means boring....quite contrary.... I'm saying that, although we can aspire to play like him or to incorporate his style into our own, we shouldn't want to all become Alec Finn clones....

The bouzouki is an exciting and versatile instrument. Like I said in my previous post, Lunny and Finn play on opposite sides of the spectrum stylistically.  Many players play somewhere in between, and I'm sure the most proficient players can play both ways....It's all a matter of stylistic choice after all.  I do agree however that Donal Lunny often plays too loudly when he gets excited and tries to "drive" the rhythm which should be left to the melody players.

One more question(s)...

What if a guitarist was playing nice intricate counter melody?  Would we all tell him he should play the bouzouki because he chooses to play his guitar in that specific style?

I agree about the guitar. It's an easy instrument to get started on but a devil to play well; I got the basic chords sorted in about a week when I was a kid - and then progressed very little further :-( .

Check any of these clips  http://www.livetrad.com/Videos/summerschool/index.php# if you doubt that guitar played well can add something. Or indeed anything by Dennis Cahill or Tony Byrne.

It's a good thing that there is a range of bouzouki styles, though perhaps the OP was about a mindset as much as anything else. I always vaccillate between trying to copy good players and develop my own style. I guess it's coming out as my own in any case!

I tune ADae (think that's right) and I use octave strings. Don't seem to have found too many high-fret tuning problems. I play mostly rhythm on the bottom three courses, right up to 12th fret and beyond, but find the top e useful for tunes, coming from the mandolin.  The chords have a full sound thanks to the octave strings and it seems to be coming out as something entirely of itself. A much under-rated tuning in my opinion, and it doesn't really need a capo very much either, except for effect.

Perhaps the other thing about strumming is how you do it - a basic, unchanging beat is pretty dull, but you can use the attack of a bouzouki to bring out all sorts of subtle rhythmic details and variations. Hitting the back-beat also works well, as does a subtle amount of damping. Knowing different chord inversions adds further variation. So maybe there's more to strumming than thrashing... ;-)

Hello Liam,

Respectfully, I'd ask you to read what I wrote, carefully, before disagreeing.

It's easy to strum accompaniment to simple pop songs on a guitar, it's easy to play "punk" style rhythm guitar.

It's not easy to play anything at all on the fiddle.

I didn't characterise an entire group of musicians, I made a general statement and said there are notable exceptions.

I do believe I was born with a certain innate musical ability, so were you,  just like other abilities it is partly nature and partly nurture.

I suppose it would be boring if everybody played like Alec Finn, but it would still be preferable to what I hear from most guitarists/zoukists at sessions I go to, namely thrashing, which is both boring and annoying.


"...the people who tend to choose these instruments are not the most musically adept, they gravitate to the guitar/zouk because these are easy instruments to learn to play simply..."  I read carefully and still sounds like a generalization to me...I may not be notable, but I'm not the only un-notable exception....General statements are just that, general/catetgorical/blanket statements (in this case, an opinion directed at a large group of musicians).   

It is possible that I misunderstood you...also possible that you weren't clear ....I know the fiddle isn't easy (i've actually tried), and never implied that it was so.   

As far as stumming goes anybody can learn 3 chords and "thrash."

It all comes down to understanding the role of the instrument within the style and couresty while playing with others.  Session or not, nobody should be trying to overpower the other instruments (defeats the purpose of playing in groups),  the accompaniment whether stumming or complimenting the melody, should be especially aware of this fact....It's simply selfish to play otherwise within a group.

So Bernie, I think we're ultimately in agreement...

....these are opinions after all...that is the point of this exchange is it not? It seemed as if you were taking pot shots in the general vacinity of zoukists/guitarists, so from my vantage point you may have taken offense youself had our positions been reversed...That's my opinion.   Best of luck dealing with those loud strummers. Maybe they'll get better with experience, or maybe they're happy with their style as is.

No, I'd say most of us wouldn't.  I also like hearing counter melodies played on guitar (I think I've heard Kevin Hough, Daithi Sproule, Steve Cooney and a few other guys do this before.) but it doesn't have the same impact as it does on the bouzouki.

I guess when I wrote that Alec does it "right" I meant that he doesn't thrash his instrument.  That doesn't mean that everyone should play like him - although I wouldn't mind if they did! :-)

Whoa!!!! That was an exciting exchange!!!

Hey guys,

I absolutely agree with Liam & Ian. And I see where Bernie is coming from (although your wording left alot unsaid and alot implied). As rhythm instruments, both the guitar and bouzouki can be used in a variety of ways. Ian statemnt is "dead on" when he says, "strumming is how you do it" and "different chord inversions add further variations". When I first was learning "guitar DADGAD tuning for ITM" I was amazed at how much is added in the complex use of "walking chords" (that's what I call 'em. I don't know the technical term,...hope you know what I mean!!). There's more "body" to a tune that may have just three basic chords but is played with maybe sixteen or more. Syncopation also gives more "body" that just strumming (thrashing???). As counter melody instruments, both guits and zouks again fill gaps, but perhaps in a sweeter way. What Liam says about, "understanding the role of the instrument within the style" and "paying attention to the nuances,........the guitar (& zouk) being the most versatile instruments invented", is also a very good insight into what those instruments are about. Bernie's comment about "abilities being partly nature, partly nuture" is true. We're musicians of varying degrees. Our personal developement is the nuturing side of things. It just don't happen overnight and for some may be easier than for others. Balance within a group comes from creating it, doing it, learning it and using it.

OK,.....now let's put the guns and knives away. (Boy Oh Boy,....that was exciting!!!) Cheers everyone!!!


Oh boy I hope I never run into the guitarist mentioned in #3 above.  We would have words, believe me ; )

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