Cretan lyra

The main instrument of Cretan Music is the Cretan lyra, a small three stringed fiddle held upright on the knee, bowed horizontally with a lyra bow. The Cretan lyra is distinctive and inspiring; its origins are also a big mystery, although it seems that it comes from the Persian instrument called rebab. This type of bowed instruments were very common during the Byzantine Empire, but later on, when the Crusaders invaded the Greek islands and the Venetians built their empire in Crete and other parts of Greece, a new type of lyra was introduced, called lyra da braccio, which sounds and looks like the Cretan lyra.

The Cretans, like the Venetians, use the lyra to accompany their melodious citations, and they improvise a lot, both verbally and musically, creating mind blowing songs and verses, mostly known as mantinades. The lyra is not played like the violin, despite the use of bow; the player doesn’t press the strings but touches them with the tip of the nail, a technique used only in the Cretan lyra and the Turkish kemence, used in many countries of the eastern Mediterranean. In the old days, the performers would hang small bells on the bow, called gerakokoudouna.

Except for the Cretan lyra though, more instruments are used extensively in the Cretan music. Laouto is a large lute that looks like the oud and has four courses of double strings made of steel. It also has movable frets made of nylon. Violin is also used, as well as some other unique instruments, such as the infamous askomandoura – a type of bagpipe. In the eastern areas of Crete, such as Ierapetra and Sitia you can find an array of additional instruments, such as the boulgari, the mandolin, the daoulaki.

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