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Sandouri: A Greek Folk instrument

Updated on January 30, 2013

Sandouri: The musical instruments that represents Greece

One of the highlights of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games of 2004 in Athens was the song "Mes stou Egeou ta nera" - in the waters of Aegean sea. One of the best songs ever written about the Aegean sea is accompanied by the folk instrument that represents the Greek islands most: the sandouri."Angels fly among the waves of the Aegean sea and roses blossom in their flight" . Listening to the sound of sandouri the blue and white of the sparkling sea become almost tangible. They mix with the transparent light of the Greek sun, with the song of nostalgy of the expatriates.

The name, origins

There are two versions for the origins of the name sandour or sandouri. It either comes from the word "psaltery", that reminds the byzantine instrument similar to kanonaki. Psaltery became sandir and then sandouri. A different version is that the name comes from the persian words "san tar" which mean a hundred strings.

The sandouri which first appeared in the Aegean islands during the Turkish occupation, was of two kinds: the one described above, and the Persian-Turkish type which has disappeared altogether, at least in the Greek domain.

It was introduced by Greeks from Asia Minor, where the best players and craftsmen originated.

Nevertheless the sandouri was played before 1922 in mainland Greece and the islands on a limited scale.

Musician playing the sandouri

Construction, playing technique

The sandouri has a trapezoid shape and it is constructed from various kinds of wood. The lid is usually made of fir or pine and the rest of its body can be made of different types of hard wood. Two round holes on the surface of the lid increase the volume of the instrument's sound whose metallic timber is due to the hundred metallic strings attached along its parallel sides. (For each note there are 3-5 identically tuned strings).

The sandouri is played with two sticks whose ends are bound with cotton, leather or thread. The movement is made chiefly with the wrist, rather than with the fingers themselves. It is played either resting on the musician's lap, or on a table, or hanging from a strap around the player's neck.

It's melodic range is of 3 to 3,5 octaves. It is an instrument that gives a wide range of music interpretation as it covers a large scale of notes, melodic variations and rhythmes. It can be used either as monophonic or polyphonic instrument and its particularity, is a form of tremolo, which is caused by the rapid repetition of a note.

The sandouri can stand on its own, as a solo instrument, but it also forms part of a small orchestra with clarinet, violin and lute in the continental Greece, or with violin and lute in the Aegean islands, with guitar, outi and violin in the Smyrna-style orchestra etc.

Areti Ketime playing the sandouri


The background of most of them were poor families, with strong bonds among its members whose majority were musicians. Some of them became professional musicians in order to ensure their living.

The father and grandparents of Aristidis Moschos' - a famous contemporary musician who made the sandouri famous during the recent years -for example, played the sandouri in feasts, weddings and other social occasions since they could not do any other job. They had fought on the mountains for the liberation of Greece for many long years

Traditional musicians usually learnt their art from father to son. They were not taught in music schools, which perhaps saved traditional music from being altered. They have managed to keep this tradition unbroken until today, and in my mind they have managed to transform it into a sacred art.


My source of information has been:

- The CDs "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" of Petros Tabouris

- The book "GREEK FOLK INSTRUMENTS" by Fivos Anogianakis, publisher "MELISSA"

Is there a future for the traditional music, can it influence contemporary artists, or is only a museum exhibit?

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    • Krafick profile image

      Krafick 6 years ago

      I love the santouri. It has many things in common with the Indian santoor (see the santoor in Music for World Peace, in "an eternal raga from India").

    • NoYouAreNot profile image

      NoYouAreNot 6 years ago

      "Gennithika se mia stigmi" by Nikos Xylouris: is one of the instruments Santouri or is it something similar? Well, wouldn't this be an instance of folk instruments being used in contemporary pieces of music and beautifully filling in and enriching the sound?

      Xairomai pou vrethikame edo. Tha diavaso oles tis selides sou, an mou doseis ligo xrono. :-)))) Kai eimai sigouri oti kapoies ap' aftes tha vroune ti thesi tous sta Favorites.

    • Pete D profile image

      Pete D 7 years ago

      well presented lens. I think it could influence contemrorary artists if it was more known. Every sound can trigger and influence people and especially artists