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Please read: What to do if the links to transcriptions don't work

😩  All the links embedded in posts before 1 August 2020 are broken. I am LIVID! Google have been urging me to update the site https://s...

Monday, 26 October 2020

Dowland, Robinson, etc.: "Robin" compendium

 Four pieces for the price of one click

These arrangements are built on a song popular at the end of the 16th century, entitled variously "Robin", "Sweet Robin", "Bonny Sweet Robin" and "Robin Hood is to the Greenwood Gone". It is unfortunate that the lyrics are lost, although Ophelia mentions it in Hamlet.

The song may not refer to the Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, but I can't resist this anachronistic woodcut.

Dowland sticks more closely to the original melody than he does in some of his song adaptations. It can be difficult in his wonderful version to hear at first where the upper voice (melody) lies, so I have made two simple versions, as a kind of primer. 

The first version is basically chord + melody, a style that was found in the more earthy pieces entabulated in in the Osborn Commonplace Book, and other MSS for Renaissance guitar around 1600.

The second includes a second voice, but maintains the melody without ornament or variation. The harmonies are taken from Dowland, as are some of the phrases, often in a simplified form.

The arrangement of Dowland's lute piece "Robin (P70)" fits in all the voices I can, which gives you the option of simplifying. Often the lower voices have been combined, but I have tried to make an interesting line. (Poulton & Lam, 1981. The collected lute music of John Dowland, p 247. Faber.)

The arrangement of Thomas Robinson's "Robin is to the Greenwood Gone" is made from made from a piece in Schoole of Musicke (1603), f.i2v, encoded and edited by the indefatigable Sarge Gerbode. Robinson's harmonies provide an interesting contrast with Dowland's.


The structure of the song is simple: a strain (A) of 4 bars, repeated, then followed by a strain (B) of 8 bars, also repeated.  In all arrangements other than the first, the repeats are elaborated. In the Dowland piece, the whole song is repeated twice, with variation.

The arrangements are available as a compendium in the following formats:

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Dowland: Tarleton's Jig (or Tarleton's Willy)

A fairly easy piece, and good fun to play 

This is the partner to another jig, also named for the clown musician and dancer Richard Tarleton (or Tarlton) (d. 1588) that I posted ages ago here.

Richard Tarl(e)ton

It is pretty close to Dowland's lute version, but with some of the bass notes raised an octave or substituted with other notes in the harmony. I hope you enjoy it!

Available to download free in the following formats:

Monday, 7 September 2020

Dowland: The Shoemaker's Wife (P58)

A "toye"

And now for a bit of fun, with a jaunty piece in 6/8 time. It's made up of three strains, each repeated with elaborations. 

The shoemaker's wife off on her delivery round.

According to Diana Poulton, in the early modern period there was a kind of mystique about the shoe-makers’ trade – “a shoemaker’s son is a prince born” –  but the inspiration for this piece remains unclear.

All I have to say is "just enjoy playing it".

Available for free download in the following formats:

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Dowland: The King of Denmark's Galliard (P 40)

 Dowland's third battle galliard: quite a challenge! 

You can find arrangements of Dowland's other battle galliards in the two previous posts.

The piece is also known as known as “The Battle Galliard” and “Mr Mildmay’s Galliard”. Poulton says that this is the definitive version which Dowland himself prepared for publication.

Christian IV of Denmark, who was quite the party animal.
Dowland was appointed lutenist at his court in 1598, and stayed for several years, until they fell out.
Image: www.frederiksborgslot.dk

There are three 4-bar strains (a, b, c), each derived from published battle tunes (Poulton). Strain a is played once (a1), followed by a variation (a1’), then b1 and b1’, c1 and c1’. The whole process is repeated three times: a2, a2’ ,…, c4, c4’. I have labelled the score accordingly.

The piece has a strong rhythmic and melodic line. It is not difficult to understand, but very hard to play to tempo. It is not really possible to hold some of the notes in the lower voice for their full value, so I just do the best I can. I can't really see a way to get over this problem on a 4-course instrument.

I have transposed the piece to G major (strain a) and Bb major / G minor (strains b and c) to take full advantage of the range of the instrument. In particular, in strain a there is a diapaison drone on the lute, which the open 4th string of our little instrument can attempt to emulate. This does, however, mean you have to go up to the 14th fret – praise be for tabs!

(When the lute fingering is followed as closely as possible on the ukulele, strain a is set in E major, and b & c in G major. E is unfortunately not a key sympathetic to the uke, as we cannot root the E major chord, whereas the lutenist has its equivalent available on an open (low) diapaison D string. We have to make do with B on the 4th string, which is represented in the original, so is not too disconcerting. It is interesting to note that composers for the Renaissance guitar (which was tuned the same as a ukulele, but with double strings) do not seem to have used the key of E, and wisely set mostly in G, A, C and D. They did, however, seem blasé about the lack of roots, so we’re in good company.)

The basic chord sequences for the three strains are given below, transposed from the voicings in the lute original. There are only small variations in harmony between variations.

a:    G      | G       | G   D    | G         |
b:    Bb     | Bb      | Bb  F    | Bb        |
c:    Bb C D | Gm      | C   D    | G5       || 
G5 indicates a chord with no 3rd, and hence neither major nor minor. In the final bar (variation c4’) there is an unambiguous G major chord, but ending rather abruptly with D in the upper voice.

Music: Poulton D, Lam B. 1995. The collected lute music of John Dowland. Faber Music, London, pp 117–119.
Commentary: Poulton D. 1982. John Dowland. London: Faber & Faber, pp 139–142.

Available for free download in the following formats:
Good luck!

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Dowland: Mr Langton's Galliard (P 33)

 The second of Dowland’s battle pieces  

The other battle pieces are P 20 (my last post) and P 40 (fingers crossed, my next post).

The structure is unusual, having §A of 16 bars, followed by a variation with divisions plus closing bar (§A’), and then a section (B) of 34 bars, of which the final 14 bars are repeated. You might want to avoid §A’, which is quite challenging.

Most of the piece, it being a galliard, is set in 3/4 time, but bars 33 – 37 are set in 3/2 (a hemiola?). It is fortunate for me that P & L had sorted this out in their transcription.

There is a strong feeling of horses galloping into battle in the 3/2 segment, which is reminiscent of strain C in “The King of Denmark’s Galliard, P 40”.

Not quite a battle, I admit, but hunting is probably the nearest some toffs got.
This woodcut shows Queen Elizabeth I at the kill.

The percussive start of §B is very similar to the opening of P 20, and probably derived from the same original.

You will notice that there are excursions up the neck, as far as the 14th fret. This is in the original lute version, and not the result of my trying to squeeze in as much music as I can.


Poulton D, Lam B. 1995. The collected lute music of John Dowland. Faber Music, London, pp. 117–119.

Available to download in the following formats:

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Dowland: Dowland's galliard (P 20)

A battle piece, in one easy and two more challenging versions

The galliards are arranged for low-G ukulele from the transcriptions for keyboard in Poulton D, Lam B, 1995. The collected lute music of John Dowland. Faber Music, London.

Version P 20 is made from the transcription on pp 87 – 88 in P & L, which was derived from MSS at Cambridge University Library (Dd.2.11.(B), f. 7v) and the Thysius MS at Leiden (f. 22).

Version P 20a is taken from the Editorial Notes (p. 323) in P & L, and was transcribed from the Tollemache Lute Book, f. 6v. The 22nd bar seems to have been duplicated and I have omitted it.

Both versions have been transposed from Em (corresponding to the original lute fingering) to Gm, to make full use of the limited range of a 4-course instrument. (Em is not the most playable key on the uke.)

P & L say that the piece “contains material derived from the 16th-century genre of compositions in which the sounds of battle were imitated." A bit of a stretch for a small instrument – we can but try. Some of the chords can be filled in and strummed ad lib to give a more percussive effect.

This is the nearest that JD gets to the “strum and twiddle” format that I have described in posts on the Osborn Commonplace Book and other English guitar MSS, etc. I do not understand why this militaristic piece should be given the composer's name, as he doesn't seem to have been particularly warlike.

There are two more companion pieces on the battle theme, P 33 and P 40, which are included in this blog. The opening 4-bar strain in P 20 is found in P 33 (§B) and P 40 (strains a and b). A similar militaristic piece, from about 50 years previously, is Le Roy’s “Galliarde de la Gamba”.

The structure is simple: three 4-bar phrases, each followed by a variation, often using divisions. I have laid out the score with 4 bars to the line to make this clear. The divisions are easy to understand but not so easy to play to speed, so I have included a simplified arrangement, in which we have §A from P 20 followed by §A from P 20a, and so on, but no fancy divisions.

The harmonies involve
§A:  i, V, resolving on I
§B:  vii, III, i resolving on V
§C:  iii, iv, V resolving on I
This does not appear to be based on familiar Renaissance grounds, unlike the Le Roy galliarde which was underlain by the later folia progression, although both use similar harmonies.

Available to download free from the following links (now on Google Drive):

Please let me know if the links do not work.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Please read: What to do if the links to transcriptions don't work

😩 All the links embedded in posts before 1 August 2020 are broken.


Google have been urging me to update the site https://sites.google.com/site/renaissanceukulele/ that contains or, rather, used to contain, the repository of all my transcription files.

Foolishly, I did what they said.

Now none of the original links from this blog work. 

I am trying to sort it out, but there's no way I am going to retype all the links.

As a workaround, please go directly to my repository on Google Drive  (please click). There you will find all the files in alphabetical order, in these folders: 

  • pdf
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI 

Please let me know if you can't access them.

All posts after and including 1 August 2020 will have direct links to files in folders on Google Drive.

I have also, I hope, put the files before 1 August 2020 back where they were (although the links embedded in the blog posts don't work): https://sites.google.com/site/renaissanceukulele/home. So, you could try that too.

One step forwards, two steps back ...

P S: I would be eternally grateful if you could tell me of any problems you have, through the e-mail link (see "Contact me" below right). 

Btw, I have closed the Comments section due to a large number of (presumably) young ladies offering services unrelated to the ukulele, though possibly not to the Renaissance. The e-mail still works, though.