Thursday, 12 December 2019

Dowland: Corranto (P 100)

The Coranto (or Courante, or in the original MS Corranto) was an Italian "running dance" first mentioned in print in the mid 1500's. According to Poulton and Lam, this is Dowland's only courante, and it appears in the Lute Book of Margaret Board, who "must have been a player of considerable ability". The date of the MS appears to be 1621 or later, so we are at the Renaissance / Baroque boundary.

The version as it appears in the Margaret Bord Lute Book, from a facsimile at The MS was written after JD received his doctorate in 1621.
It is barred in simple triple time, probably equivalent to 3/8. The single and double dots under the upper notes represent the first and second RH fingers. The occasional dot to the left of a note (e.g. the first b in bar 3) probably indicates an ornament.

In its homeland in the Renaissance the coranto was apparently a quick dance, but in France in the Baroque period it became very popular and far more stately. Nigel North plays this piece on his lute at a cracking 80 bpm – phew!

The piece is set mostly in 6/8 time, but with characteristic hemiola excursions, most noticeable in bars 10 and 16.

I have followed both Dowland's MS, and Poulton and Lam's interpretation, as closely as I can in this transcription, but there have been compromises, especially in bars 19 and 20 where the lack of lower strings makes voicing difficult.

It looks at first sight very easy, but in the second part the change in rhythm means I have to concentrate really hard. You can find versions set in 3/4 time on the wonderful PDF Minstrel website, which make an interesting comparison with the 6/8 version here.

FINGERED VERSION: the (partial) fingering for index (i) and middle (m) fingers is derived from that on the MS (see image above), which appears to have been used as a teaching aid. I imagine that the fingerings would apply to the uke as well as to the lute.

The interpretation is considered in detail in this blog post. One can regard the strength of the digits as being ranked thumb > middle > index, so “i” indicates the use of a lighter touch than “m”, to give the desired pronounced rhythmic pattern. It is worthwhile noting that the starred notes in the transcription, which Poulton & Lam allocated to a second voice, are shown in the MS as being plucked by "i".

I must admit that I find it non-intuitive to use the first finger on a higher string and the second finger on a lower string when adjacent notes are played.

I have not presumed to provide fingerings for the other notes.

The transcriptions for low-G ukulele are available to download free in the following versions:

Have fun!

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The new index page

Now there's an easy way to find your way around this blog, using the new index page.

Just click on the right-hand tab in the navigation bar above, and you will find alphabetical lists of links to general articles and to composers and their works.

(All I have to do now is to decide whether to index this post. I think that mathematicians would call this the Russell paradox.)

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Authentic (?) Renaissance right-hand fingerings

I have in the past taken a cavalier attitude to right-hand fingering when playing Renaissance music on the ukulele. Obviously, one tends to use the thumb on the lower strings and the fingers on the other strings, but apart from that I have followed no particular rule – but now I am thinking of plucking "properly" and "authentically", although exactly what this means is not always clear.

Renaissance lute and guitar music had a pronounced rhythmic patterns, with obvious strong and weak beats (articulation). The Renaissance guitar was regarded as a little lute (or vihuela) in polite society, just as we can regard the ukulele as a little guitar, so playing techniques will be similar across the board.

Composers writing in French tablature often indicated RH fingering in a very concise way:
Unaccented notes are shown by a dot under the letter or numeral indicating the fret.
So, how was this applied in practice? And, do the experts agree?

Fig. 1. The first lines of the first piece in Adrian Le Roy's first book of tablature for guitar (1551) – see my transcription posted here. The dots indicating unaccented notes are clearly visible, and especially important where the accents do not fall on the first and third beats. See Figs 3a, 3b below.

Christopher Page

Below is the RH procedure in a manual for 4-course guitar published in 1574, paraphrased by Christopher Page (for full references see Resources page):

1. "When a single letter appeared with a dot ... below it, the note was to be struck upwards with one of the fingers, not necessarily the index but rather with the finger 'as shall best fit it'."

2. "If there were [no dot] the player used the thumb."

3. "Where a single dot appeared beneath two or three letters, the strings were to be plucked with the fingers alone..."

4. "... absence of a dot [beneath two or three letters] indicated a 'grip', meaning that the thumb struck the lowest course ... downwards, and the first two or three fingers struck upwards."

Diana Poulton

In her lute tutor, Diana Poulton gives an exercise (Fig. 2) in which a pair of notes (dyad), consisting of a lower and higher note on the first (strong) beat, is played with the thumb and middle finger. The index finger is used on the weakest beats. What is unusual to modern players is that the thumb is brought up to the high string, and is not reserved for the lower string. This must be harder on the lute with its great number of courses than on the contemporary guitar or the ukulele.

Fig 2. An extract from an exercise in Poulton's A tutor for the Renaissance lute, adapted to the Renaissance guitar or ukulele. The full marking system is on the left, the simplified equivalent (single dots only) in the middle, and the modern system on the right. The symbols pi and m refer to the thumb, index and middle fingers. 

The strong first beat has the middle finger plucking the 1st string and and the thumb plucking the 4th.  Note that in the first bar (measure), if one counts "1 & 2 &", the weak beat is on the "&", whereas in bar 2 (count "1 & a  2 &") the first "&" is a strong beat and it is the the "a" that counts as the weak one. So, in a pair of notes of the same length, the second is normally weak. Where syncopation was required, however, the "unusual" weak notes would be indicated

Rob MacKillop

The following summary is given by Rob MacKillop in his lute tutor:    
"Thumb and middle [finger] play the strong beats, index plays the weak beats."
 This elevation of the second finger to strong status seems at odds with Page's point 1.


Lute Society

In her second lesson on the Lute Society website, Linda Sayce presents a simple piece consisting of two-part counterpoint (in the form of dyads or 2-note "chords"), and writes:
"Start by using the thumb and middle finger on every chord: it is easiest to get good contact and a good sound with this combination of digits. When you have that totally under control, play the piece again with thumb and index. Finally, for the ultimate in sophisticated plucking, use the thumb on every lower note, and for the upper notes alternate the middle finger on the strong beats (the first chord of each bar), and the index finger on the offbeats."

Ben Salfield

In his The lutenist's handbook, Ben Salfield writes extensively on right hand technique. He points out that when Spanish vihuelistas such as Fuenllana in the mid 16th century played the upper strings, the p-i pattern was replaced by m-i.

He states "... the middle finger replaces the thumb on the treble courses and plays the heavier beat".

The advantage of the middle-index system increased as the instruments gained more courses and the bass strings became even further from the treble. With the ukulele this is hardly a problem.


Perhaps we can summarise all these instructions and rank the digits thus:
     thumb > middle finger > index finger.


Worked example

In the examples below (Figs 3a & 3b) I show three extracts from Adrian Le Roy's "Fantasie première" (see Fig. 1 for the original) to show the range of possible fingerings. The extracts have been converted from French to modern tablature, and show the original dot system, plus my interpretation of RH fingering following the alternative systems:
Fig. 3a: p-i, relying on the thumb for most of the strong beats on the treble courses.
Fig. 3b: m-i, where the middle finger takes the strong beats on the trebles.

Fig. 3a. Three extracts from Adrian Le Roy's "Fantasie première" in modern tabs. The dots reproduce those in the original, and the letters beneath give my guess of what would have been played, using the p-i system for scale passages. 

Extract 1 starts with a canon of one, then two, then three voices. Bars 1 & 2 alternate strong and weak stress; in bar 3 all beats are strong; the stresses vary in pattern through the piece. It ends at a cadence using 4-note chords. 

Extract 2 shows a duet of upper single notes or duplets alternating with the bass line; the accent is not on the usual first and third beats. 

Extract 3 is the first part of a scalar passage, with the thumb venturing to the first string à la Poulton.

Fig.3b. The same piece as above, but with right-hand fingering with emphasis on the use of m-i fingering rather than p-i for scalar passages on the treble strings. I have also followed the Lute Society advice (above) that dyads (2-note chords) be played p+m on the strong beats and p+i on the weak beats. The thumb is largely reserved for the lower voice.

I now face three challenges:
1. To mark up transcripts as above, and play the music accordingly, which doesn't come easy after many years of a laissez-faire right hand;
2. To be able to use the "correct" RH finger just relying on Le Roy's dots;
3. To do the same when there aren't any dots.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Gorlier: Autre canon

A second piece by Simon Gorlier, published in 1551, which has made me think at least twice.

Facsimile of the original, first 17 bars.

Transcription for the ukulele, first 14 bars. The full score, tabs and notation, can be downloaded from the link below.

The canon is set, I think, in the mode of A Aeolian (i.e. the scale you get when playing the white keys of a piano starting on A), but I'm not sure whether that mode was particularly current in 1551. The only divergences are the cadence in bars 23 to 25, and the Picardy third at the conclusion. The upper voice starts on B, and is followed one bar later by the lower voice starting on E. They continue ± in parallel, but displaced by one bar, throughout the piece.

The same bars, but with the bass line displaced one bar to the left. The full analysis can be downloaded from the link below.

There is another level of interpretation, though. What at first looks like a simple exercise in 2-voice counterpoint is actually quite cunning. In some places we do have a simple upper and lower voice, running in parallel a bar apart. Elsewhere one can detect scalar passages which pass from the upper to the lower voice.

BARS     Scale passage
 8 – 11 D5 – C4
11 – 13 C5 – C4
13 – 16 D5 – B4
15 – 16 B4 – F4
16 – 18 C5 – C4
18 – 20 C5 – C4
26 – 27 C5 – G4
28 – 31 E5 – E4
32 – 34 D5 – D4
34 – 36 E5 – E4
36 – 38 D5 – D4
49 – 52 C5 – C4
62 – 65 D5 – C4
65 – 66 C5 – C4
69 – 71 B4 – C4
71 – 72 C5 – C4

For my own use I have to resort to colouring in a transcript to show these passages: I include below a link to a pdf, suitably coloured.

In performance it is not easy to make these passages coherent: as one line descends through the strings and voices, and another comes in above it to make a duplet. Good luck!

Available to download free in the following formats:


There is a beautifully clear facsimile here:

The piece has been transcribed for classical guitar by Keith Calmes: Guitar music of the 16th Century, 2008, Mel Bay Publications.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Gorlier: Duo

Another piece for low-G ukulele transcribed from a 1550s piece for Renaissance guitar. "Duo" doesn't mean a duet, but two musical voices played on one instrument.

Not a lot is known about Simon Gorlier, but I remember reading somewhere that he thought that the Renaissance guitar was rather beneath him (ahem!).


I did not transcribe this piece from a facsimile of the original, as I have been doing of late, but from a transcription for modern guitar by he excellent Charles Wolzien & Frank Bliven: Early Guitar Anthology, I, The Renaissance, c.1540-1580, [EGA1], available to download at:

I have since found a facsimile at
for which I express my gratitude. I have used this to "correct" a few divergences in fingerings.

The piece has also been transcribed by Keith Calmes (Guitar music of the 16th Century, 2008, Mel Bay Publications) but in 2/4 time (as in the original). The main difference with the EGA1 version is that he carries the upper voice across the bars marked by a “¶” (to show the end of a cadence) on the attached files. It’s up to you what you prefer to play.


You can download the files for free in the following formats:


There are 5 sections of 9, 6, 6, 7 and 9 bars, marked by the paragraph sign (¶) in the score. There are just two voices (except in the last few bars): I imagine that, in the convention of the time, they would be played mostly by the thumb on the lower voice and the index and middle fingers on the upper voice. In scalar passages, the index finger would be reserved for the less accented notes.

In bar 6 it is not clear where the upper and lower voices lie. I have followed EGA1 by moving the initial F to the 3rd string (the original has it on the 2nd) so that it can be sustained in the lower voice, whilst the upper voice takes the A-G-A-B…; meanwhile, Calmes has the lower voice as part of the scale in the previous bar continuing on through F-G-A-B… (but then turning into the upper voice in the second half of the bar). I have appended his voicing to the score as a footnote. To be quite honest, I don’t think anyone will notice the difference. Perhaps Gorlier meant it to be ambiguous.

The following commentary is copied directly from the learned account on EGA1 – I don’t pretend to understand all of it.
“The Gorlier Duo … features tightly packed, overlapping imitative entries at the octave
as well as the fifth that change with each new phrase (see measures 9, 16, 21 and 28).”
“Gorlier’s Duo … is written in the phrygian mode on E*, the top voice spanning the
octave of E4 to E5 (solmized with the authentic range of the mode mi-fa-mi-re-sol), the bottom voice inhabiting the octave from A3 to A4 (solmized with the plagal range of the mode, la-re-la/mi-fa-mi/la-sol).
The mode is defined by the expected cadences on the first, fourth and sixth (the phrygian dominant) degrees of the scale and reinforced by the picardy third that makes the final chord E major. By dwelling slightly on these cadence points, and carefully blocking the notes at the end of each phrase in order to draw attention to the start of every new motif, the performer can help clarify the modal structure of this piece for the listener.”
* I have converted the pitch references in EGA1 to the ukulele equivalent.  The Phrygian mode in E is what you get on the piano when you play a scale on all the white notes starting on E.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Fuenllana: Passeavase (paseàbase) el roy moro

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard of Miguel de Fuenllana (c. 1500 – 1579). Although blind he became a court musician to the Spanish and, later, Portuguese royal families. Most of his large body of works is for vihuela (which was built like a guitar but tuned like a lute), but he wrote 9 pieces for 4-course guitar (and hence suitable for the ukulele).

I find it difficult to appreciate his music, which I admit is my own fault. He wrote in a linear, contrapuntal, academic style, with the harmonies arising from the overlapping lines. In contrast, the song entabulations by Le Roy et al. were often based on grounds (chord sequences), and are more familiar to our modern ears.

When I play arrangements of his pieces using simulated MIDI instruments such as the flute or fiddle, I can hear the harmonies emerge. When the same piece is played on a plucked instruments, it inevitably sounds like a succession of chords with connecting notes. Quite a challenge to interpret!

The first two lines of Fuenllana's original.
The tablature is in the Spanish-Italian format, with the lower string on top.
The red numerals are the instrumental notes that ± duplicate the sung notes.

Fuenllana has been quoted as saying “words are the soul of any composition”, so presumably he intended his song arrangements (for vihuela and guitar) to be played as an accompaniment to the singer. I have therefore included the song to the present transcription, which makes the whole thing more understandable. It would help to learn the tune.

In voicing, I have emphasised the melody to the original air (indicated by red numerals in the original) by note stems pointing up, whereas all other voices have stems pointing down. This is obviously not possible for semi-breves / whole-notes, but fortunately after the introductory (instrument-only) 9 bars, all such notes on the top line are part of the melody.

The piece is set in the Phrygian mode – the use of keys is a later musical development – which on the piano can be heard (but not in the same key as on the ukulele) by playing a scale on the white keys starting on E. The melancholic mood is appropriate to the sentiment of the song (see below).

You can download for free in the following formats:
[Arrangements updated on 30 Sept 2019 to correct a misprint in bar 22.]



 Paseábase el rey ... tells a story of the struggle that took place between the
 Catholic and Moorish forces in Spain. The text reflects the Moorish perspective, their
 king [actually, caliph] expressing his anguish at having lost Alhama [in] Granada , their last fortress in Spain. EGA1.
In 1482, the fortress town was taken from the Moorish Sultanate and Kingdom of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs. Alhama's position between Málaga and Granada gave it strategic importance for the Moors but they also had a particular fondness for the town and its thermal waters and hot springs.The cry of sorrow, "¡Ay de mi Alhama!", uttered by Abu Al-Hacen (Abu l-Hasan Ali, Sultan of Granada) following the battle ... entered the Spanish language as an exclamation of regret. Wikipedia.


(from EGA1)

Paseábase el rey moro 
Por la ciudad de Granada.
Cartas le fueron venidas 
Como Alhama etra ganada.
Ay! Mi Alhama! 
Como Alhama etra ganada 
Ay! Mi Alhama! 

The Moorish king was walking
Through the city of Granada.
Letters had come to him
About how Alhama had been taken.
Alas! my Alhama!
About how Alhama had been taken.
Alas! my Alhama!


“Orphenica lyra”, libro sexto, p 163v, 1554.
Facsimiles at

Having transcribed this piece from the facsimilies, I was informed by the transcriptions for classical guitar by

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Le Roy: Fantasie première revisited

Continuing the process of revising my earliest posts, now that I know (a little) more about the music, here is an improved (I hope) transcription of the first piece published in Le Roy's first book Premiere livre de tablature de guiterre, ff 1 – 2.

You can download the transcription freely here:


Facsimile online at:
(Permanent link:

Having transcribed these pieces from the Renaissance guitar facsimilie above, I was informed by the fine transcriptions for classical guitar by Keith Calmes in Guitar music of the 16th Century, 2008, Mel Bay Publications. I have not, however, followed his version slavishly, but have taken much from it.

Another excellent and learnèd publication is “Early Guitar Anthology, I, The Renaissance, c.1540-1580” by Charles Wolzien, music edited by Frank Bliven, available to download here: As well as many musical scores, they provide useful essays on the music of the period. In some places have followed their version.


As with all music in French tabs, which were less prescriptive than modern notation, there is much scope for interpretation. For example, does an unoccupied place after a note represent a continuation of the note (sometimes ligatured across bars) or a rest?  Rather than agonise over this, if one follows the rule “hold a note down as long as physically possible” I don’t think one can go far wrong. (See footnote below.)

The piece is set in a counterpoint of two or three voices. The first voice makes a statement of the first motif in bars 1 – 2, the second voice repeats it a 4th below in bars 2 – 3, and a third voice (with doubled-length notes) starts on the open 4th string (an octave lower than the first voice) in bars 4 – 6.

In bars 7 & 8 we have a theme very similar to that often used by John Dowland about 50 years later (e.g. in “Solus cum sola”), partially echoed in the middle voice in the next two bars and leading via a kind of duet to a cadence in the dominant (D major).

The next passage, bars 20 – 44, includes a sequence of arpeggiated chords, in which one can detect a hint of the campanella style – depending of course on how long the notes are held. Bars 45 – 61 include a seriest of overlapping scalar fragments (counterpoint) leading to a high G-major chord.

There is then (in bars 65 – 69) a duet high on the fingerboard, repeated an octave lower (bars 70 – 73). After another chordal (campanella-like) passage, the piece closes in a very familiar way.

Such a lot going on in the narrow scope of four strings! The challenge is to first identify the voices, and then to bring them out in the playing as they move from string to string - I have coloured them in on a printout, as part of my self-tuition. The more you look the more you see.


For interpretation of the fingering indications, see this post.


One difference between the published transcriptions (see refs above) is whether they maintain certain notes for as long as possible or insert breaks. In bars 32 – 41, as in Calmes, I have maintained a continuous upper voice (dotted minims), whilst in bars 76 – 83 I have followed Wolzein and Bliven and inserted rests in the upper voice. Unlike these authors, I am no expert, so it must be a matter of choice. To be quite honest, with a plucked instrument it makes not a deal of difference to the listener. In any case, the choice is yours.