This is piece no.18 from the Lute Society’s ‘114 Early to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’, a fascinating anthology which includes the complete contents of a 1603 manuscript now in Dresden. Virtually everyone wants to play Dowland, so here is an attractive and accessible piece which also provides useful practice material for some crucial technical issues. The basics first: this is a typical galliard with three strains, each of which would normally be repeated with some divisions. Observe the structure by repeating the sections: ornamentation can come later when you’re comfortable with the basic piece. The bass note in bar 19 is an open 9th course, two octaves below the open 2nd course. If you have a 7 course lute with a low D, or an 8 course lute with low F and D, the lowest open course is the note you want. If you have a 6 course lute, simply replace the bass course with the 2nd fret on the 5th course, as in bar 18.
The first challenge is bringing out the beautiful melody smoothly, especially as many melody notes will fall to the weak ring finger. Isolate the 4-note chords where this is likely to be a problem (for example, the first chord of bar 2), and practice the chord first without any spread, making sure that your rig finger has plenty of contact on the top course, and that you hear all of the notes of the chord. Sometimes other notes can disappear in one’s effort to bring out a particular note. When you can play the chord with no spread, you may introduce some spreading if you desire, but learn to play the chord ‘straight’ first: it is technically harder, but will improve your technique. Spreading a chord should be a musical choice, not a technical default. If your right hand ring finger is relatively rarely used (a particular problem for thumb-inside players), it may need some sustained work to bring its sound up to that of the other fingers. You can practice playing the melody alone, with the ring finger only, to really give this finger a workout. In some situations, putting the right hand middle finger on the melody note, and raking two inner notes backwards with the index finger can be helpful with 4-note chords, but the inner notes must be on consecutive courses, and the very different sound will not always match the effect one is striving for.
Another technical challenge concerns the sprinkling of barré chords, e.g., at the beginning of bar 3, the last beat of bar 6, etc. This piece is useful training because there is relatively little happening over the barrés. Take careful note of which courses need to be covered: the barré must include the 6th course in this piece, but the lower middle courses are not played within the barré, so there is no need to press down all of these courses too. Place the index finger tip so that you can comfortably fret the 6th course note, then lower the barré down until the top string is also fretted, by the lowest joint of your finger. You will probably find that you need to place your fingertip further across towards the bass side of the neck than if you were playing the bass note alone, otherwise it may slip off the 6th course. Note this, but then make sure that your barré goes no further. I often see players frantically slamming a barré finger across 7 or 8 courses, which is a lot of wasted effort. Make sure that the barré finger is right up to its fret at both ends. Precision is more effective (and less tiring!) than brute force. The thumb should be just on the other side of this fret, which is probably a little closer to the index finger than we normally place it in non-barré work, but the barré benefits from the extra support. The business part of the barré finger is not the ‘fingerprint’ face, which is usually too soft and fleshy to work well, but very slightly rolled towards the thumb side. This presents a harder, bonier surface to the fingerboard. Don’t overdo the roll: the side of the finger doesn’t work well either! If you are really struggling to place your finger for a barré, try this: extend your left hand in front of you, and point your index finger at your nose, with the nail facing the ceiling. Mentally draw a box around the end of your fingertip: it may be square or rectangular, depending on your finger. Now cut the corners off this box so you have an octagon: the lower left diagonal face is the facet of your finger that should be making the contact in the barré. There are a few degrees of wriggle room on this, again depending on your individual hand, but the vertical and horizontal faces of your box will not work for a barré. When you have the correct face of the finger making the barré, make sure that the middle finger does not add its support (or drift behind it). It will often be needed to play other notes.
There are a few rather scary shifts, such as the middle note of bar 6. Shifts need to be managed by the whole arm, guided by your thumb on the back of the neck. The h fret notes in this piece should all be fretted by the 4th finger, but rather than aiming for fret h you should be aiming for fret e, which is where your index finger needs to be to successfully drop your 4th finger onto fret h. This ‘index finger plus a hand’ method of navigating to the higher frets takes away most of the uncertainty. The h frets are therefore played in 4th position, and it is useful to write ‘IV’ at the relevant points (in big red letters if it helps!) to remind yourself to shift. The only small complication is that some of the chords preceding these high notes involve a contraction (e.g., in bar 6). Practice the bars without a contraction (e.g., bar 10) first, and get the shift working smoothly, then work in the contracted chords.
Finally, there are a few awkward harmony notes which involve a shift back to 1st position, when the hand would otherwise stay in 2nd position, e.g., bars 4 and 16. The penultimate bar is particularly tricky because the 1st fret note requires the cutting short of the melody note. In this last case I suggest a forte high note and a very gentle last note in the bar; keep the high note down until the last possible moment, then do a quick, tidy shift, so you keep the melody note as long as possible. You may find that moving your first fret a few millimetres towards the nut will sweeten the intonation on the b fret notes: this is a useful trick which gives a little insight into how effective unequal temperaments can be.