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Greek folk music (Greek: παραδοσιακή μουσική, "traditional music"; also δημοτικά τραγούδια, "folk songs") includes a variety of Greek styles played by ethnic Greeks in Greece, Cyprus, Australia, the United States and other parts of Europe. Apart from the common music found generally in Greece, each region of Greece contains a distinct type of folk music that originated from the region due to their history, traditions and cultural influences.


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A Greek of the 18th century playing tambouras.
A Greek of the 18th century playing tambouras.

Greek folk music originally, predominantly contained one genre, known as Greek Demotiko (or Demotic/Paradosiako). This refers to the traditional Greek popular songs and music of mainland Greece and islands, which date back to the Byzantine times.[1] It was the sole popular musical genre of the Greek people until the spread of Rebetiko and Laiko (other genres of folk music) in the early 20th century, spread by the Greek refugees from Asia Minor.[2] This style of music evolved from the ancient and the medieval Greek era and is still played today.[3][4]

The lyrics of Greek folk music are largely based on Demotic (folk) poetry (usually by anonymous lyricists) and consist of popular themes are love, marriage, humor, death, nature, water, sea, religion.[5] The lyrics were also written about the Ottoman empire, especially making reference to bandit insurgents (known as klephts), Ottoman soldiers (known as armatoloi), various war fighters and notable battles.[5]

The songs are played mainly in the following two categories of tempos: 'Syrtos' (various versions) and 'Pidiktos'.[6] Pidikto songs are more energetic and involve leaping, whilst the Syrto songs and accompanying dances are slower and more free-flowing.[1] Some songs also are a combination of Pidikto and Syrto tempos.

Universal dances that accompany Greek folk music include Kalamatianos (a universal Greek dance from Kalamata), Tsamiko, Ballos and Sousta.[2]

Notable folk songs

Some notable folk songs include:

and from Nisiotika (the songs from the islands)


Main article: Music of Crete

Cretan dancers.
Cretan dancers.
Different types of laouto.
Different types of laouto.

The Greek islands of Kárpathos, Khálki, Kássos and Crete form an arc where the Cretan Lyra is the dominant instrument.[1] Kostas Mountakis, is an example of a person of Greek origin who played the Lyra and helped popularise it in Greece.[7] The Lyra is often accompanied by the Lute (laouto) which resembles a mandolin.[1] Askomandoura (a type of bagpipe) is also used in Cretan folk music.[8] Crete has a unique history of folk dance tradition, which includes swift dances like Pentozalis, Sousta, Syrtos, Trizali, Katsabadianos, Chaniotikos, Siganos, Pidichtos Lasithou, Maleviziotikos, Tsiniaris, Ierapetrikos and Laziotikos.[9]

Aegean islands

Main article: Nisiotika

Various tsampounas from the Cyclades and Dodecanese islands
Various tsampounas from the Cyclades and Dodecanese islands
Mariza Koch

The Aegean islands of Greece are known for their Nisiótika (meaning from the islands) songs. The characteristics of these Greek island folk songs vary widely.[10] Although the basis of the sound is characteristically secular-Byzantine. The relative isolation of the islands allowed the separate development of island-specific Greek music.[10] Nisiótika songs are often accompanied by the lyra, guitar, tsampouna, souravli and violin.[10]

Notable singers include Yiannis Parios, the Konitopoulos family and Mariza Koch who was an active Greek folk singer in the 1970s and performed the song 'Panayia Mou' in the Eurovision Song Contest 1976.[11] Folk dances include the Ballos, Syrtos, Sousta, Chiotikos, Kalymniotikos, Stavrotos, Lerikos, Kamara, Michanikos, Trata, Panagia and Ikariotikos.[12]

In the Aegean Cyclades, the violin is used more often than the Cretan lyra as well as the clarinet, mandolin, bagpipe, dulcimer and guitar.[12] Some Nisiotika musicians include Nikos Oikonomidis, Leonidas Klados and Stathis Koukoularis. Folk dances in the Cyclades include Lerikos, Syrtos (Serifou, Naxou and Kythnou), Amorgos dance and Ballos. A prominent singer of Cycladic music was Domna Samiou, who was trained by Greek musicologist, Simon Karas.[12]

The folk music of the Dodecanese (part of the Aegean Islands) , also contains prominent elements of Cretan music.[13] Dodecanese folk dances include the Trata, Ballos, Syrtos, Kremasti, Issos, Syrtos Rodou, Michanikos and Kalymnikos, which originates from the island of Kalymnos.[13]

Central Greece

In Central Greece many folk songs make references to the klephts and their role during the Greek war of independence.[13] Folk songs accompany dances in central Greece such as the Antikrystos, Hasapiko, Kalamatianos, Kamilierikos, Koulouriotikos, Syrtos, Tsamiko and Syrto-kalamatianos. The musical tradition of the region is also influenced by Albanian culture, through the Arvanites (Greek speaking Albanian individuals).[14]


Main article: Music of Epirus

In Epirus, folk songs are pentatonic and polyphonic, sung by both male and female singers.[15] These songs often fall into three main categories including firstly, Mirolóyia (the mournful, lamenting songs) that are accompanied by instrumentals, which form the second category and are named Skáros and the third category is named Tis Távlas (songs played when drinking).[16] Prominent instruments used in folk songs in Epirus, include the lute and the clarinet (largely replaced the Lute in the 19th century).[17] Ensembles may also use the violin and defi (a rimmed drum) to accompany dances,[18] mostly slow and heavy, like the Tsamikos, Koftos, Fisouni, Sta Dio (4/4 tempo), Sta Tria (3/4 tempo), Zagorisios, Metsovitikos and Beratis.[18]


Main article: Music of the Peloponnese

Folk dances that accompany Peloponnese folk music include the Kalamatianos (tempo is in 3/4 meter), Tsamikos, Monodiplos, Tsakonikos, Syrtos,[19] Ai Georgis and Maniatikos. In the songs there are also references to the klephts.[20] In Mani there also exists a traditional category of songs named the "μοιρολόγια" Mirolóyia (laments), typically sung by the old women of Mani.[21]

Ionian Islands

Main article: Music of the Heptanese

Mandolin, dominant instrument of the Heptanesian music.
Mandolin, dominant instrument of the Heptanesian music.

The Ionian Islands were never completely under Ottoman control (only Kefalonia was under Ottoman control during 1479-1481 and 1485-1500) and were largely occupied by the Venetians.[22] This is reflected in the folk music. For example Kantadhes (καντάδες), which are a form of romantic serenade, stylistically reflect the Venetian presence and Macedonian Romani (Gypsy) presence in the Ionian Islands.[23] Greek Kantadhes are typically performed by three male singers accompanied by the mandolin or guitar.[23] These romantic songs developed mainly in Kefalonia in the early 19th century but spread throughout Greece after its liberation in 1821.[23]

An Athenian form of Kantadhes arose later, accompanied by the violin, clarinet and laouto. However the style is accepted as uniquely Ionian or Heptanese.[22] The island of Zakynthos has a diverse musical history with influences also from Crete and many of these traditional, Heptanese songs would be played in theatre productions.[24] Folk dances include the Tsirigotikos (from Kythira), Levantinikos (from Zakynthos), Ballos, Syrtos, Ai Georgis, Kerkiraikos (from Corfu).[25]

Notable songs are "Kato Sto Yialo", "S'ena paporo mesa", "Apopse tin kithara mou".[25]

The Church music (Byzantine) of the islands is also different from the rest of Greece, containing many Western European and Catholic influences, which played a large role on the Orthodox rite.[26] In this region the first School of modern Greek classical music (Heptanesean or Ionian School, Επτανησιακή Σχολή) was also founded and established in 1815.[26]


Main article: Music of Macedonia (Greece)

Folk dances in Macedonia include the Hasapiko, Leventikos, Zonaradiko, Endeka Kozanis, Stankena, Baidouska, Makedonikos Antikristos, and Kapitan Louka.[27] There are also folk songs which make references to the Macedonian Struggle, describing the difficulties faced by Macedonian people during the Balkan wars and allude to those who became refugees and sought asylum in Greece.[27] Often, Macedonian folk music uses the dauli (a medium sized bass drum) and a zurna (a wider oboe) as well as hand drums (tympana), trumpets and bells (koudounia or "chálkina" in the local vernacular).[27] Other instruments used include violin, clarinet and Macedonian lyra.


Main article: Music of Thessaly

Folk songs from Thessaly are mostly slow and stately, however the music accompanying the Syrtos dance, is typically livelier and more energetic than it is in other parts of Greece.[28] Songs accompany dances such as the Kalamatianos (popular universally in Greece), Thessalikos, Tsamikos, Sta Tria, Karagouna and Beratis.[28]


Main article: Music of Thrace

Instruments used in Ancient Thracian music include goatskin bagpipes (Gaida) and the Byzantine lyra. Folk dances include the Tapeinos Horos, Baidouska, Tromakton, Souflioutouda, Zonaradiko, Sousta, Tsestos, and Apadiasteite Sto Choro.[29] Traditional Thracian dances are usually swift in tempo and are mostly circle dances in which the men dance at the front of the line. The Gaida, a goatskin bagpipe, is commonly used in Thracian music and clarinets are also used.[30] The Thracian Gaida, also called Avlos, is different from the Macedonian or other Bulgarian bagpipes. It is more high in pitch than the Macedonian Gaida but less so than the Bulgarian gaida (or Dura).[30] The Thracian Gaida is also still widely used throughout Thrace in northeastern Greece. Notable singers of Thracian music include Chronis Aidonidis and Kyriakos Sfetsas.[31]


Main article: Pontic_Greeks § Music

A Pontic lyra

Pontic music retains elements of the musical traditions of Byzantine music and the music from the region known as Caucasus.[32]

The primary instruments in Pontic music are a bowed instrument known as Kemençe of Laz or the Pontic Lyra, which originated in the Byzantine period and is similar to the Byzantine lyra and Cretan lyra.[33] Other bowed musical instrument are also used, such as the Kit violin and Rebec, these are more popular in the Western region of Pontus.[33] Other instruments include the drums, lute, Askomandoura (a type of bagpipe), Daouli (a type of drum) and Aulos (a wind instrument). Folk dances from Pontus include slower dances including the Omál, Tik and Dipát. Faster dances include the Tik Tónyia and Kotsari and other dances include Giouvarlantoum, Serra and Tas.[34]


Main article: Hasapiko

The main Greek dance, for which folk songs are used as an accompaniment in Constantinople is the Hasapikos. [35]It originated in the Middle Ages as a military exercise with swords, adopted by the Byzantine military. [35]During Byzantine times, the Hasapiko was called μακελλάρικος χορός (makellarikos horos). The songs were later danced by butchers in a social setting, and it was danced in both Turkey and Greece.[36]

The use of Politiki Lyra and Politiko Laouto is common to the folk songs from Constantinople. The Hasapiko also later served as one of the bases for the Sirtaki and it is danced in mostly all areas of Greece, with the use of Bouzouki.[37]


Main article: Music of Cyprus

Evagoras Karageorgis from Cyprus playing laouto.
Evagoras Karageorgis from Cyprus playing laouto.

Cyprus is an independent country, currently contested between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.[38] Cyprus includes a variety of classical, folk and popular genres. Cypriot folk music is similar to the folk music of Greece and includes dances such as the Sirtaki, Syrtos, the Cypriot Zeibekiko and Antikristos. [39]Cypriot folk music typically uses the Lute (Laouto) and since World War Two, the violin has been also used.[39]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Greek Folk Music and Dance". socalfolkdance.org. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  2. ^ a b Hoerburger, Felix (1967). "Oriental Elements in the Folk Dance and Folk Dance Music of Greek Macedonia". Journal of the International Folk Music Council. 19: 71–75. doi:10.2307/942190. ISSN 0950-7922. JSTOR 942190.
  3. ^ "Greek Traditional Music": Ινστιτούτο έρευνας μουσικής και ακουστικής - Institute for research on music and acoustics.
  4. ^ Samuel Baud-Bovy, Δοκίμιο για το Ελληνικό Δημοτικό Τραγούδι, 3rd edition, Πελοποννησιακό Λαογραφικό Ίδρυμα, Ναύπλιο: 1966, pp. 1–13. (Υπάρχει μια συνεχής εξέλιξη από την αρχαία Ελληνική μουσική έως και το δημοτικό τραγούδι, η οποία μαρτυρείται, εκτός από τη γλώσσα, στο ρυθμό, τη δομή και τη μελωδία).
  5. ^ a b Beaton, Roderick (1986). "The Oral Traditions of Modern Greece: A Survey" (PDF). Oral Tradition. 1: 110–133 – via SpringerLink.
  6. ^ Dance, Athan. "Greek Folk Music and Dance". socalfolkdance.org. Retrieved 2021-12-06.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ "Melbourne's Cretan community pays tribute to the music of Kostas Mountakis". Greek Herald. 2021-02-23. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  8. ^ Sarris, H. (2007). The Influence of the “Tsaboúna” Bagpipe on the “Lira” and Violin. The Galpin Society Journal, 60, 167–117. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25163899
  9. ^ "Traditional folk dances of Crete". www.crete.org.uk. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  10. ^ a b c King, C. C. (2014). Greek Rhapsody--Instrumental Music From Greece, 1905-1956. ARSC Journal, 45(1), 105+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A370320586/AONE?u=usyd&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=acddc8f2
  11. ^ "Mariza Koch". IMDb. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  12. ^ a b c Andrew R. Martin, & Matthew Mihalka Ph.D. (2020). Music Around the World: A Global Encyclopedia [3 Volumes] : A Global Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.
  13. ^ a b c Stephen), Dubin, Marc S. (Marc (2005). The Dodecanese and the east Aegean islands. Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-472-X. OCLC 59355874.
  14. ^ Rechberger, Herman (2015). Balkania : rhythms in songs and dances from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, the republic of Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. Fennica Gehrman. ISBN 978-952-5489-10-1. OCLC 947016928.
  15. ^ editor., Bucuvalas, Tina (2019). Greek music in America. ISBN 978-1-4968-1973-4. OCLC 1057732835. ((cite book)): |last= has generic name (help)
  16. ^ Richard., Broughton, Simon. Ellingham, Mark. Trillo (1999–2000). World music : the rough guide. The Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-635-2. OCLC 733699433.
  17. ^ Romero, A (2019). "The Extraordinary Clarinet and Lauto Sound of Epirus | World Music Central.org". Retrieved 2021-12-07.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  18. ^ a b World Music Institute (2000). Festival of Greek Music and Dance. New York: World Music Institute.
  19. ^ R, Herman (2015). Balkania : rhythms in songs and dances from Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, the republic of Macedonia, Romania and Serbia. Fennica Gehrman. ISBN 978-952-5489-10-1. OCLC 947016928.
  20. ^ Messoloras, I. R. (2008). East meets west: Arranging traditional greek folk songs for modern chorus (Order No. 3343321). Available from ProQuest One Academic. (304652978). http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/east-meets-west-arranging-traditional-greek-folk/docview/304652978/se-2?accountid=14757
  21. ^ Giaxoglou, K (2019). Trajectories of treasured texts: laments as narratives. In: Falconi, Elizabeth and Graber, Kate eds. Storytelling as Narrative Practice: Ethnographic Approaches to the Tales We Tell. Studies in Pragmatics (19), pp. 136–162.
  22. ^ a b Stavrianos, L., & Stoianovich, T. (2008). The Balkans since 1453 (2nd ed.). Hurst& Company.
  23. ^ a b c Nettle, B., Rice, T., Porter, J. (1988). Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (2013). The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Volume 1. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-03637-2.
  24. ^ Kardhares, D, Demas, E.,Kyriakidhes, T. (2003). "Dance, Music, and Song in Heptanese Folk Theatre: The Zakynthian "Homilia"". Dance Chronicle. 26 (3): 311–331. ISSN 0147-2526.
  25. ^ a b "HDNJ - The Ionian Islands". www.hellenicdancersofnj.org. Retrieved 2021-12-08.
  26. ^ a b Romanou, K., Barbaki, M.(2011). "Music Education in Nineteenth-Century Greece: Its Institutions and their Contribution to Urban Musical Life". Nineteenth-Century Music Review. 8 (1): 57–84. doi:10.1017/s1479409811000061. ISSN 1479-4098.
  27. ^ a b c Keil, C., & Keil, A. V. (1997). The instruments. The Village Voice http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/instruments/docview/232195527/se-2?accountid=14757
  28. ^ a b Hunt, Y., & Dragoumēs, M. (1996). Traditional dance in Greek culture (1st ed.). Centre for Asia Minor Studies.
  29. ^ Evangelos, A. (2013) Memory and Identity on the Greek–Bulgarian Border, Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies, 15:4, 396-411, DOI: 10.1080/19448953.2013.844586
  30. ^ a b "Thracian Dance". www.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2021-12-09.
  31. ^ "Meet the Artists Ushering Traditional Greek Music Into the Present". Bandcamp Daily. 2020-08-03. Retrieved 2021-12-09.
  32. ^ Liddle, V. (2013). The Pontic Greeks, from Pontus to the Caucasus, Greece and the diaspora [Ebook]. University of Adelaide. Retrieved from https://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/88838/8/02whole.pdf.
  33. ^ a b Margaret J. (1990). On Concepts and Classifications of Musical Instruments. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology, University of Chicago Press.
  34. ^ "Pontian Dance". www.yorku.ca. Retrieved 2021-12-09.
  35. ^ a b   Alonso, Torre, F. de la, Anonymous, Encina, J. del, & Ballard, R. (2001). CONSTANTINOPLE: Music of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance. Naxos Digital Services US Inc.
  36. ^ Zelazko, Alicja. "Sword dance -Description, History, & Facts". www.britannica.com. Retrieved 2021-12-10.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  37. ^ FolkWay, P. (2021). Hasapiko: A Greek folk dance with roots from Constantinopole.. FolkWay - The Only Folk Culture. Retrieved from https://www.folk-way.com/en/hasapiko-folk-dance-from-constantinopole/.
  38. ^ BBC.(2020). Cyprus country profile. BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17217956.
  39. ^ a b Rousha, Y. (2014). The development of musical preferences in Greek Cypriot students [Ebook] (pp. 32-40). Roehampton University London. Retrieved from https://pure.roehampton.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/429421/Yianna_Rousha_THESIS.pdf.