The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 48


  • Lesson 48 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • from '114 Early to Intermediate Pieces'
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Beginners’ lesson: Galliard

114/45 Galliard

This charming little piece, no.45 in the society’s ‘114 Early to Intermediate Pieces’ anthology, is written for a 9-course lute with the 9th course at D, but can be played on a 7- or 8-course instrument with the lowest course so tuned. It can also be played on a 6-course lute if one puts that single 9th course note up an octave.

The piece contains more challenges than may be apparent at first glance. It consists mostly of 2-part chords, many of which are tenths, so a major technical aspect is plucking those chords with good tone, balance, and phrasing. Many players of plucked instruments (not just lute) routinely spread every single chord, which effectively robs the instrument of a significant expressive palette. One should choose which chords benefit musically from being spread, rather than from habit. It is also quite difficult to make a 2-note chord sound good when it is spread - it can so easily sound like a small accident. So with the current piece, practise the 2-part chords without any spread: aim for perfectly simultaneous notes, and check that you are sounding both voices at the dynamic you want. If you wish to emphasise certain notes in a phrase, adding some kind of left-hand ornament is a stylish and effective way of stressing and/or extending the duration of a note.

The chords with more than 2 notes may well benefit from being spread, but again the spread should not be automatic but a deliberate choice. When there are several ‘events’ in a bar, spreading a chord may get in the way - for example, I would not spread the downbeat of bar 7 for this reason. However, the chord in bar 8 might fill its allotted time more gracefully if it is spread.

Left Hand

The largely 2-voice nature of this piece creates some tricky little issues for the left hand too. It is easy to end up with a left-hand fingering which requires your index finger to keep extending and contracting in and out of a barré, which is cumbersome and often unnecessary. For example, most players will instinctively use the tip of their index finger to stop the last note in bar 1: however, if the index finger is in a partial barré position, in preparation for bar 2, and the root of the finger stops this note, the transition into bar 2 will be much smoother. Note that for this technique, the tip of the barré finger does not need to be in contact with the strings: this will get lowered into position in bar 2. If you choose to apply this sneaky ‘fake barré’ technique, it is useful to devise some way of indicating it to yourself on the page. I use a little square bracket, but without extending it down through the stave lines.

There are places in the piece where a real barré is useful, but where only the ends of the barré finger need to stop strings - there is no need to press down the middle of the barré finger, for example, bars 17 and 18. These can be accomplished with a very relaxed barré finger, where only the outer strings are actually stopped. Most players see a barré situation and automatically apply pressure across the whole string band, but this is often simply a waste of effort.

The final sneaky barré technique is where the index finger is used to initially stop one note, but is then momentarily lowered into a barré in order to stop another course at the same fret. This technique is quite useful in bars 19 and 20, where the alternative would be to bring in the 2nd finger for the 2nd fret treble notes, which disturbs the position of the hand much more than a briefly applied barré finger. I consider this quite an advanced technique, as it requires precision and a well-formed barré, but since it does not require the more difficult full barré, it is worth learning. It can smooth out pieces such as this one by avoiding a lot of very awkward resets of the left hand, for example, in bar 4, where a non-barré fingering would require significant movement across the fingerboard. It is also useful practice for working up to a full barré.

A final issue to address is how best to finger the passages which go high up the fretboard, particularly bar 15, but also bars 1, 16 and 17. It is helpful to navigate by working out where the index finger has to be, in order for the hand to then fall on the required upper fret. In bar 1, I aim for 4th position, and put my index finger there, rather than grabbing hopefully for fret 7. If your hand is well placed in 4th position, your little finger should then drop neatly onto fret 7. Bar 15 is more complex, requiring an extension and a shift. It may appear logical to hold the bass note under the first 3 treble notes, since this is all within the extension required at the beginning of the bar. However, this will put the required shift after an accented note, which will make it very audible: it is easier to hide the shift and deliver a smoother bar if one shifts after the 2nd treble note: move the index finger up 4 frets from fret 2 to fret 6 but leaving it in its barré extension: the root of the finger will then stop the 3rd treble note in the bar, rather than the fingertip. Again, this is quite an advanced technique, which may need a lot of very slow practice to really master the manoeuvre, but it is a very useful one!

Finally, to create a more substantial piece of music as befits all this effort, I suggest repeating each section, and adding some simple elaborations, either left hand ornaments, and/or some simple divisions on the melody.

Lynda Sayce