About this blog; technical notes


There's something fascinating about early music played on the lute and Renaissance (4-course) guitar. Modern versions of these old instruments are handmade in small volumes, and therefore expensive to buy – and the lute takes a lot of work to tune even before you try to play it.

With a little editing or retuning one can, of course, play this music on the classical guitar, but it sounds too heavy to my ear. So, I have made these transcriptions to be played on a tenor ukulele with a low G string - an instrument I like to think of as a small, affordable Renaissance guitar (without paired strings*). I wrote them for my own recreational use, and then thought that others might enjoy them - hence this blog.

As it says in the blog description, all these arrangements are for an instrument with a low G, so probably require a larger instrument – a low G string can sound a bit clunky on a little uke. Most available transcriptions (and there are lots of excellent ones!) are for the re-entrant tuning, which is sensible because that is the orthodox and most used tuning. The disadvantage is that a lot of Renaissance music is syncopated (in a non-jazzy way, by alternating irregularly between the bass and treble strings) and has long overlapping runs of notes (polyphony), and this is difficult to achieve with a high G (lovely though many of the arrangements are).

The Composers

There's so much music out there that I am currently concentrating on transcribing John Dowland's easier lute pieces, as reset by Sarge Gerbode on his impressive and exhaustive website (see Resources page). The 1st, 2nd and 4th strings on the lute are pitched a whole tone below the corresponding strings on the ukulele, so some parts of the transcription can be fret-to-fret (the native fingering); hence, for example, the key of G minor on the lute will sound as A minor on the uke. 

When I used standard tenor strings I actually tuned my uke a tone lower as it enhanced the sustain, so the instruments were in part be note-to-note too. I now use lighter Living Waters strings, and now tune to standard pitch. 

Because the uke lacks bass strings, I have often raised the key several intervals to increase the separation between melody and bass lines: this can lead to a bit of a stretch, and excursions to the upper frets, and I hope that you find it worth the effort.

I am also working on works for the Renaissance guitar by the French composer Le Roy around 1550 – these are direct transcriptions of the fingerings from the originals, but with note lengths often increased to show my guess at the author's intentions for performance. I have recently started exploring the work of Spanish composer for guitar and vihuela Alonso Mudarra.

The tabs

The tabs have been prepared using TablEdit (see Resources page), and I am  publishing them as pdf files and TablEdit files, and later with MIDI files too. There are links to the files in each post, and also in the right-hand column of the blog pages. All you have to do is copy or download them and print them - just help yourself! If you like them, crediting this site would be a kindness.

The TablEdit reader is available free from http://www.tabledit.com/. If you buy TablEdit composer you will also be able to edit and save the files to your own taste.

The way lute music is written doesn't always tell you just how long a note lasts, only where to put your fingers, and how long to wait until you pluck the next note. Also, it does not discriminate the melody, bass and other lines.  Indeed, there are often 4 voices in lute music: cantus, altus, tenor and bassus. This is a bit of a challenge to arrange for a small, 4-string instrument.

I have done my best to interpret these voices in setting the tabs (I have no musical qualifications). So, the tails of melody notes extend upwards, and of the bass line downwards. When there is a middle voice, I have just done my best. I have recently (Oct 2017) bought a copy of Poulton & Lam (see Resources page), in which proper musicians have presented Dowland's music in both lute tabs and piano equivalent – this has been a great help.

I have presented the tabs as close to complete  musical notation as I can, so that they can be used on their own rather than be merely a fingering guide for the notation. They are not, however, capable of displaying as much information as the notation, which must therefore be regarded as definitive.

In modern tabs, the stems of notes are similar to those in formal notation.  There seems to be no consistency in showing 'white notes' in tabs, but I have chosen the options shown below as being the least ambiguous. By the way, in renaissance guitar and lute music the note lengths sound twice as long as they appear under the more modern system shown below, so where Dowland (for example) wrote ♪, we would read it as ♩and, similarly, his ♬ is the less scary ♫. 

Image of notation and the equivalent tablature conventions
Convention for showing lengths of notes in this blog: concordance between tabs and musical notation
I have used the directions of the note stems to indicate melody (up), bass (down) and middle voices (mostly down, except where obviously running in parallel with the melody). This is clearer to see in the notation than in the tablature.

Further, I am trying to standardise my indication of note lengths, particularly whether to use dotted crotchets (quarter notes) or tied notes. These are my new rules:

Tied notes if:
1. the note is sustained across bars (or looks as if it was meant to be);
2. the melody or harmony note extends across beats;
3. especially, to make it easier to read where there is syncopation, when a note starts or ends between beats and extends across beats.

Dotted notes if:
1. an excess of ties obscures the notes or just looks ugly;
2. the piece is in triple time, where they are endemic;
3. in the bass line, where by default one tends to hold the note as long as possible anyway.
* 8-string ukuleles with paired strings are available too.

The alfabeto or abecedario system of chord naming.

This system was used in the Baroque to indicate chord shapes, not names as we do nowadays. See this blog post for more details.

Naming of notes and octaves: scientific and Helmholtz systems.

I was getting confused when reading learned articles describing the tuning of early instruments, because the authors used different systems. So, I have prepared a concordance between the two commonest systems, which you can see in this blog post.

(Last edited 28 Feb 2018)


  1. Your blog was pointed out to me by Gilles T from the Early Guitars and Vihella website and I'm so glad to find this. I have been working along similar lines but, instead of a low G uke I have been working, most often, with a baritone uke. Everything written for the four course Renaissance guitar works extremely well on the baritone or low g uke and I have transcribed and published the works of Adrian Le Roy, Fuenllana, Mudarra, and most of Guillaume Morlaye's books. I have also transcribed a number of lute pieces by John Dowland for the Renaissance guitar or baritone uke. to further complicate things, (and to broaden the repertoire for the ukulele) I have also transcribed the works of more than a dozen composers from the Romantic era which really sound great on the baritone uke. The more of us working on presenting these pieces, the better! Congrats on your blog!

  2. Dear Michael

    Many thanks for writing and for your kind comments. I have Googled many times looking for music for the low 4th tuning on the uke, and I am ashamed that I didn't pick up your many publications – they would have covered much of the music that I have recently become so interested in. I suppose I was using the wrong search terms. And then I entered your name in Amazon, and there you were!
    I have a guilty secret - I was getting as much fun out of transcribing the music, and understanding how it worked, as actually playing it. So, although I have been trudging behind you in my amateur way, I do find it rewarding. It's a great mental exercise on a wet afternoon to sit down with a pencil and MS paper and try to make lute music fit on a uke. With the Renaissance guitar pieces (Le Roy) I must admit I got a bit lazy about making transcriptions and forced myself to read the originals (in facsimile from Early Music Online). And now I can access them in your beautifully set publications.
    Anyway, I will definitely point visitors to my humble blog (and to Ukulele Underground) in your direction, and I wish you every success in your musical enterprises.

  3. Thank you so much for your helpful site! I've been fascinated with early music for a long time but I'm a novice at playing instruments. Last year I decided to get a low G ukulele for exactly the same reason as you, because it seemed like a "poor man's Renaissance guitar". It's great fun to play - I've even been dabbling in a bit of jazz and bossa nova as well. I just downloaded your arrangement of Dowland's Lachrimae. Will see how it goes.

  4. Thank you! Obviously, two minds with a single thought, and similar tastes in music. (I have an arrangement of Desafinado made by, I think, Mark Maccinerio, and it fits beautifully on the uke.) You've picked a hard one in Lachrimae, which makes me think I should grade my posts. The important thing, though, is to have fun.

  5. I am very happy that I found your blog! I have been playing renaissance lute music with my soprano ukulele, which is quite nice (the poor little instrument trying to do its best...!) and sometimes it sounds very pleasant indeed, but next week I will get a tenor ukulele which hopefully will give some extra boost to playing this kind of music...! I am going to download your arrangements and follow your blog for to learn more. Thank you for the work that you have done, and warm greetings from Finland!


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