Friday, 22 December 2017

Sanz: Abecedario system for naming chord shapes

Facsimile of Sanz' table of Abecedario chord names.

Well, this promises to be my most arcane and rarely viewed post. 

In the 17th century, guitar chords were indicated by an apparently arbitrary letter, in the system called abecedario (in Spain) or alfatabeto (in Italy). It bears no relationship to the chord names that we use nowadays. Gaspar Sanz was one of the composers who adopted this system.

Out of curiosity I made a concordance DOWNLOADABLE HERE for converting abecedario chords to ukulele chords. There might be someone out there in the æther who finds it useful. 

NB On 7 Feb 2018 I uploaded a revised version, so if you have the old one, please delete it.

By the way, the little runic marks along the lowerlines of the Demostraçion in the facsimile  refer to direction of strum (rasgueado): the tick under the line means start at the bottom of the chord and strum UP, whilst the upper tick means strum DOWN.

Happy strumming!

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Sanz: Passacalle sobre la D

Another jump in time – to the Baroque period, on 8 November 1764, when Gaspar Sanz engraved this piece published in Instruccion de Musica Sobre La Guitarra Española (Zaragoça, 1675). I should say here that "sobre la D" in the title refers not to the key but to the Abacedario system of naming chord shapes, where shape "D" is a 0112 chord (1st string first), which is Am on the guitar and therefore Dm on the uke.

I recently bought myself, on the recommendation of Gilles T, an early Christmas present: Rob MacKillop's excellent 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces (Mel Bay, 2011). I'll write more about the book on the Publications page soon; suffice to say now that I was particularly entranced by this piece in Mr M's book, which is arranged in campanella style. 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 on a uke with re-entrant tuning. (So, that's what my little soprano is good for!)

Facsimile of Sanz's original engraving published at:
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.
For my arrangement I relied on the "right-way-up" transcription published here:

Being an inquisitive type, I wanted to see Sanz' original for 5-string Baroque guitar, and fortunately found both a transcription* (with bar 51 missing) and a facsimile of the original, as detailed in the caption above. From this, it was but a small step to making my own transcription of the piece, but for the low-G tuning.

As you will see from the image above, in the tablature convention at that time there was no indication of the actual lengths of notes (just when you pluck them), nor of where the voices lie. So, as I do with lute music, I made my best guess. And, since this piece was set in campanella style, it's probably not sensible to think of separate voices; nevertheless, I've had a go.

Now, Sanz tuned his guitar with the lower 2 courses (4 & 5) an octave higher than you might expect, i.e. from string 1 (e' bb gg d'd' aa, or  E4 B3B3 G3G3 D4D4 A3A3). This helped to provide the campanella effect. There is a article describing Sanz' work and tuning here, and a much fuller analysis of Baroque guitar tuning here. [Note added later: I have recently bought James Tyler's A guide to playing the Baroque guitar, which has become my go-to reference for this music.]

I have noticed that modern arrangements of Sanz' music for the classical guitar assume modern (± linear) tuning. But, following this rule rigidly on the uke makes a very lumpy, jumpy piece. I have therefore applied the following rules:

  • 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;
  • 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;
  • anything can be modified to make the piece easier and more enjoyable to play;
  • there is no attempt to reproduce the campanella effect in this piece, as Rob M has already done it.

In effect, this is a compromise between what Sanz intended and what fits on a uke with a low G string.

I was surprised how different the piece sounds in this arrangement compared with Mr M's campanella form. In fact, it's much more like the Dowland lute music I have been transcribing.

Another point:  there is none of the "Spanish tinge" (to steal a term from Jelly Roll Morton) that is to be found in some of the other pieces in Sanz' books.

It's not a difficult piece, especially of you ignore all the mordents and trills, which I have copied over from the original. I have not shown Sanz' indication of vibrato, which one nowadays tends to apply to all possible notes anyway; and vibrato sounds horrible on the MIDI player.

My next learning step is to see how Mr M achieved his campanella magic on the uke.

You can find the transcriptions here:

* I am very grateful to the anonymous transcriber.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Tárrega: Adelita (Mazurka)

Francisco Tárrega (1852 – 1909)

Well, this is a foray into the future: the romantic late 19th century, to be more exact. A correspondent asked me if I knew of any arrangements of Tárrega's work for low-G ukulele, and I had this one on file, so here it is. I have not transcribed Tárrega's more famous Lagrima because the version published in Mark K Nelson's Favorite fingerstyle solos ... (Mel Bay)* needs little modification to fit the low-G uke.

Adelita is a mazurka, which my trusty music dictionary describes as "... a Polish dance, in a moderate to fast triple time, with the second or third beat often strongly accented". Adelita needs to be played with as much emotion as you can muster, and I've included the expression instructions from the original. The bland MIDI version shows you what happens when you don't.

Some of the fingerings feel rather strange, but it's just a matter of practice. I have modified the original guitar fingerings in places to better suit the uke, and to enable position playing as far as possible.

You can find the transcriptions here:
* See Resources page

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Purcell: Dido's Lament

Another excursion from the Late Renaissance into the early Baroque. I recently transcribed two of Dowland's chromatic lute fantasies for ukulele, but found the format a difficult one, so I thought I'd have a go at a piece with a chromatic element but with a strong melody.  And what better than Dido's lament from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas?

Dido lamenting Aeneas' departure.
Source of image here.

Transcription. As always, there were problems in making this transcriptions: but then, this blog is the record of a learning process. Firstly, the piece is mostly played legato in both melody and accompaniment, and the ukulele is decidedly not a legato instrument. Secondly, the strongest element in the accompaniment is the ground bass, largely consisting of a descending chromatic scale fragment from the tonic to the dominant – in this arrangement from C to G. The uke has a limited range of pitch, and it is not easy to fit in the melody line (representing the soprano's part), the ground bass, and all the notes in between.

What I have done is: (a) transpose the piece from Gm to Cm, (b) score the top and bottom voices, and then (c) add such playable notes that contribute to the harmonies but do not compete with the other voices. Where I couldn't set the bass on the 4th string, I have raised it another octave, where it may be embedded in chords. Therefore, this is not a full representation of the music, but makes a ukulele piece that works reasonably well in its own idiom, I believe. One can think of some of the open chords as contributing to the sense of emptiness and desolation.

Playing does involve some challenges. There is a big stretch in bars 16 and 26 that I can just about manage. At the other end of the fingerboard, one has to play top C, at the 15th fret on string 1. And how to achieve the melismas (a series of notes sung on one syllable)? I try to play them smoothly and, where notes are on different strings, allow them to overlap slightly, as in campanella playing .

Musical Analysis. Dido and Aeneas must be one of the most analysed and dissected pieces of English music, and you can find lots of info online. A useful reference I found late in the day is here. Below is a brief summary of what I have read or discovered for myself.

The piece is a passacaglia with a basis of (unusually) 5 bars, the motif in the ground bass (and associate  harmonies) being repeated throughout the aria. The fancy term for the gradually falling bass line is passus drusiculus. (Incidentally, the passacaglia was originally a strummed interlude between songs or dances, so etymologically the uke may not be such an inappropriate instrument.)

I have divided the score into seven sections, all except the first including the ground bass motif. In pdf format, I have formatted 5 bars per line, to make the pattern more visible.

§A: declamatory recitative, with figured bass.
§B: the first occurrence of the ground bass played on the lowest instrument only ("tasto").
The aria:
     §C1: "When I am laid ...": length 10 bars having 2 repetitions of the bass motif
     §C2: similar, with slight variations of the accompaniment
     §D1: "Remember me ...": format as above
     §D2: similar, with slight variations of the accompaniment
§E: instrumental conclusion

The ground bass, with Purcell's harmonies, is in the table below. The chromatic scale fragment is highlighted in green. This gradual falling imparts a sensation of deep melancholy. The harmonies are transposed from Gm to Cm, but otherwise are those in the original: in the uke transcription they are often less full. For brevity I have expressed the harmonies using modern chord symbols, which rather stretched the system. I have omitted some passing tones. I always feel that the minor 6th chord gives a feeling of impending doom or menace: Gershwin uses it at the beginning of Summertime, with its optimistic title and lyrics, but by the harmonies you can tell that something nasty is going to happen.

Bass      Chords
 C        Cm, Ab, Fm
 B        G7, Dm6, Dº
 Bb       Gm, Gm6
 A        F, F9, Am7b5 (= rootless F9) 
 Ab       Fm
 G        G7
 Eb       Cm
 F        Fm, Dm7, F6, Fm6, Dº, rootless F7 
 G        Cm, G7
 G        G7, G9

In the score  I have indicated the start of the ground bass in the tabs by "**", to make it more obvious. I have included chord names only up to the end of §C, as after that they follow a similar pattern. It is interesting to see that Purcell was content to put major and minor chords built on the same root adjacent to each other.

In bars 20 and 30 there is a fall from Ab to D on "trouble": this is a tritone (an interval of 6 semitones), which generates a kind of musical tension and is used to emphasise the emotional association of the word. In earlier music the tritone was avoided as it was regarded as the Devil's interval. In modern music it gives the dominant 7th chord its unsettled, incomplete feeling. Here, Purcell harmonises the fall with F9 or Am7b5.

A quick glance at the instrumental conclusion (§E) will show a preponderance of falling semitones in the upper line (1st violin) as well as in the bass. More melancholy!

You can find the transcriptions (updated on 19 Feb 2018) here:

Friday, 17 November 2017

Dowland: Galliard to lachrimae (P 46)

Facsimile of the first 12 bars of Galliard to lachrima(e)
Facsimile of the first 12 bars of the lute solo Galliard to lachrima[e].
From John Dowland. 1612. A pilgrimes solace. William Barley, London.

Source: IMSLP.

Last April I posted transcriptions of two versions of John Dowland's Lachrimae Pavane here. It was composed in about 1595 and went viral across Europe, with many versions and variations. At some later date Mr D wrote this lively dance Galliard to Lachrimae, which was published in 1612.

It is not an easy piece to play and keep to time, with all the dotted notes and tied notes – and, if you play it at Nigel North's 78 bpm, it's even more challenging. I have tried playing just the melody notes, the ones with the stems pointing up, in order to get to know where the tune lies.

The sainted Diana Poulton described this piece as an "ingenious transmutation" from 4/4 to 3/4 time. In the original pavane there are 3 sections (with variations) of 8 bars, or 32 beats per section. In this galliard the sections are of 10, 11 and 10 bars (30, 33 and 30 beats) per section, presumably to make room for all the notes.

The galliard is set in G minor in the lute version, and in A minor in this transcription. To use modern terminology, Sections A & C end on the chord of A major (the Picardy 3rd), which is typical. In section A you can find both E major (the dominant of Am) and E minor. Section B is set in the relative major (C) but concludes (via the chord of G major) to end on the related E major (the dominant of Am). In Section C the harmonies are much simpler and oscillate between tonic and dominant.

I have inserted modern chord names as an aid to understanding the harmonies, but I am aware that this will not have been the way that Mr D and his contemporaries regarded the music. Indeed, in some places I have had to guess at the most appropriate chord name when there are just 2 notes, but it seems sensible that, for example, the notes B and D before a chord of E will be Bm rather than G(major).

Brave souls can find the transcriptions here:

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Dowland: Mr Knight's Galliard (P 36)

This was not the most promising piece to transcribe for the ukulele – the lute original involves fingering on the low diapaison tuned to D' alias D1 (which is usually used open). So, rather than follow the native fingering I have transposed to the inevitable G to include as much music as possible. It's still a jolly tune, but obviously does not have that belly-vibrating bass line of the lute version.

There are three eight-bar strains, each repeated without variation. The first phrase, in the treble range, is repeated lower – by two octaves in the lute, by one octave in this arrangement – as in the extract below.  Diana Poulton notes that the motif is not original to Mr D, but occurs in earlier pieces by other composers. Versions of the motif occur in bar 3 (raised by a fifth), in Section B (bars 12–14) and more distantly in Section C (bar 19). I wonder if I've missed any.

Mr Knight's Galliard (simplified): the opening phrase and its repeat in the bass line

You can find the transcriptions here:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Dowland: A piece without title (P 28)

Now, here's a nice easy little jig with attractive harmonies. The authorship is not certain, but Diana Poulton in her biog of John Dowland (see Resources page) reckons that it is very likely that he is the composer. She detects similarities with Tarleton's Resurrection "in character, [and] with its underlying melancholy". Hmm. Have a look at my post of Tarleton here and see if you agree.

Dog dancing a jig 
from the Gutenberg edition of Walter Crane's Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes
Illustrators: John Gilbert, John Tenniel, Harrison Weir, et al.
I just couldn't resist this image!

The jig has 4 strains, each of 4 bars, with the 4th being a variation of the 2nd. No repeats are shown, but one could repeat each strain, with ornamentation the second time round. There's only one slightly tricky bit – bar 12, where I have found the following fingerings most convenient:  1 4 3, 2, 3 3, 3.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Dowland: John Dowland's Galliard (P 21)

This is a sprightly little galliard with only two strains, and no variations to the repeats. Scale fragments, 7 descending and 3 ascending, are prominent in both voices.

Nigel North plays the repeats with ornaments, and some relatively simple divisions – none of which I have transcribed, except for an approximation of the final bar.

It is a nice easy piece to read off the dots and understand, but not quite so easy to play, as you need to make some quick chord changes to maintain the continuity of the melody and bass lines.

The most difficult part for me is the long stretch from the low G# on string 4 at the end of bar 2 to the high E on string 1: I can just about manage it, but slide my index finger to the A on string 4. A work-around is to play the bass notes an octave higher on string 2. Either way, it helps to leave the little finger on the E ready for the sweet Dm_sus2 (or is it Am6?) chord in bar 3.

An engraving of English explorer Sir Thomas Cavendish (or Candish) (1560–1592), who was known as "the Navigator" because he was the first to deliberately set out to circumnavigate the globe. The engraving contains the words "Thomas Candish, ArmigerAnimum fortuna sequatur [The soul follows chance]".
From Wikipedia.

An alternative name for this piece, in another MS [Add.2764 (2)] in Cambridge University Library, is Capit[ain] Candishe his Galy[ard]. If 'Candishe' is a version of 'Cavendish', this name may apply to Thomas Cavendish (1560 – 1592), an English explorer, sailor and privateer who built his own galleon and, like Sir Francis Drake, harried the Spanish treasure ships. He was knighted by Elizabeth I for his efforts.

As the galliard is scored for a lute with only 6 strings it may have been written during Dowland's early career. This accords with Cavendish's dates – Cavendish was 3 years the elder and died 4 years after Mr D graduated in music from Oxford. [This is all assumption on my part, and I'm no historian, so don't take it on trust. Even so, it's a good opportunity to add an illustration.]

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Dowland: The frog galliard P23 & P23a, and the song 'Now, O now ...'

At last, a piece that's not too difficult to play (if you ignore the graces). The frog galliard was very popular in Dowland's time, and gave rise to versions by other lutenists, and also to J D's song Now, O now I needs must part.

In this post, rather than show the difficult variations in the originals, I have included two versions of each of the two strains (A and B): the first and simpler is from P 23 (ascribed to Anon), while the second is from P 23a (bearing J D's signature) and is very similar but with some bars more syncopated and with many graces (twiddly bits). These graces are indicated in the lute version by '#' whose interpretation is uncertain. Following Poulton's lute tutor I have plumped for mordents, where the grace note is higher than the main note on descending scales, and vice versa. But, it's up to you: I find them pretty difficult, and will need a lot of practice to make them musical, so I tend to leave them out.

Bars 7 and 14 of the first strain are versions of the 'Solus-cum-sola motif' (see previous post). The first 5 bars of the second strain are reminiscent of Greensleeves.

The Duc d'Alençon et d'Anjou, aged 29.
By an unknown painter, via Wikipedia.

There is conjecture that the title refers to the Duc d'Alençon et d'Anjou, Queen Elizabeth's most long-serving suitor, whom she affectionately referred to as 'My Frog'. Whether it's true or not, it does show how long this reference to the French nation has persisted amongst les rosbifs, and gives me the opportunity to include the duc's portrait as a young man (and much Elizabeth's junior).

The air 'Now, O now I needs must part' was published by Mr D in his First booke of songes and, though simple, follows the galliard quite closely. I have appended the words to the pdf transcript, as it helps to bear them in mind whilst playing the galliard.

You can find the transcriptions here:

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dowland: Solus cum sola (P 10)

Here is a Dowland piece of which I am particularly fond. It repeatedly features a motif, in various forms, which occurs also in quite a few of his lute solo pieces*. Since Solus cum sola is written for a 6-course lute, it is probably quite early in Mr D's canon, so this might be the first airing of the motif:

John Dowland's favourite (?) motif as it first occurs in Solus cum sola

The lute original is a pavane in the usual 3 strains (A, B, C), the first two followed by divisions or variations (A’, B’), the third by a repeat.

§ A’ looks particularly daunting, but due to the slow beat (44 bpm in Nigel North's recording) it should be achievable with practice. I did try to simplify it, but as I lack Mr D's genius it all sounded a bit bland, so here it is in its full glory.

Strain C caused problems in transcription because much of the activity is on the lower lute strings which, in our case, we do not have. So, in § C the base line is raised an octave, and in § C’ I have taken the liberty of reversing the two voices, which does rather change the feeling of the piece.

It's not too difficult to play if you stick to playing the three main themes (A, B, C) at first. Once they are fixed in the mind, the variations are easier to understand (if not to play.) It being a slow piece, many of the chords sound good if arpeggiated.

Woodcut by Sebald Beham
Say no more!

The title, according to Diana Poulton (see Sources page for refs) is a truncation of the Latin Solus cum sola non cogiabuntur orare pater noster; literally: "A lone man with a lone woman won't be thinking of saying prayers". There seems to be some connection, now lost, with the Fleetwood family of Buckinghamshire: the next pavane (Sola sine sola) was dedicated to Mrs Brigide Fleetwood, whose father had 18 (or possibly 26) children by means of two wives. Not much time for praying there, then.

Poulton and Lam think that the piece is based on "The dilly song", which is a variant of "Green grow the rushes-O" (there's a good Wikipedia article), but it all seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination to me. ["Dilly" is an interesting word: it can be a variant of "silly",  or  where I come from (SE Wales) it means a handcart.]

You can read a fuller analysis of the piece here, although some of the links are extinct.

You can find the transcriptions here:
PS Here is another version (from an MS in the Cambridge University Library) of the division to strain A (ignore the bar numbers):

* I have been meaning to make a list of all the pieces in which I can detect the motif

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dowland: Mr Dowland's midnight (P 99) [low 3rd]

(thanks to an unknown source for this image)

I have already posted a version of this piece here, but transposed to a higher key to fit more of the music in. It is one of Dowland's easiest pieces, but the transposition made it a little more difficult in execution. I have therefore produced the present version using as far as possible the native lute fingering.

One minor annoyance in making uke versions of lute music is that the note A3 (alias a) on the lute becomes B3 (= b) on the uke, which means that it has to be played on the 4th string, which is then not be available for a lower voice. In this arrangement, I have assumed that the 3rd string is tuned to B3, so you will have to lower it by a semitone to play the piece.

In previous posts I have refrained from asking you to retune your instrument, in case it puts you off playing the pieces; but then I noticed that guitar adaptations of lute music often specify "3rd to F#", so I thought "if guitarists can do it, so can we".

You can find the transcriptions here:
You will probably want to add your own graces or other ornaments on the repeats to add a little variety – there is plenty of space to spare.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Dowland: Mrs Vauxes Gigge, preceded by A Coy Joy (P 57, P 80)

Will Kemp dancing a jig (gigge) from Norwich to London, 1600
(From Wikipedia)

Well, my last four postings were pretty hard to play, so I thought I'd go for a few Dowland pieces that were more accessible. When I played through the lute tabs of the first, Mrs Vauxes Gigge (on an old uke with the 3rd string lowered a semitone to match the intervals on a lute) it all seemed rather familiar. Looking back through my transcripts, I found that it was an elaboration of A Coy Joy, aka A Coy Toy, which I had posted here earlier.

So, what I have done is to combine the two pieces to make it clear how Mr D developed a simple piece by adding new divisions (runs of short notes) and by varying the harmonies. I have made a stab at indicating the main chord names above the tabs, which may be anachronistic but does help analysis of the harmonic structure.

There are two main themes:
a, a 4-bar theme, set in Dm,
b, a 4-bar theme, set mainly in the relative major (F), and
c, a 6-bar theme mostly in F but ending in D.
In A Coy Joy we have sections a1, b1 and c1
In Mrs Vauxes Gigge we have sections a2, a2', b2, b2', c2, c2'.
(The primes indicate variations.)
In the score I have indicated section names above the notation.

Please don't let this analysis put you off. The Joy is pretty easy, and the Gigge not too bad as one knows where it comes from. As usual, one has to work finding the most efficient fingerings, which are not always obvious. I haven't indicated them here as we all have different preferences, and I must admit that I find it hard enough to take in the notes without looking at all those extra little numbers in the score.

You can find the transcriptions here:

I hope you have fun playing them.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Dowland: Fantasie (P 6)

Facsimile of the first four lines of P 6 in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book in Cambridge University Library.
Not an easy read: all respect to the transcribers own whose work I have drawn.

Well, there seems to be quite a theme developing in recent posts: transcribing fantasies by Dowland that are not amongst the easiest to play. This is the last fantasie that I'll do for a while: in future I'll search Mr D's oeuvre for pieces that are less challenging and more fun (?).

If you are at all familiar with Dowland's work, you will notice a motif that he used in many pieces transcribed here in bars 5/6, 7/8, 14 and 40.

The first 22 bars fitted well onto the ukulele, but in later sections I had to do some jiggery pokery. So, in bar 23 I had to end with a rising scale so that I could then start the 2-octave descending scale in bars 24 and 25 an octave higher than the lute version and fit the full run on the uke. Then, in arranging bars 30 – 35 I had to mess around with the octaves and swap the voices, and I must admit that I'm not too enamoured of the result.

As in the previous fantasie we have a section (pp 37 – 39) of arpeggios (or partial ones), although they do not always lend themselves to being played by just holding down a chord. In bar 44 I am very tempted to leave out the second voice, as the piece concludes with a sort of cadenza all on the top string, before ending on an A-major chord.

Available free in the following formats:
  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (very unsubtle, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's composing.)
Good luck!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Dowland: Fantasie (P 5)

The last 4 lines of the beautifully clear calligraphy in the Cosens Lute Book in Cambridge University Library.

Having essayed JD's challenging chromatic fantasies in the previous two posts, with mixed success, I thought I'd have a go at transcribing this diatonic fantasy, which has less surprising harmonies. It is quite short, just 35 bars. The original was set in Dm/D, but as I have maintained the original fingerings as much as possible it is in Em/E in this transcription.

The first theme consists of 2 bars of descending scale, 2 bars ascending and then 2 bars descending again. The rest of the piece includes, according to Poulton, of "fragments of the scale in decorative patterns". In some places (bars 18 – 20) the notes are doubled, which does help us in the execution. In bars 21 – 23 we have arpeggios which can be played (almost) by holding chord shapes. In bars 26 – 28 the rhythm changes to 12/8 time - this is not very obvious in the tabs. Bars 33 & 34 are good fun to play.

Transcribing the piece was not excessively challenging as much of the upper two voices fitted on to the top four strings, although I did have to do some octave jumping to fit in the lower notes when the arrangement seemed thin.

I had made a resolution to make simpler versions of the arrangements, but found that with the fantasies in particular there is not the familiar pattern of:
   (a) a plain statement of each theme and accompaniment, followed by
   (b) a more elaborate development on the theme, often with rapidly-played divisions;
   (c) and sometimes further themes following the same pattern.
In pieces in other formats (dances, songs, etc.) this allows me to transcribe the main statements, sometimes in simplified form and omit all the twiddly bits. The looser structure of the fantasies (or fancies) does not really lend itself to such treatment.

In trying to simplify this piece, I found myself merely deleting the second voice, and then it occurred to me that (with few exceptions) for a simple version one merely has to play only those notes with stems pointing up. Indeed, this is what I do to familiarise myself with a piece, and sometimes as far as I can get with difficult pieces. However, I think that if not played too fast this fantasy should be possible with enough practice and patience.

Available free in the following formats:
  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (very unsubtle, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's writing.)

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Dowland: Forlorn hope (P 2)

John Dowland wrote two extraordinary pieces that are unusual in being based on fragments of the chromatic scale. My previous post included a transcription of Farwell (fantasie), in which the notes ascended. The present transcription is of Forlorn hope (fancye), in which the movement of the chromatic scale is downwards.

The first few bars are not too difficult. But, bars 28 – 35 are very challenging (in the lute transcription each bar takes up a whole line), so I have done some simplification by eliminating what appeared to be the least significant notes,  although all the notes shown are Dowland's own and in the right order. I have appended a fuller version after bar 36.

Played on the lute, this piece really lives up to its name. It starts with a wistful melancholy, which progresses to a frantic despair, the bass notes and discordant harmonies going straight to ones guts.

The arrangement for ukulele, try as I may, fails: I publish it here as a curiosity.

I think that the problem is that Forlorn hope depends much more on the resonance of the bass strings than does Farwell, and the harmonies really need the full voicings of the lute version to be appreciated. Also, the discordant wide intervals, so moving on the lute, sound awful when compressed to make them fit on the ukulele.

Well, you can't win them all!

Matchlock Musketeer: Elizabethan infantry, 1588-1603, Stephen Walsh

By the way, in Dowland's period (according to the phrase "forlorn hope" meant
"... a robust and gung-ho band of soldiers. 
Each troop in the British Army had a hand-picked group of men, chosen for their ferocity and indifference to risk (and occasionally by using that tried and tested military method of "I want three volunteers. You, you and you."). They were the army's 'attack dogs' who risked all in reckless death or glory raids on the enemy."
(Come to think of it, perhaps I was reckless in trying to transcribe this piece.)

So, which interpretation do we go with: the literal or the military?

If you're still curious you can find the piece in the following formats:

  • pdf (quick preview.)
  • pdf (instant download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (the intentional discords sound very harsh, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of Dowland's writing.)

As time goes by, and I get more familiar with the piece, I may well tweak the tabs further.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Dowland: Farwell (fantasie) (P 3)

Image of Matthew Holmes' MS of the lute original of Dowland's Farwell
The last two lines of Matthew Holmes' neatly written manuscript of John Dowland's piece for lute Farwell.
At the bottom is a rare example of Dowland's signature, presumably indicating his approval.
They must have been wonderful players to give a performance from such a compressed and enigmatic tablature.
John Dowland wrote two extraordinary pieces that are unusual in being based on fragments of the chromatic scale. In Farwell (his spelling), set for the lute in G, he chose the 6 notes ascending from A to D. In this ukulele version I have maintained his fingering on the top 4 strings as closely as possible, so the scale goes from B to E on the 1st string. This fragment is used throughout the piece: Diana Poulton (in John Dowland, 1982, Faber & Faber, p 115) counted 14 instances.

Transcription for the ukulele presented more than the usual problems in reducing from 8 courses on the lute (unusually, JD specified fingerings on the 7th and 8th courses) to 4 strings. Fortunately, Sarge Gerbode has published a fair copy online, but there were so many unexpected notes and harmonies that I also referred to facsimilies of the the MS in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book in Cambridge, and there the notes really were. (The oddest note is the D at the end of bar 30, but the task of harmonizing the chromatic figures leads to interesting voicings throughout.)

I transferred all the notes I could into TablEdit, moving the lower notes an octave higher where I could fit them in. Once they were in the right position on the "timeline", I then had to decide on lengths. (I have mentioned elsewhere that lute tabs at this time showed where to put your fingers, and when to pluck, but not when to take your fingers off.) The next decision was to sort out the 4 voices and reduce them in number to something fingerable on the ukulele. Fortunately, I then found a transcription made by the English composer Peter Warlock in the last century, and this helped a lot.

Finally, I listened to Nigel North's performance repeatedly, and then removed as many less important notes as I could, to help distinguish the voices with the most melodic lines that carry the piece. Thus, what we now have is basically a two-voice arrangement, with bass notes added to emphasise the rhythm and enrich the harmonies. It just needed minor adjustments to make the score reasonably playable, but I still find it very challenging.  Poulton does say that the lutenist requires "superb technique" to play this piece, so I wonder if I will ever be able to do it justice.

I have also suggested fingerings where they're not immediately obvious, but it's all a matter of personal preference.

By the way, you may think that a tempo of 36 bpm is very slow at the beginning of the piece, but just wait until you get to the meaty bits!

You can find the piece in the following formats:
pdf (quick preview.)
pdf (instant download, tabs only, 4 pp.)
pdf (tabs and notation; this file is longer, but having the notation makes it easier to get a feel for what the music is doing, 9 pp.)
MIDI (the intentional discords sound very harsh, but don't let this spoil your appreciation of the writing.)

As time goes by, and I get more familiar with the piece, I may well tweak the tabs further.

Have fun!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Ammerbach: Passamezzo Antico

A woodcut illustration from the book in which this organ piece was published.
The organist looks very laid back with his stockinged leg and uncomfortably long sword.

I transcribed this piece for low-G ukulele from an arrangement by Paul-Gustav Feller for organ, from the original in Orgel oder Instrumant Tablatur, Pub. Leipzig 1571. I believe that the original was written in a kind of tablature.

Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (c 1530–1597), according to the brief article in Wikepedia, was a German organist and arranger who worked in Leipzig.

This arrangement contains:
(a) two simple versions of the passamezzo (4/4 time);
(b) a rather more difficult but fuller passamezzo;
(c) a reprisa, which is mostly simple block chords;
(d) a saltarella (3/4 time)

According to my musical dictionary, a passamezzo ('half-step') was a fairly lively dance in duple time, popular in the late 16th century. The bass line (in Gm) of passamezzo antiqua was: G | F | G | D | G | F | G:D | G , and passamezzo moderna was similar but with F replaced by C. So, the first section in this piece looks more moderna than antiqua – or am I showing my ignorance here?

The saltarello or saltarella was a kind of after dance played following a passamezzo, in triple time, with a jerky, syncopated feel, so perhaps the dancers had to do a bit of jumping (saltere = to jump). Some regard it as a kind of galliard.

The arrangement is available in various formats here:
pdf (quick preview)
pdf (download)
MIDI (rather slow and expressionless)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dowland: Suzannah galliard (P 91)

Albrecht Durer (1555): Susanna surprised by the elders.
I doubt that she is the subject of the galliard but I can't resist the incongruity and humour of Durer's engraving.
This must be a companion to his picture of men at the bath house of about the same period.

This is a lovely little galliard, and not too difficult to play. I particularly enjoy the sweet harmonies.

I have inserted the chord names on the tabs, although I realise that such an approach is as anachronistic as the illustration above. Nevertheless, I reckon that there are 13 chords in this short piece.

I have made the arrangement so that it can be played as much as possible by holding the chord shapes, and moving the appropriate finger. If you are a used to strumming this should be a help. In bar 13, the last (split) beat can be played by forming a 1-3-4-3 chord (a sort of unrooted C7, though that's not how John Dowland would have seen it).

Anyway, I hope you like it as much as I do.

Available for download in these formats:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Posts listed by hardness – a new page

 Image from John Davis: The seaman's secrets, 1607
(complete with misprint)

  As this blog has grown, it has become more and more difficult to navigate, to see what is on offer.

  Now, you can access the tab files, in various formats and in alphabetical order, using the "Quick links" box towards the bottom of the right-hand column.

  However, a number of correspondents have asked me to give some idea of difficulty of the pieces, so I have classified each post, from easy to hard, on a scale of 1 – 10. Just click on the "Posts listed by hardness" tab in the navigation bar above

I wonder if you will agree with my evaluations.

Trad (Anon & Cutting): Greensleeves in Dm

Well, it had to happen: I thought that it was about time that I had a go making a simple and accessible arrangement of Greensleeves, although there are already plenty available.
  The main theme (bars 1 – 16) of this one is really easy, taken from The Lute Society's Fifty very easy pieces for lute, which is a transcription of an MS at Trinity College Dublin.

Anon: Green Sleues for lute. MS, Trinity College Dublin

  The rest of the piece is an adaptation of a version by Francis Cutting (1550 – 96) in the British Library, transcribed by Sarge Gerbode. After a couple of tries, it's quite easy, too. Such a relief after Loth to depart.
Greensleeves by Maister Cutting. British Library, London

  I am currently making a fuller arrangement in Gm, which has more of interest (and so is a bit more difficult), and I will post it soon.
  You can hear the same pieces played together on the lute by the indefatigable Luthval – well worth a listen.

History of Greensleeves
Loads of myths have accumulated around this tune, and I can do no better than to direct you to an impressive history and analysis published by Early Music Muse here.

Available to download here:
pdf (preview)
pdf (download)
TablEdit (download)
MIDI (download)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Purcell: Festival Rondeau from 'Abdelazer'

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695)

One of my occasional excursions into the Baroque. After all the 16th century pieces, it's fascinating to see how music had evolved into a more familiar style.

I heard this piece on a BBC TV programme about British Composers of the Baroque Period, and couldn't resist having a go at transcribing it for the uke. It's such a stirring tune and has a clear chordal structure.

The first 8 bars are a simple version of the main theme, and the following bars are a fuller version of the theme and variations. The whole piece is not too difficult, and in some places you just have to hold the chords and play. The Gm in bar 11 and elsewhere is a bit of a stretch, but works well once you get used to it. I like to play it on my 8-string tenor, as the double strings make it sound a bit more orchestral.

It's available in the following formats for you to download:


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Dowland: Loth to depart (P 69)

Edward Matthew Ward: Sir Thomas Moore says goodbye to his daughter
(I admit that this image is anachronistic – the event took place about 75 yrs before Loth to Depart was written.)

A bit sooner than I promised in my previous post, here is a ukulele version of Dowland’s lute composition Loth to Depart, P 69 (in Gm). It is possibly the most difficult that I have arranged –Diana Poulton refers to it as a graduation piece for lutenists. I have maintained the native fingering as much as possible, so this ukulele version is set in Am.

Structure: the piece consists of a 16-bar theme followed by 6 variations, each deviating further from the original.

Harmony: the piece makes much use of the Emajor chord (in this version) but, as we don’t have a low E available, the voicings I have used are necessarily unrooted, using either G# or B in the bass. You may find a few discords elsewhere, but I have checked back and they seem to have been intended by Mr D.

I have mostly omitted LH fingerings (information overload!), but there are a few indicated where it is more efficient to deviate from the ‘defaults’.

Where there are overlapping runs of notes (divisions) I have tried to distinguish them in the notation, but this is not always feasible in the tabs; nevertheless, I have tried to make the tabs as full as possible, so that they can be used independently.

Some notes may be shown longer than it is possible to play (especially where an open string on the lute is represented by a fingered note on the uke), so just regard them as something to aspire to.

Bars 65 and 67: the divisions were distressingly fast, so I have used simplified versions in the main score, and added more complete versions at the end. Good luck!

Available to download in the following formats:
pdf (notation + tabs), 8pp
pdf (tabs only), 5pp
MIDI (60 bpm - sounds slow at first, but just wait...)

I wish you joy.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dowland: Lothe to departe (P 31)

Facsimile of Lothe to departe in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book
Can be seen on the Cambridge University Library Website here.
Well, at last a reasonably accessible piece from John Dowland. As usual, Sarge Gerbode has made a fair copy, which I used for this arrangement. It is set in G minor (kind of).

Dowland made at least two arrangements of the air: this is the easy one, with 5 variations of the 8-bar main theme. There is another version (P69) of 112 bars, in which successive variations diverge further and further from the main melody. Transcribing it for uke will be a job for the long winter nights.

I have attached the original air to the end of the score. (The words are, sadly, lost.) It consists of 16 bars in A A' structure. A' varies from A only in the last 2 bars, and this is where I came across the term Picardy Third: the practice of ending a minor or modal piece in the major mode (i.e. with a major third in the final chord). Practically all the Renaissance pieces in a minor key that I have transcribed do this in the final bar, and usually at the end of each section as well. Either that or they omit the third of the chord altogether (as in the 'power chord' of rock musicians).

Dowland's version of Lothe does this, of course, but the original air (also shown) emphasises the change of mode by sharpening the B-flats to B-natural in the final 2 bars of the melody line – which sounds to my ears rather desolate. (It's very reminiscent of the Coventry Carol.) You can replicate this effect in the uke arrangement by changing the mode in the last 2 bars, and ending on a G-major chord voiced with B-natural on the first string.

Available in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf (automatic download)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Anon: The Duke of Milan's Dump

Philip II of Spain, Duke of Milan when Holmes' Lute Book was written
Painting by Titian

I was browsing the facsimile of Matthew Holmes' Lute Book in Cambridge (you can see it here) when I noticed this intriguingly titled piece. Fortunately, the ever industrious Sarge Gerbode had made a transcript of it, which I used to make the arrangement for low-G ukulele.

The normally rather dry and dusty Oxford Companion to Music (10th edition) has this charming definition:

DUMP, DUMPE. An old dance of which nobody now knows anything, except that the word is generally used in a way that suggests a melancholy cast of expression ... There is a Triste Dumpe in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and it is not particularly doleful – but then it is Irish.
Meanwhile Collins' Dictionary of Music says:
dump, 16th and 17th century musical term, probably indicating an elegy or lament. The original meaning of 'dump' is a fit of melancholy or depression, [hence] 'to be down in the dumps'... All [dumps] are instrumental and most are constructed on a simple ground bass.
Well, hard as I try I cannot think that this piece is particularly melancholy. Dumps were often written in remembrance of a deceased personage, so perhaps whoever wrote this piece wasn't particularly sad about the demise of the duke. The Lute Book was written in England c. 1588–95, and the incumbent Duke of Milan was the Hapsburg Philip II of Spain who reigned 1540 to 1598 and married Mary I of England. Spain was not that popular at the time, and one wonders if there was a message here in the cheeriness of the lament. Or, have I read too much Hilary Mantel and CJ Sansom? (I am always open to correction from the cognoscenti.)

Anyway, it's a simple jaunty little tune, with a lot of ground bass on the open 4th string. On the lute, this is played on the 7th (F diapason) course, so we uke players have to do our best. My main liberties with the original have been:

  • Moving the ground bass to the 3rd string in § D, so it's not a bass any more.
  • Moving the melody up an octave in § D' (which is not in the original) to leave room for the bass. This means that bars 21–25 have to be played with a 2 barré on the top 2 strings.

You can download this piece in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf (automatic download)

Monday, 5 June 2017

Dowland's first galliard (p 22)

Final bars of Dowland's first galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Final bars of Dowland's First Galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Facsimile published online here by Cambridge University Library
Well, if this really was Dowland's first galliard, he really hit the ground running. It's full of memorable passages.

The image above shows the end of the piece in Holmes' MS (in this period they seem to have put the title at the end, so we have the six first bars of the next piece too.) The top of the page is really worn, and I take my hat off to Sarge Gerbode for transcribing it. You can read more about the MS by clicking on the link in the caption above.

The 'catch' in §A is the melody line in bar 6 echoed by the bass line in bar 7 (and centuries later echoed in turn by the theme tune to the film Deliverance).  Similarly, in §B there are repeated catchy motifs in bars 23 and 24.

§§C and C' are the easiest bits, especially as I have necessarily simplified the tabs. It consists of repeated motifs in the following basic harmonic sequence (on the uke):

A  | A  | C  | C  | D  | D  | E  | E  | A  | A  |

with a passing 4th note in each chord.

The pattern in §C' reminds me of the folk banjo picking style known as double thumbing – there's nothing new under the sun.

In these final sections I have taken the liberty of shortening the final chord in most of the bars, following Nigel North's performance on the lute. You may prefer to allow these notes to ring out to the end of the bar, or use both versions if you repeat the piece. It's all to play for.

Available to download in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf automatic download

Dowland: Lacrime (from Barley's lute tutor)

William Barley Lute Tutor

I was browsing this old lute tutor by William Barley (published by Early Music Online) when I noticed a version of John Dowland's Lachrimae. Out of curiosity I decided to transcribe it for the ukulele, correcting a few instances of what appeared to my inexpert eye to be typographical errors – in particular a strange harmony in bar 23 (I have appended a literal transcription of the bar at the end of the piece).

The three undecorated sections (A, B, C) are quite spare, whilst sections A', B' and C' consist of similarly spare bars interspersed with 1 or 2 bars of divisions. To be honest, I prefer the transcription I uploaded a few posts back, so I'm including this version for the sake of completeness.

Versions available to download:
pdf (preview)
pdf automatic download

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Dowland: Queen Elizabeth's Galliard (P 41)

Miniature of Queen Elizabeth playing the lute
Miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute.
(Thumb under or thumb over?)

This is a rather more challenging piece than The Queen's Galliard, which I posted a few days ago.

Not only was Queen Elizabeth I a player of the lute, but she was also an enthusiastic dancer - one way for her to exercise. I like to think of her dancing vigorously to this galliard, and the other dancers being very careful.

Knowing little of Renaissance dancing (except from watching Wolf Hall) I have done a little background reading. The galliard was a frisky dance in triple time, with 5 steps to 6 beats (or 2 bars); the missing step is a jump on beat 5, in the middle of bar 2. The most familiar tune in galliard form is, at least to the British, God save the Queen, presumably with the jump on the second syllable of 'gracious'.

The first 16 bars of Queen Elizabeth's Galliard are in 3/4 time. It took me a little while to divine that the rest of the piece is in 9/8 time (I hope), which must have made the dancing interesting. As it's quite quick (I have heard performances of 80 – 100 bpm – how on earth do they do that?), it involves a lot of fast chord changes at the beginning, and the divisions in bars 9–16 are, to be honest, terrifying. Perhaps one day ...

Anyway, do have a look:
pdf preview
pdf automatic download
 Good luck!