Just as the body is the dancer's tool, so the instrument is the musician's, he must be fully aware of its capabilities in order to exploit it to the full. This holds true for all musicians, but the traditional musician does not stop there. It is not enough for him to exhaust the instrument's possibilities through his skill, but because he is often an instrument-maker as well, he constantly strives to extend them. Indeed, true traditional musicians are obsessed with trying to improve their instrument and spend a great deal of time altering and adjusting it, even if it is a standardised modem one. Literally, no two traditional instruments are identical, even if fashioned by the same master.
The making of a musical instrument requires special knowledge and this the musician acquires from his master at the same time as he learns to play. He later augments this know-how by asking others, copying, experimenting and improvising. He must first know what type of wood (skin, gut or reed, as the case may be) is the most suitable for each part of the instrument, what season of the year it should be cut, how it should be dried and worked in order to obtain the appropriate shape and how it should fit in with the other parts. Only a few of these details will be given below.
Musicians exchange or "steal" information from one another when they meet at panigyria or chat in the coffee shops. So in each region a "school" of instrument-making comes into being and this is carried on and enriched through the experimentation of the musicians themselves. However, it is always the villagers who have the last word, their taste is conservative and they are reluctant to accept innovations in the sound or way of playing an instrument.
When a musician has saved enough money he may buy a ready-made instrument from a specialist craftsman. Until quite recently, due to the prevailing poverty in most villages, this was a major undertaking, only embarked on by musicians already acknowledged as successful. Instruments are expensive and only a musician in great demand could hope to offset this outlay. Even then he often had to overcome the objections of his immediate family for a musician's life style was generally considered unstable and his social standing inferior, since gypsies were also musicians. To be a musician was never a full-time occupation but a secondary one since a regular income could not be guaranteed; weddings are not held everyday and there are long periods of idleness between feasts.
The names of the instruments described below are the most widespread, but this does not imply that they are the most generalised, for names vary up and down the country as they do in all aspects of traditional life. To avoid confusion, it is best whenever referring to an instrument or its parts to use the nomenclature of the region, that used by the old musicians themselves.
Many of the traditional instruments have Turkish, Arab or Persian names. In their ignorance of ethnological method, many folklorists have questioned their authenticity as Greek instruments and cast doubts on the validity of Greek traditional music in general. Others have tried to give them hellenised or even Europeanised names. It is, however, a sign of unsound scholarship to confuse the provenance of an object with the provenance of its name.
Actually, most of the instruments were evidently known to the Byzantines and even the ancient Greeks, who probably learnt of them from other peoples. But this is not so important as the fact that these instruments were adopted by the Greek people, not imposed on them, and assimilated to such an extent that they have passed from one generation to the next, down the centuries. Thus their names are as much a part of tradition as are the instruments themselves, and should be kept, regardless of their original provenance.
In the following paragraphs the musical instruments most prominent in Greek traditional music are dealt with very briefly. Further details on their morphology and manufacture can be found in the few books listed in the bibliography, though Foivos Anoyannakis' excellent book on this subject deserves a special mention. Those instruments which are simplest to make will be described first, progressing to the more complex, which are usually purchased. Some of these instruments (such as the klaríno) are designed in such a way that it is not possible to play the notes of Greek music on them, but they are so widely promulgated they have been incorporated along with the others. Those instruments played only in a very limited local circle (such as the accordion, played by the Greeks of North Thrace, or the cornet, played in West Macedonia), or those not associated with dance, except at Carnival time (bells, whistles and toy-instruments) are not mentioned.
The défi or tambourine is the simplest instrument to make and the easiest to play. It consists of a shallow cylinder or hoop, one face of which is covered with a tightly-stretched skin it varies in diameter from 20 to 60 cm., on which the sound depends. Small pairs of brass discs (zília) around the circumference ring as it is struck. Any kind of skin is suitable: sheep, goat or dog, though for large défia that of a goat is preferred, and wolf or donkey is even better. The player holds the défi in his left hand and strikes it with his right palm, fingers, or beats it against a part of his body.
The défi is played all over Greece, accompanying other instruments or by itself, beating out the rhythm of a song or dance. It was especially popular among the women of the Asia Minor littoral when they gathered together to enjoy themselves. The Epirote défia are large and produce a deep sound, while those of Macedonia are even bigger and known as dacharédes or dairédes. In Cyprus the défi is made from the rim of a flour seive and is called tsamboutsá.
The toumbeléki, also known as taraboùka or stámna, is a waisted vessel of pottery or metal, rather like a pitcher. A taught skin held in place by string covers the top opening, the largest, while the bottom end remains open. The toumbeléki is played with both hands and is either held between the thighs, under the armpit, or hung around the neck. It is common in Thrace, Macedonia and the isles of the East Aegean and always accompanies another instrument, in a duo (zygiá), or group of players (kompanía). It is especially effective for rapid rhythms.
As with all percussion instruments of this type, the strong, deep sounds are produced by beating the centre of the membrane, while the weaker, drier sounds are made by striking near the periphery. The toumbeléki-player beats out the main rhythm with his right hand and the secondary, enriching rhythms with his left. This is of special significance for the dancer: the strong beat, with the right hand, indicates the step, while the secondary beats register the intervening footwork and other minor movements.
Cylindrical in shape, with skin stretched over both faces, the toùmbano is played with two drum sticks and not just the hand. It is the most widely distributed percussion instrument in Greece and displays a diversity of size and form, depending on the region and the player (toumbaniáris). The larger version, the daoùli, prevails in most parts of continental Greece.
The toùmbano may be as much as 60 cm. high and 1 metre in diameter. The cylindrical frame is of wood perforated with small holes through which the air trapped inside can escape. Each skin is stretched over a hoop, designed to fit on each end of the cylinder, and these hoops are attached to one another by string, which can be loosened or tightened accordingly to adjust the pitch of the instrument. The upper membrane is always taughter than the lower and one of the drumsticks (daoulóxyla or toumbanóxyla) is thicker than the other (kópanos and vérga respectively).
The drummer (daouliéris) stands, the daoùli hanging in front of him from a strap over his left shoulder, the upper surface on his right. In his free right hand he holds the kópanos and in his left, which rests on the hoop, he holds the vérga. He beats the centre of the right side with the kópanos, producing a deep, strong sound, the main rhythm. At the same time he beats the vérga lengthwise against the left face of the drum, producing a repetitive, much faster, dry sound.
The beat of the daoùli is of paramount importance to the dancer since it determines the pace of his steps. It should be large and resonant for outdoor festivities and must never allow the euphoria of the crowd to wane. The daoùli should be well-made and sturdy, so as to take the tension of the taught skins. A good daoùli produces a sound in perfect harmony with the accompanying instruments and each face should be played in a different manner, as if they were two separate instruments. The right gives the main rhythm which leads the way, yet is not monotonous, while the left continually enriches it, analysing the basic rhythm in diverse ways. An inexperienced dancer listens to the kópanos, an accomplished one converses with the vérga.
Due to the disappearance of duos or pairs of musicians (zygiés) (zournás-daoùli, gáida-daoùli) good daouliérides are nowadays few and far between. In many regions smaller toùmbana, easier to manage and to play, such as the tamboùrlo on the Mainland and toumbí in the islands, are preferred. These are played with the hand or with drumsticks, but only on one side, and accompany the local instruments or singer.
Of the "reeds" or wind instruments the floyéra or pipe is relatively easy to make but quite difficult to play. In its simplest form it consists of a piece of reed, about a palm-span in length, usually with 6 holes on the front and one behind. Floyéres made of carved wood are more difficult to make since the pith must first be patiently removed from the inside of a twig and then holes pierced at appropriate points. Those floyéres fashioned from the wing bones of birds of prey are particularly prized, since they produce a delightful warbling sound. Large floyéres (called tzamáres in Epirus, kavália in Thrace, skipitáres in Evvia) may be 1 metre long and are made of wood, copper piping or even an old rifle barrel.
The floyéra is a narrow, open-ended cylinder played to the side by resting one end obliquely against the lips and blowing into it in such a way that the air "hits" the wall and produces a sound. The three uppermost holes are closed by the fingers of the left hand and the three lower ones with those of the right. Notes in the lower register are produced by blowing moderately, whereas by blowing harder these same notes may be produced an octave higher. Since ancient times the floyéra has been the quintessential bucolic instrument, best heard when silence and solitude reign and never played together with another instrument, which is why it is rarely heard at festivals and celebrations.
The sourávli differs from the floyéra in that there is a small plug at the upper end, bearing a tiny slit, through which the player blows. Just below this there is a rectangular hole, the stóma, just like that on a whistle. On the pipe itself there are 5, 6 or 7 holes, as in the floyéra, over which the fingers are placed, and a hole behind which is closed by the thumb. It is much easier to play than the floyéra, being rather like a recorder placed vertical to the lips.
It is quite popular on the islands (where it is shorter) and more widely played in northern Greece. In the Cycládes a composite instrument consisting of two different sourávlia joined together (disávli) was played, while in Cyprus two identical sourávlia (pithkiávlia) are played at once, with an angle between them.
A third type of wind instrument, mainly found in Crete, the mandoùra also consists of a tube closed at one end, though in this case there is an oblique incision in the reed of the mouthpiece to form a vibratory "tongue", the glossídi. It is this which the player (mandouráris) places inside his mouth and blows. The mandoùrais made of thin cane, about a palm-span in length, has 4 or 5 holes and produces a shrill, continuous sound. Sometimes it is made of two pieces, one fitting inside the other: a small mouthpiece and a longer part with holes, so that when the vibratory reed (glossídi) is done the whole instrument need not be discarded.
The mandoùra is even easier to play than the sourávli, not to mention the floyéra, since air is blown in through the glossídi and not through the player's pursed lips. The mandouráris has simply to concentrate on producing a steady stream of air by puffing out his cheeks. The next step is, therefore, quite obvious: a bag is attached to the upper end of the mandoùra, to store the air and ensure a continuous supply. So the askomandoùra or tsamboùna was born.
The tsamboùna (bagpipe without drone) is widely distributed throughout the isles of the Aegean but is rarely found nowadays in the rest of Greece. The Cretans call it askomandoùra, the Pontics touloùm zourná. It consists of a sheep or goat skin which has been carefully flayed to avoid any cuts or holes. In order to soften the skin it is rubbed with salt, left to dry for several days and then rubbed with alum (stípsis), vinegar or ash. The fleece is then sheared, the openings closed, the skin turned inside out and inflated.
The mouthpiece (made of cane, wood or bone), through which the tsambouniéris blows, is affixed to one leg. To avoid losing air when he stops blowing, the player closes the hole with his lips or folds the leg of the skin. Sometimes a sliver of membrane or an onion skin is attached to the bottom of the mouthpiece for precisely this reason, closing it off as the air returns. The main tsamboùna, comprising two pipes with reed (glossídi) placed side by side in a wooden trough flaring out at the end, is attached to another leg. Both pipes are of equal length (approx. 20 cm.) and have 5 finger-holes: the right pipe may have less than 5 holes or none at all, but there are always 5 on the left one. The end pieces (bibíkia) with the reed are detachable and can be changed when worn out. They are accommodated in that part of the trough which is actually inside the bag.
The tsambouniéris maintains constant air pressure by blowing from his mouth or pressing the bag under his armpit. He plays both pipes as if they were one, with both hands; that is he closes the two corresponding holes with the same finger. The sound produced by the tsamboùna very much depends on how well-made the instrument is, how well cared for and the weather, since it is affected by a damp atmosphere. The bibíkia are prepared most carefully in order to ensure the same tone, although a slight dissonance between them gives the instrument an attractive individuality.
Like the gáida, the tsamboùna is, first and foremost, an instrument for dance music since it is played both loud and long, that is incessantly. The sound is sharp and shrill, exciting the senses, almost intoxicating. It is an excellent instrument for noisy merry-making out of doors, but not so suitable for family entertainments at home. Though sometimes played with the toumbí or lyra, the tsamboùna is a difficult instrument to accompany or sing to. However, of all instruments, the tsamboùna alone is capable of sustaining the mirth and high spirits of the crowd and the liveliness of the feast at its peak for hours on end.
The gáida is another type of bagpipe (áskavlos), somewhat larger than the tsamboùna, from which it differs in that the melody is played on a single pipe, not a double one. There is a second, separate pipe, the bourí or drone, made of wood, about half a metre or so in length and divided into three sections. The first section is attached to the bag and inserted inside; this is the bibíki, made of fine reed cut obliquely to form the glossídi and then heated over the fire to make it impervious to damp. The bourí plays a continuous drone on the same note, pitched an octave below the tonic of the gaidanítsa.
The gaidanítsa (main pipe or chanter) has 6 or 7 holes of, differing sizes, a funnel-shaped end and a bibíki inserted in the top. In addition to these finger-holes the gáida-player may open others elsewhere along the chanter, to improve its sound. These are left open or plugged with wax as he wishes. In the past the gáida was played throughout continental Greece but today is mainly found in Macedonia and Thrace. Bagpipes with more than one drone exist in Southern Europe and Scotland but not in Greece. Like the tsamboùna the gáida is an instrument especially suited to dancing, either played solo or accompanied by the dacharé (Macedonia), daoùli or toumbeléki (Thrace).
In days gone by the zournás, a kind of shawm, was the most widely distributed instrument on the Greek mainland and many of the islands. It is usually played by gypsies and is still the basic instrument at many feasts - in those areas where it has not been displaced by the klaríno - from the Peloponnese to Macedonia. The zournás is a funnel- or bell-shaped pipe made either of carved hard wood (walnut, beech, olive, cherry etc.), or beaten brass sheet, the latter being less tuneful. The Roumeliote zournás is rather small, 20-30 cm long, whereas that popular in Macedonia and known as the karamoùza may be as long as 60 cm. Elsewhere the instrument is medium-sized and called a pípiza. It has 7 holes for the fingers, 1 for the thumb, plus several ancillary vent-holes.
The characteristic feature of the zournás is the tsamboùni or pipíni, a sliver of reed one end of which is bound to the top of the instrument. The other end of the pipíni is pressed flat so as to form two tangental glossídia, rather as on an oboe, between which the air vibrates, producing the sound which passes through the pipe. The tsamboùni is very sensitive and great care is required to make one: not only must the type of reed selected be suitable, it should be cut at a particular season, left to dry and acquire the desired shape and kept thus until it is needed. The zournatzís always has a good supply of pipínia in reserve since these wear out after several hours of playing and must be replaced.
Playing the zournás is very tiring since it must be blown continuously. The cheeks of the zournatzís are permanently puffed and he inhales nasally, blowing air through the instrument in a steady stream, his lips pressed against the metal disc affixed to the mouthpiece, called the foùrla. The sound of the zournas is sharp and piercing, just right for outdoor merry-making and entertainment. It is always accompanied by a daoùli and quite often by a second zournas, called the bassadóros, which plays the ison. The first zournas plays the melody, and is known as the mástoras or primadóros, the bassadóros plays the tonic, complementing the melody when the mástoras takes a brief respite. So a duo (zygiá) actually consists of three instruments, two zournádes and one daoùli.
The klaríno or clarinet is a much more recent addition to the repertoire of Greek musical instruments than those mentioned above, being introduced in the early years of the last century. It may be described as a larger version of the tsamboùna, since the sound is initially produced by a single glossídi (tongue), but the holes in the pipe are covered by keys and not directly by placing the fingers over them. Imported clarinets were expensive but even though Greeks have tried to copy them, those from abroad have prevailed.
The klaríno has distinct advantages over earlier traditional wind instruments. It is less tiring to blow, has a stronger sound, is more robust and, above all, offers a wider range of melodic possibilities. The klarintzís may braider the melody by inserting additional notes and employing various techniques, to such an extent that it becomes barely recognizable. For this reason the klaríno has been adopted by professional musicians and is now the established lead instrument in many small bands (kompaníes), along with the violin, santoùri and laoùto.
Many klarintzídes start off as shepherds, playing the floyéra and buying their first klaríno when they have saved enough money. Others are gypsies who have abandoned the zournas in its favour. In a short time the klaríno became synonymous with the demotic (folk) music of mainland Greece, ousting the other wind instruments.
The klaríno differs from the instruments described above in that it is not made by the player himself but is standardised, bought by the musician and cannot be modified in any way. Unlike the tsambouniéris or zournatzís, the klarintzís cannot open holes in the pipe wherever he wishes, in order to achieve a sound to his liking. Even though the klaríno is designed to play Western music, the player reared and steeped in the Greek musical tradition strives in various ways to play just this, rendering the notes of the natural scale.
The lyra is the main musical instrument of Crete, though it was formerly widespread throughout Greece, until the advent of the violin. Today it is still played in the Dodecanese, Thrace and Macedonia, as well as Crete. In contrast to the wind instruments, string instruments leave the player free to sing as well, and in fact most lyrárides are also singers. The lyra is smalt and can be played extremely fast, which is why it is eminently suited to the vigorous, springy dances of the islands and Thrace.
The body of the lyra is 40-60 cm. long and the sound-box, neck and head are all carved from a single piece of wood. Although each player has his own preferred wood, mulberry, pear and Jerusalem sage are considered the best. The lid of the sound-box is cut from a thin sheet of pine or cypress wood and is perforated with the two characteristic semicircular soundholes, the "eyes". The curvature of the carapace-like sound-box extends to the short neck which terminates in three pegs on the reverse of the head.
The strings, formerly of sheep gut, are tuned D A D or D E D. The first string is called kantíni, is tuned higher and usually plays the melody, the second is called mesakí and the third, the lowest, vourgána. The space between the strings is wider on the lyra than on other string instruments because these are not pressed with the finger-tips but stopped from the side by the finger-nails.
As the lyráris plays the melody on the first or second string he simultaneously draws his bow across the next string, producing a kind of drone (ison). In olden days the bow was curved, strung with horse hair and adorned with tiny bells - the gerakokoùdouna - which emphasised the rhythm of the bow movements. Nowadays a violin bow is used in Crete.
In shape the kementsés resembles an oblong box of overall length 50-60 cm, narrowing towards the top and terminating in a head with pegs known as otía (ears). The lid of the sound-box is of a thin sheet of coniferous wood, free of knots, since these affect the tone of the instrument, bearing two soundholes (rothónia). The kementsés has three strings, the zíll, mesaía and habá, which were made of silk in days gone by, then of gut and are nowadays of wire (téli). The olive wood bow is usually strung with horse hair, from the tail (tsária). The miniature version of the kementsés, used by children, is called the kementsópon.
The player (kementsetzís) usually stands and holds the instrument upright in front of him with his left hand. As he sings he keeps close to the line of the dancers, encouraging them with exhortations and exclamations. The melody is either played on two strings simultaneously or just on one and the ison is played on the string adjacent. The kementsés is exclusive to Pontic music and is usually played solo. However, when the company is large and the dance circle wide, it is difficult to hear and is then accompanied by a second kementsés, an angeíon (Pontic for tsamboùna, bagpipe), or a daoùli (big drum).
The Greeks of Cappodocia played a similar instrument, the kemanés, which differed in that it had six strings, played with a bow, and six complementary strings (sympathitikés), that is a second series of strings underneath the first which vibrated of their own accord, in conjunction with the overlying ones. Violin
The violin (violí), which evolved from a string instrument not unlike the lyra, is a most sophisticated string instrument. There are references to Greek musicians playing the violin from as far back as the 17th century. Having long since conquered both traditional and classical music in Europe, the violin has more or less ousted the lyra in Greece, on account of its greater technical versatility. Its four strings are tuned G D A E and it is played with a long, straight bow. Traditional musicians who were originally lyrárides tune the violin "alla turca", that is G D A D, and play it just like a lyra, holding it upright in front of them.
So widespread is its distribution that in many parts of Greece ta violiá or ta dioliá, i.e. the violins, is used as a generic term for a group of musicians or their instruments. On the Greek mainland it is second in importance to the clarinet and in the Aegean islands, the Ionian islands and Cyprus it is the principal instrument. Nowadays only Crete clings loyally to the lyra, and to a lesser degree the Dodecanese. In the same way as the clarinet has replaced the floyéra and zournas, the adoption of the violin in preference to the lyra has brought about considerable distortion of the severe character of authentic traditional music. The making of a violin requires special tools, templates and other equipment and the craftsmen, of necessity, tend to be town dwellers.
The laoùto, or lagoùto (a kind of lute) is the main accompanying instrument of mainland, as well as island Greece and without its backing the clarinet, violin or lyra sound somewhat "thin" and weak. The present trend of replacing the laoùto with the guitar in small bands has met with little success, since nothing can emulate the uniquely rich bass tone produced by its large, carapace-like sound box. Some Cretan singers accompany their mantinádes (rhyming couplets) on the laoùto and others, called primadóroi laoutárides, are such virtuosi they can even play the melody on the instrument. When a lyráris is accompanied by two laoutárides, the primadóros is on his left and the bassadóros on his right.
The laoùto has an overall length of up to 1 metre: half is taken up by the sound box (skáfi or káfka) and half by the neck (maníki) and head (karávolas). The sound box is made of doùyies, narrow strips of hard wood, specially moulded to give them the desired curvature. The more doùyies are used for the sound box (up to 33) the smoother its curvature and the mellower its tone. There are movable frets (tásta, berdédes) on the arm and these the player adjusts according to the condition of the instrument and the scale he wishes to play.
There are eight strings arranged in four pairs. Both strings of the first pair are tuned to the same A, while the strings of each of the other three pairs - D, G and C -have an interval of one octave between. The instrument is played with a quill plectrum, preferably from a bird of prey, though nowadays this is inevitably made of plastic.
In the islands the lyra and laoùto, or violin and laoùto, are popular duos (zygiés), and even the santoùri, laoùto. On the Mainland the laoùto usually accompanies the clarinet, while typical companies of musicians include: violin, clarinet, laoùto and santoùri. Sometimes, when there is no laoùto available, eight strings are affixed to a guitar and tuned like those on the laoùto: this hybrid instrument is known as a laoutokithára.
The oùti is the basic instrument of oriental music and perhaps the oldest one retaining its original form. It is constructed in much the same manner as the laoùto, with a similar large, curved sound-box and circular rosette on its lid, but the neck is somewhat shorter and there are no frets (berdédes). The five pairs of strings are tuned to A G D A F or G D A E D, and there is sometimes also an eleventh string. The oùti is played with a plectrum of wood or horn and is better suited to the melody than accompanying another instrument. It was introduced to Greece mainly by the refugees from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace, after the exchange of populations in 1922, who played their taxímia (free-rhythm improvisations) on them and sang their songs. Nowadays only a handful of oùti-players are left in Greece.
Bouzoùki and baglamás
Today the bouzoùki is the most widely disseminated descendant of a large family of instruments whose ancestry can be traced back to antiquity. It was initially known as the pandoùra (well-known in Byzantium), the corruption of which name is tamboùra, tambourás. The common features of this family, of which the laoùto is also a member, are: the hemispherical or apiform sound box (skáfi), long neck with adjustable frets (tásta) and three or four strings - usually double - played with a wooden plectrum.
The sázi and tambourás, which have a small sound-box in relation to the long neck, are excellent for playing taxímia and accompanying songs in an intimate environment. They have not been played in Greece since the beginning of the century. The mandolin is still played in the Ionian islands and Patras and was formerly popular in Greek towns throughout the Aegean. It used to be the only instrument girls were taught to play. The guitar did not enjoy such a wide distribution since it was associated mainly with European music.
Only in the last couple of decades has the bouzoùki become really well-known, in Greece and abroad, as an instrument accompanying the urban folk songs known as rebétika. Nowadays it is much in demand and is the only one of the traditional instruments which young people are eager to learn. The bouzoùki has eight metal strings (télia), either in pairs or two single and two double, fixed frets (tásta) and is about 1 metre in length. The melody (havás) is usually played on the finest string, the kantíni, with a double plectrum-strum (çifte teli in Turkish). When a dancer orders the musician to "play on the boulgára" this means he wants the heavy, bass sound, produced by playing the thickest string.
The baglamás is a miniature bouzoùki with three strings, single or double. The medium-size version is called a karadouzéni. It is tuned an octave higher than the bouzoùki and was often an improvised instrument made of materials ready to hand, in jail, aboard ship, in the army, for because it is so small it is easily portable. Unlike the sázi and tambourás, which play oriental musical notes, the bouzoùki and baglamás have fixed frets and the notes are ordered on the tempered scale (European tones and semitones).
Santoùri and kanonáki
Both these instruments are affined in that they have a shallow, trapezoidal sound-box, just a few centimeters deep. The musician does not hold the instrument in his hands; it rests horizontally on his knees, on a folding table, or hangs from a strap around his neck when he walks about in a street song (patináda). The sound box is quite wide (about 50 cm) and can thus accommodate a large number of strings, spanning three octaves or more, with triple or even quintuple strings tuned in unison. It is tuned with a T-shaped key.
The santoùri was a familiar instrument throughout Greece, especially in coastal areas, where it is still played today. An isosceles trapezium up to 1 metre long, it has up to 140 strings and is played with two small wooden hammers (baghétes), the heads of which are covered with a piece of leather, felt (ketsé) or cotton. It is equally successful as a lead instrument (prímo) or for accompaniment, which is why it is found in mainland, island and urban (rebétiko) bands of musicians (kompaníes).
The right hand side of the kanonáki is perpendicular to the base of the trapezium and it is strummed with plectra fitted on the index finger of each hand, rather like thimbles. In other words, it is a kind of horizontal harp, reminiscent of the psaltéria, different versions of which have been known since ancient times.
A unique feature of the kanonáki, which distinguishes it as the most sophisticated and perfected of the Greek instruments, and indeed in music world wide, is the row of reclining metal strips, the mandalákia. When raised they function as movable frets (tásta), shortening the strings by a few millimeters and consequently altering the pitch a fraction of a note, depending on whether the musician raises or depresses them as he plays. It is thus possible to play all the notes of oriental music with absolute accuracy and, of course, all its diverse scales. On other instruments (which have fixed frets) this is virtually impossible, except for the most skilled virtuoso.