The Greek folk music

Written by Fivos Anoyanakis


The Greek Folk Song -whether diatonic or chromatic, with syllabic or melismatic melodies when sung- is modal and monophonic in its construction. Its melodies are based on a different interval continuity from that of the major – minor of western music, sung and performed monophonically (without harmonic accompaniment). An exception to this rule is provided by certain Northern Epirus songs which are sung polyphonically, without instrumental accompaniment (interval of the second, fourth, or fifth, with pedal-tone “ison” in the lower part), as well as in certain more recent popular songs, in the minor or major mode, which are sung and performed in simple chords (Ιonian island cantada or serenade, Athenian cantada etc.)



Greek folk songs are divided rhythmically into periodical rhythmic type melodies and melodies of the free rhythmic type. The first is characterized by the periodical repetition of a certain rhythmic pattern, for instance, all dance melodies, whereas the second is characterized by the free (non-periodical) flow of diverse rhythmic patterns, for example, the table songs, etc. In the periodical rhythmic type melodies we encounter simple 2/4, 3/4, etc. rhythms, as well as the so-called aksak rhythms 5/8, 7/8, 9/8, etc. (aksak=lame). 

Greek folk melodies are sung and performed on the natural and not the equal-tempered scale of the west {…}.


Musical instruments traditionally used by the Greek people.

Idiophones: Zilia (cymbals), triangles, massa (tongs), spoons, wine glasses, bells, hand-clapping, finger-snapping etc.

Membranophones: Daouli, tour, toubeleki (kind of drum), large and small tambourines etc.

Aerophones: Floghera, souravli, Madura (shepherd’s pipes), zourna, pipits, karamouza, (oboe types), tsabouna, Haida (bagpipes) and, recently, the clarinet.

Chordophones: Tamboura, laghouto (lute), pear-shaped lira, (which we meet nowadays on the island and northern Greece), bottleshaped lira (the kementze of the Pontos Greeks), kanonaki (kanun, psalterium), santouri (dulcimer) and the violin.



The best-known Panhellenic instrumental teams are the zyghia (zygos=double, of two instruments) one or two zournas and daouli, which we meet on the mainland of Greece, the island zyghia violin and laghouto, and the compania clarinet, violin, laghouto and santouri, which gradually replace the zyghia zourna-daouli. We also mention the zyghies: pear-shaped lira and dahares (a large tambourine) and bagpipes-toubeleki, which are to be found in the north of Greece, the island zyghia: of the pearshaped lira and the Cretan laghouto, as well as that of certain Dodecanese islands.


The Greek dances which are accompanied by either singing or diverse folk instruments are divided into two large groups. The pidhichtos (high dance) and the syrtos (low dance). The first is characterized by their severe and proud character and is danced mainly by men, whereas the second -the syrtos type dance- more lyrical and calm in movement, are performed a great deal by both men and women. A third category is composed by composite type dances, of both the pidhichtos and sorts types. According to the number of dancers and the manner in which they are danced, we have: large group dances, danced by couples facing each other e.g. the island ballos, and individual (solo) dances e.g. the Cyprus sickle dance, etc.



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