The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 33

  • Lesson 33 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece no.10 from ’40 Easy to Early Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Left hand

The present lesson is piece no.10 from ’40 Easy to Early Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’, and is just one of many settings of this beautiful ballad tune. One problem with this tune is projecting the melody itself well, since it covers quite a wide range, from the 3rd course up to the 5th fret on the top course. Make sure that you have good contact with the strings to really pull out the sound in the opening bars, where the melody lies low. The very expressive leap of a 7th in the tune, between bars 2 and 3, and again between bars 6 and 7, is a particular challenge - try not to make the top course notes too strident. It can be tricky to maintain a consistent touch and volume between a double inner course and a single top course, so pay attention to this transition each time it occurs. In bar 2 I suggest using the left hand 3rd finger instead of the 4th for the first bass note: many players struggle to reach the 6th course with the 4th finger, especially when the adjacent chords require the hand to be much higher up the instrument’s range. If you use this alteration, it would be smoothest to replace the 3rd finger on the following chord with the 2nd finger, then use fingers 1 and 3 for the downbeat chord of bar 3. The same fingering alterations will also work in bars 6-7.

Dotted rhythms occur in various critical bars, including bar 1: indeed, this dotted rhythm virtually defines the melodic opening. It must be played precisely but should also sound gentle and easy, almost a little lazy: it should definitely not sound like a struggle, so if you are having difficulty getting to the final chord of the bar after the dotted rhythm, slow it right down and practise it at a manageable speed, then gradually bring it back up to your chosen speed. The same applies, of course, to other bars with dotted rhythms later in the piece. The first bar of the last line is a particularly challenging moment, because coming out of the dotted rhythm into a full chord requires very slick fingering from both hands. Again, slow practice is the key.

Right hand

The chordal texture of the whole piece is quite dense, with lots of 3- and 4-part chords. These require excellent contact with the strings on every note. A common problem is insufficient contact with the right hand ring finger, leading to a weak treble in many chords. This finger is somewhat handicapped by its close physical connection to the little finger, which should be parked on the soundboard. Lifting the little finger to help the ring finger is NOT a solution, as this destabilises the hand and makes navigation more difficult. Practice striking single notes with the ring finger, ensuring that the little finger is firmly planted on the soundboard. If the ring finger starts to feel tired, stop, and do the same again the next day, so you can gradually build up the strength of this finger. Good string contact is particularly important with the ring finger, because it usually has a small pad, and is also at a more extreme angle relative to the strings than the other fingers.

‘Robin’ has a fine melodic bass line, which should be brought out by a good firm contact of the thumb, and rest strokes by the thumb where possible. Longer notes on downbeats benefit especially well from these. Finally, aim for as smooth an effect as possible, with no gaps between chords. If any chord changes are problematic, practise them out of context then add one chord on either side of the problem change until you have a little patch which is well-practised, then put it back into the piece. Be particularly careful to leave left hand fingers down until the last possible moment; this will help hugely with making a good legato effect.