Friday, 8 March 2019

Sanz: Folias

Another piece from Sanz' Libro segundo de cifras sobre la Guiterra (1675), plate 3.

The folia is a harmonic progression used in the 17th century on which variations were developed. The chords were i - V - i - VII - III - VII - i - V. In this arrangement the chords in the first 8 bars follow the pattern so: Gm - D - F - Bb - F - Gm - D. The progression is then repeated throughout the piece.

Sanz' Folias: You can see a facsimile here.

   Sanz’ Baroque guitar was tuned rather like the modern guitar, but with the 4th and 5 courses (of paired strings) an octave higher – the re-entrant tuning.  This means that there wasn’t really a bass line when played on a period instrument. Looking at the original tabs, however, the notation for the "lower" strings often gives the impression of a base line. This transcription is an experiment to see what happens when, where appropriate, they are treated as such – as if this were a piece for lute or vihuela.  Not what Sanz intended, of course, but it results in a perfectly acceptable arrangement.

    In other places in the piece, the "lower" strings obviously contribute to the melody line. It was a peculiarity of Sanz’ tuning that the third course might have had a “requinta” string an octave higher than its “normal” partner, which could be preferentially plucked when contributing to the melody. All very confusing, and lots of scope for interpretation.

    The Baroque tuning provides the opportunity for “campanella” playing, where successive notes are played on different strings and held down to give a ringing sound. Sanz used this approach in some places, but certainly not throughout the piece: in many bars a line of notes is played on a single string. You will see that I have tried to set some campanella-style passages where they fit the low-G ukulele, but they are not necessarily where the composer put his.
    Interpretation of graces follows James Tyler, p. 32. They may be omitted if desired.

   You can find more information on the transcription process in my post here.

    There are four sections. Section A is arranged in “lute style”. In section B, the first 8 bars show the “high voice” option, the second 8 bars the “low voice” option. Section C emphasises the campanella style, so you will want disregard the shown note lengths and hold them for as long as possible. In section D, bar 53 is set high and bar 56 low.

   It's not too difficult an arrangement, and in many places could be made easier (if not quite so good) by playing F on the 2nd string rather than on the 3rd.

   You can download the arrangements in the following formats:

   By the way, Rob MacKillop has written a fine arrangement for re-entrant uke, with much use of the campanella style, in his 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces. Strongly recommended.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Transcribing Baroque guitar music for low-G ukulele

This is an expanded version of the preamble to my first post of a piece by Gaspar Sanz: Passacalles sobre la D. I thought I'd write this post, because I recently came back to Sanz after over a year and couldn't remember what I had done previously. 

I recently bought myself Rob MacKillop's excellent 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces by Gaspar Sanz (Mel Bay, 2011). I was particularly entranced by this Passacalles in his book, which he arranged in campanella style for re-entrant uke. It was fascinating to see how following the tabs (whose appearance bears little similarity to the shape of the music) produced such a charming sound when played. 
Fig 1. Facsimile of Sanz's original engraving. The score is very clearly etched, by Sanz himself, but "inverted" i.e. with the bass string at the top and so on.
Mordents are indicated by ⏑ under single notes, trills by T, and vibrato by inclined #-symbols.

Being an inquisitive type, I wanted to see for myself Sanz' original for 5-string Baroque guitar (Fig. 1), and fortunately found both a transcription and a facsimile of the original. From this, it was but a small step to making my own transcription of the piece, but for the low-G or linear tuning. This article explains how I did it, the problems encountered, and compromises that have to be made.
I have not included references in the text, but there is a reading list at the end of the post.


Fig. 2. Common tunings for the Baroque guitar.

In the Baroque period, a number of tunings (Fig. 2) were used on the 5-string guitar; they were similar to the first 5 strings of the modern guitar, but
(a) with double strings for each course, except normally the first; and 
(b) with the lower two courses strung an octave higher (re-entrant tuning). 
The re-entrant tuning (Fig. 2, stave 1) will be familiar to the ukulele player.
In one stringing variant (Fig. 2, stave 2) the 4th course was tuned in octaves, with the high string (requinta) nearest the 5th course, and the low string (bourdón) nearest the 3rd course. This means that to emphasise the high string one can use the thumb, and to emphasise the low string use a finger. 

Other tunings (such as octaves on courses 3 and 5) were used, but were rarer. Gaspar Sanz seems to have had octave stringing on course 3, and would emphasise the higher (requinta) when it formed part of the upper voice, and pluck both otherwise.
This arrangement of strings contrasts with the tuning of the lute and vihuela, which also had octaves on the lower courses, but with the requinta nearest the higher courses, meaning that the bourdón was the string that sounded most strongly whan plucked by the thumb. It seems that octave stringing was originally used because the necessarily thick gut strings were rather muffled in sound; the requinta was added to provide the higher harmonics.
I have yet to find an account of how the re-entrant tuning came into being. Perhaps being used to having a requinta on the lower courses, players came to like the higher brighter sound, and the bourdóns sounded too heavy for the instrument. It does not really lend itself to the lute / vihuela style of composition in which one can detect distinct voices. (The problems this causes in transcription are dealt with below.) It would, however, have been perfect for the campanella style, in which successive notes are played on different strings, and held as long a feasible, to give an overlapping bell-like or harp-like effect. The arrangements of Sanz' pieces by Rob MacKillop for re-entrant uke are cunningly even more campanella-like than the originals, and show its beauty to the full.
There is a third, chordal style, which involves strums of 4- or 5-note chords, interspersed with single-note playing. This gives chords a very close harmony, with notes on the upper courses sometimes being duplicated by those on the lower courses: a "wall of sound", with no obvious harmonic root.

Spanish / Italian Tablature

This tablature format uses numerals to represent the frets (Fig. 1). It looks rather like modern tabs, but the courses are "upside down", with the bass at the top and the treble at the bottom. 
Because of the peculiarities of the re-entrant tuning, tablature is the only realistic way of representing the music in a playable format. If you used normal (mensural) notation you would have to insert all those little numbers in circles to indicate the strings.
Timing is given by small notes (etc) above the tablature, which stay in force until a new note length is shown. The note lengths show how long to wait before you play the next note, not (as in modern music) how long the first note is to sound for. There is no indication of voices, such as bass and treble.
Chordsespecially in strummed pieces, were shown in the abecedario system (Fig. 3), a shorthand in which a large upper-case letter represented a particular chord shape, mostly in nut or first position. These letters seem totally arbitrary, with representing the chord of G major on the guitar, = C major, = D major, and 🞧 = Em. Players of the Baroque guitar have to learn them; I just look them up for my transcriptions. You can find my concordance for abecedario for the uke player here

Fig. 3. The abecedario system in practice. 
The symbols in order of appearance are: O = Gm, M = Eb, H = Bb, I = A, F = E, = D. 
The tiny ticks on the bottom line show the direction of strum.
Graces (twiddly ornaments) are indicated by symbols in the text. I have made a reference table of how to interpret them derived from James Tyler's Guide, and posted it here. I must admit that I tend to ignore graces when I first play a piece, as they can involve convoluted fingering.

Transcribing for the ukulele, low 4th

Fig. 4. Various tunings for the ukulele. The re-entrant is perfect for the campanella style and strumming. The linear tuning (low 4th) gives theopportunity for playing a bass line. The imaginary ukulele is the one I visualise when transcribing from Baroque guitar music. The 8-string ukulele tuning is one I am exploring for trying out the re-entrant 4th course.

As noted above, the re-entrant tuning of the Baroque guitar will be familiar to the ukulele player. The instruments are tuned to the same intervals, but with the ukulele 5 semitones higher (Fig. 4, stave 1). This means that one can get a rough idea of how a piece sounds on a re-entrant ukulele by ignoring the 5th string, especially if you have a "right-way-up" guitar transcription, and playing away, meanwhile trying to fit the 5th string onto the uke 3rd by moving up 2 frets. A good mental exercise.

When transcribing, I try to imagine that I have a 5-string ukulele tuned as in Fig. 4, stave 3. This helps especially in getting the 4th and 5th courses properly notated.
But ... following this procedure rigidly when transcribing for the uke makes a very lumpy, jumpy piece. Apparently this was acceptable at the time, but I find it jarring to have a melodic or bass line suddenly jump an octaveI have therefore applied the following rules to my transcriptions for low-4th uke:
  • The note positions on the Baroque guitar 1st – 3rd courses are transferred directly to the uke tabs. 
  • The note positions on the guitar 5th course are raised an octave for the uke transcription. As a rule add 2 to the 5th course position and play it on uke string 3 if available.
  • The notes on the 4th course are raised an octave on the uke if this would lead to a smooth scale fragment in the melody.
  • The notes on the 4th are maintained in the lower octave if they make a sensible bass line, especially when the piece is in lute style.
  • Anything can be modified to make the piece easier and more enjoyable to play and listen to.
  • The 5-string guitar chord shapes can give an incomplete chord voicing when transferred to the (4-string) uke, so I try to include all the notes where I can.
In conclusion: I admit this procedure is a compromise between what the composers intended and what fits on a uke with a low G string. Nevertheless, I hope that you enjoy playing the arrangements.

References and Sources
James Tyler's A guide to playing the Baroque guitar (Indiana University Press, 2011) has become my go-to reference for this music
There is an article describing Sanz' work and tuning here...
and a much fuller analysis of Baroque guitar tuning here.
Rob MacKillop's 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces by Gaspar Sanz (Mel Bay, 2011) has some lovely arrangements for re-entrant Uke, with an emphasis on the campanella style.
A facsimile of Sanz' original plates is available here ...
and a right-way-up transcription here.
An interesting analysis by Clive Titmuss is here.
A whole collection of Baroque guitar pieces can be found here.
A masterclass on strumming chords (battuto) by Rob MacKillop can be seen here.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Le Roy: Deux Préludes

The first bars from Adrian Le Roy's Prélude from Tiers livre de guiterre, Paris, 1552.
The index finger dot indicators can be clearly seen.
Facsimile at

Here are two pieces which are rather shorter than the fantasies I published recently, but still quite discursive. 

It is clever how Le Roy manages to fit in up to three voices with such a limited range. I have set the middle voices mostly stem-down, but a few look better stem-up; this should not affect their interpretation. 

There are some quite fast runs in the second half of the first prelude, so it might be a good idea not to start playing too rapidly. As these aren't for dancing or singing to, the player is free to change tempo at will.


Until recently I have ignored Le Roy’s indications of right hand fingering. Since, however, they were intended to emphasise the dynamics of the rhythm, I thought that I would have a go at including them.

The very simple system was to indicate (with a dot) only that the weaker notes were to be played by the (weaker) index finger (i). The other (unmarked) notes were stressed and played with the (stronger) thumb (P) and/or middle finger (m). 

Runs of single notes would often have been played P-i, even on the top string.

When two notes are played together, the dot under the lower note means, I think, use i-m rather than P-i or P-mThree-note chords were generally played P-i-m, and four-note chords either P-P-i-m or P-i-m-a (or even P-i-i-m). There was therefore normally no need to show the dots.

When I tried to use the more modern “P-i-m-a” system for the RH digits it made the score very cluttered and hard to read, so I have kept to the old dot system. It is unfortunate that this is not 100% compatible with on-the-line tabs.

I have gleaned much of this information from lute tutors written by Diana Poulton and Rob MacKillop, but it should apply also to Le Roy’s guitar works as he was originally a lutenist, and would probably played guitar in a similar way.

Available for free download in the following formats: 
("Between the lines" means that, in the tabs, the spaces between the lines on the stave represent the strings, as in the Renaissance French system, which was used also in the UK. "On the lines" means that the lines represent the strings, which is the modern system. I find that the numbers are clearer in the former system, but fully understand that they are harder to play from if you're used to the latter. Hence, I've now started posting pdfs of both formats. If you have access to TablEdit, you can format as you wish.)

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Allison: Almain

Another nice easy piece!

Rather than wade through facsimilies of MSS, I went straight to Eric Crouch’s Guitar Loot website ( for something not too challenging (he grades all his postings).

This one is from the Matthew Lodge Lute Book (Dd.2.11. f.75r/2) in the Cambridge University Library. You can read all about the composer using the link above.

Facsimile of the original. It's a really clear one, should you want to compare it with this arrangement, and see the compromises I made to fit it on the ukulele. Incidentally, the letters should be written between the lines, but Mr Holmes didn't always manage this.

All that I had to do was imagine my ukulele was a guitar and write down the tabs, though the bass line is rather modified. (I must admit that I find still it easier to read notation on guitar than on uke.) The key wanders between A major and A minor (whichever I choose gives a similar number of accidentals).

Available to download free in the following formats:
PS Apologies if I fail to reply promptly to your comment. Unless I remember to allow tracking in my browser (I don't normally), when I try to post a reply, Blogger eats it. You can always get in touch by using the "Contact me" option near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Pickeringe: Thirteen Toyes (short easy pieces)

Jane Pickering[e]'s Lute Book (1616) is a bound MS containing many quite challenging pieces, but between them the occasional "toye" or toy: short pieces that are normally pretty easy and fall under the fingers.

Many of the pieces that I arrange are quite difficult, and I thought that I would post some that I feel comfortable with. So, here are thirteen toyes, put together in a pdf book. All you have to do is to download it and start playing.

Download here. (Book, 19 pp, 1.4MB; between-the-line tabs)

Following some discussion, and as an experiment, I have concatenated all the pieces into one file, and then formatted them into on-the-line tabs, which you can download in the following formats:

  • pdf (complete file, on-the-line tabs)
  • TablEdit (on-the-line tabs)
I haven't been too rigorous in proof-reading the files, so apologies for any boobs. Revised 5 Feb 19.

PS Apologies if I fail to reply to your comment: unless I remember to allow tracking in my browser (I don't normally), when I try to post a reply, Blogger eats it. You can always get in touch by the "Contact me" option near the bottom of the right-hand column.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Le Roy: Pavane and galliarde "de la gambe"

It was the fashion of the period (mid-16th century) to follow a pavane with a galliard on (approximately) the same theme.

I am not sure what "de la gambe" in the title refers to. I think gambe in 16th century French means "leg", but apparently it was also an abbreviation of viola de la gambe (viola da gamba in Italian) just as we use "cello" to refer to the violoncello. Mysterious.

The Pavane

The pavane is written in two sections of 16 and 32 bars, each of which can be divided into lines of 8 bars, which are indicated in this score by double barring. Contrast this with the previous posting, a fantasy, which is much more free-form.

This piece is strongly chordal, so I feel no qualms in presenting the "modern" chord names. The  harmonies in the variations vary slightly from those in the statement.

You will recognise the chord shapes, and get a lot of practice in jumping to a B♭chord in 3rd position. Indeed, the bars with Gm, F, B and E♭chords can mostly be played at a fret-3 barré. 

| D     | D     | D     | D     | Gm    | Gm    | F     | F     |
| Bb    | Bb    | F     | F     | Eb    | Eb    | D     | D     |

| Gm F  | Bb    | F     | Bb    | F     | Eb    | D     | D     | ×2
| Gm F  | Bb    | F     | F     | Eb*   | D     | G     | G     ⫿ ×2

* or Ebsus2 or Cm

Le Roy presented the piece as a first statement of the two sections (A, B), followed by variations of the two sections involving divisions on the statement in some bars only (A', B'). You might want to play them in the order A, A', B, B'.

The first note in the upper voice in bar 10 and similar bars is not shown in the original, implying either an extension of the previous note or a rest. The former option is difficult to perform, so I have opted for the rest, even though for a stately pavane I would have preferred a smoother upper voice and less syncopation.

The Galliard

This piece is not merely a transformation of the pavane into 3/4 time. The statement of the theme in §A is reduced from 16 to 8 bars, with repetition, but maintains the original idea. In §B the structure is less rigid, and the harmonies – although belonging to the key of Gm – are much freer and more unexpected than simple substitutions of related harmonies (e.g. B♭for Gm).

The variations keep closely to the original statements, but involve some rapid divisions which you may want to simplify or shorten.


Transcribed for Ukulele, low 4th, from Adrian Le Roy: Premier livre de tablature de guiterre (1551), ff  11 – 13.
Facsimile at  Early Music Online


The arrangements are available for free download in the following formats:



Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Le Roy: Fantasie Première

This was one of my first posts, but here is an improved (I hope) version. You can download it free in the following formats:

Being a fantasia, this piece (unlike an air or a dance) is not divided neatly into 4- or 8-bar segments. For ease of reference I have divided the 91 bars (note the prime number) into sections A to K, according to where I see a new idea emerging. You may hear the sections differently.

The first page of the original tablature: of "Fantasie Première" in Premier livre de tablature de guiterre, ff  2 – 3.
From a facsimile at  Early Music Online

The piece consists mostly of two lines or voices, based mainly on overlapping scale fragments; these lines tend to start and stop at different places. There is also the occasional base note to add rhythm.

The key seems to vary at whim from G major to G minor (note the B-flats and F-naturals).

As with all music in French tabs, there can be problems in assessing whether an unoccupied space before or after a note represents a continuation of the note (sometimes ligatured across bars) or a rest. I have made a comment about this:

     (a) between bars 33 and 41 (§ E), where I have inserted a rest in the bass at the beginning of each bar; and
     (b) between bars 76 and 81 (§ J), where I have I have opted for the ligature in the top voice.

Either option could be chosen, but the rest is obviously easier to play, and on an instrument such as a ukulele which has no great sustain, there is little difference in sound. There are other occasions in the score where this confusion occurs.

It is interesting to note that bars 7 to 9 are very close to what I have described elsewhere as John Dowland's "Solus cum sola motif", which appears in a number of his works about half a century later. The only difference is that in Dowland's version the third note on the top string (a D) would not be sounded, and the previous note would be held.

I am sure that a professional musician could interpret this piece at sight, but I find it helps to sit down with the score and mark out where the voices lie. The difficulty in performance is to maintain the lines when two lines are moving from fret to fret and string to string. The image below shows my own markings on an early draft of the tabs: you may have a different opinion. Incidentally, in some sections I can detect a hint of the campanella style.

My notes on an early draft of the first page of the tablature.
The upper voice is in red, the others in blue and green. There is much scope for different interpretations throughout the piece.