The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 30

Margraffen Dantz

  • Lesson 30 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece is no.11 in '70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces'
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Margraffen Dantz

This piece is no.11 in ’70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces’, and was chosen in response to a request to address the issue of meter changes in tablatures. This is a huge topic which I hope to address in more detail elsewhere, but this little piece presents an opportunity to consider the essential question and to explore some possible solutions. Let us first address other technical issues, which mostly relate to the very frequent four-note chords.

Left and right hand

The plucking fingers (and thumb) must all have good contact with the strings so all notes are audible and delivered with whatever balance is desired. I find that this dance works best if I spread very few of these chords – basically only the suspension (the 3rd chord in bar 7), and a few of the stronger downbeat chords (e.g., the 1st chord in bar 4). Spreading too many chords weakens the rhythm, but unspread four-part chords demand that the often overlooked right hand ring finger earns its keep. It is somewhat handicapped by the little finger being anchored on the soundboard, and will probably need some attention to develop its touch and sound. The left hand is also important; the chord changes will need to be swift and tidy if the piece is not to sound laboured. If you find any particular chord change difficult, explore all fingering options and then practise your chosen one slowly, just going back and forth between the two chords which are causing a problem. Next, add the chords before and after the problem pair, then the chords outside those, until you have a well-rehearsed ‘patch’ which can be dropped into its proper context.

Metrical issues

Now to the metrical issues. Just for information, in the original German tablature the triple time section begins on a new line and is entitled ‘Nachdantz’ or ‘After dance’, but such pairings are so common that it seems totally clear that these are effectively sections rather than independent pieces. The basic question is what relationship is intended between the duple time of the first section and the triple time of the second section? This question is not specific to tablatures; it also affects very many pieces in staff notation, and volumes have been – and will continue to be - written on the subject. It is fair to say that many different metrical relationships are possible, that there is little agreement on what is correct, that there may not have been a single ‘correct’ interpretation of any given metrical relationship, and that the most plausible possibilities vary depending on the date, place of origin, type of piece, and even on the individual composer. So where does one start?

With tablature sources we have the advantage that most pieces have barlines, and although these don’t necessarily have their modern function of indicating stressed downbeats, they do make it easier to understand metrical relationships. The universally accepted starting point is that there should be some sort of common tactus / pulse / beat which continues from one metrical section to another, rather than changing to an unrelated tempo. Let us begin by looking at the easiest metrical relationship. The metronome is your friend in this endeavour. If you don’t own a physical metronome there are many cheap metronome apps available for smartphones and tablets, and a perfectly adequate free metronome is available online at Set your metronome to a speed at which the duple time section is playable and musically intelligible. I chose 100 beats per minute for the speed of the first section’s single flags, which is a bit stately but easy to maintain. Simply keep the same relationship of one click to one single flag in the triple section; this gives a slow and graceful triple time, and the only change is to the interval between stressed downbeats. For tablatures this has an appealing logic: the identical-looking rhythm flags are identical in duration, only their stressed groupings change.

For a very different result, play the first section at the same speed until you are sufficiently comfortable with it to reset your metronome to only 50 beats a minute – one click per flagless stem or half bar in the duple section. The same click becomes a whole bar in the triple section, so the first beat of every bar lands on the click. This gives a faster triple time of 150 single flags per minute, and a much more audible change of meter, plus the overall piece will now have a feeling of increasing intensity.

For yet a different result, reset your metronome to 200 beats per minute, and play the first section at the same speed as before, so the metronome now clicks once for every double flag. At the triple section that same click now marks the speed of the single flag notes; this gives an even faster, very virtuosic triple time of 200 single flags per minute which I personally feel is unlikely in this particular piece, but this relationship is a possibility for pieces where one has to seek a common tactus for sets of cumulative dances involving different triple metres, such as Paduana–Saltarello-Piva sets.

There are other options, and a thorough survey of related staff-notated sources, theoretical writings and historic choreographies would be necessary to attempt any definitive answers. We have barely scratched the surface of the subject here. However, maintaining a common tactus in sectional pieces with different meters will always give a more coherent-sounding result than simply changing speed randomly, and being able to accomplish metrical shifts around a tactus fluently is a very useful skill for ensemble playing.