Monday, 20 February 2017

Trad: Watkins Ale

Wood cut: couple expecting Watkins Ale
A delivery of Watkins Ale is expected.
And now a song for low-G ukulele with a strong, bouncy melody line. I noticed this piece (taken from the Weld MS, c 1600) in Diana Poulton's Lute Tutor, and thought it should be easily playable on the ukulele, with fewer than the usual number of compromises in transcription. To put the arrangement in context, I have included the bawdy song on which it was based; all the words (taken from here) are at the end of the file. Looking at the image above and reading the first verse will give you the general thrust of the piece, and a good guess at the metaphorical meaning of 'Watkins ale'.

    The structure of the song is a a b b c c, and of the arrangement a a' b b' c c', where the primes indicate more elaborate variations. As a beginner, I found comparing a with a', etc. to be a useful introduction to the construction of divisions (decorative short runs) in the late 16th century.

    The melody of the lute version is not identical to the song (it's rather less interesting), so I've done a bit of tweaking, particularly to the 1st and 3rd bars of sections b and b' of the arrangement. The basic harmonies are quite simple, and there are a few trivial chord substitutions.

   This piece was used by Poulton as an exercise in ornaments (mordents, appogiaturas, shakes, slides, etc), although no-one is certain exactly what the symbols in the original MS meant. Rather than prescribe any kind of treatment I have used the mordent symbol (a short zig-zag) to indicate the position of an ornament (to be applied to the top note), and leave it to your skill, dexterity and judgment to add the twiddly bits as you wish. After all, we're only in this for the fun.

   All in all, this is an easy piece (which I at least find reassuring), but as with everything I post it's just a starting point for your own simplifications or elaborations.

   As usual available to download in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI. Before you print the pdf file, you might like to know that on pp 1–2 is the song, pp 3–4 the arrangement, p 5 the words (they just about fit); p 6 is a phantom blank page.


  1. Hi ,,you have so many tabs in low G for ukulele. I'm wondering if the tabs oar also for a barytone ukulele tuned Tuned like the first 4 strings of a classic or acoustic guitar, do your tabs work on a baritone uke?

  2. Thank you for your interest.
    The tenor uke which I use is tuned like the top 4 strings of a guitar fitted with a capo at the 5th fret, whilst the baritone uke is tuned like the open top 4 strings of a guitar - i.e. the intervals are the same. So, in theory, you should be able to play these pieces on a baritone - if your hands are big enough.
    Measurements: The scale length of my tenor is 43 cm, of a bari 48 cm, of my classical guitar 66 cm. I have used in these arrangements a maximum stretch of 1st finger on fret 1, 4th finger on fret 6, or about 10 cm, but my hands aren't particularly large for a man. So, give it a go.
    Some parts of my arrangements don't really work on the much larger guitar (a 10 cm stretch is the only reaches between frets 1 and 4), but because it has more bass strings to bring in to play one could retune 3rd to F# and use the lute originals.
    Let me know how you get on.

  3. Well , In fact, I play on all sizes of ukulele. Of the classical guitar. I'm used to it because I've been playing it for years. On the other hand, Ukuleles, this is relatively recent (8 or 10 years approximately) .. I tried some of your tabs on the baritone uke and it goes pretty well. I have not tried them all but I'll see .Thank you for the response .


I hope you enjoy these arrangements. I would welcome your views, and comments on possible errors or improvements.