The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 49

Hennen Dantz

  • Lesson 49 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • from '70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces'
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Beginners’ lesson: Galliard

Hennen Dantz

This lesson is piece 42 in the ’70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces’ anthology, and comes from a German tablature manuscript now in Basel. There are two main technical issue to address in this piece. One is the number of 4-part chords, on both adjacent and non-adjacent courses. Some of the chords - particularly those followed by multiple repetitions of their top note - lend themselves to a strum technique, whereby the thumb brushes across several strings. This is a relatively common technique in German dances - a well-known Gassenhauwer by Hans Newsidler uses exactly the same texture. I recommend trying this for bars 1 - 4. (I can see no reason, other than scribal error, for bars 2 and 4 to be different, so I always add the second course 3rd fret to the first chord of bar 2.) The strumming technique also works well in bars 17-19 and 21-23. An effective strum has the advantage of producing a strong sound with a quick spread, thus giving excellent rhythmic impetus to the dance. The thumb should be completely relaxed, and allowed to simply fall through the courses; if you consciously ‘drive’ the thumb across the strings, you will probably end up with little dynamic control, especially of the top note. The amount of contact the thumb has is critical, so practice ‘placing’ your thumb to see how much contact you want, before allowing it to strum. The right-hand fingers also need to be relaxed, especially the index, because it will need to pick up the following note smartly. If you play thumb-inside, the index finger should follow the thumb down to the bottom of the chord before you start the strum; if you pre-place it at the top of the chord, it will be much more difficult to allow the thumb to fall. It’s much easier and gives a much more active strum sound if the whole hand moves across the strings.

The bars with repeated treble notes are obvious strum candidates, but you might also try it in, for example, bars 13, 14, 40, 42 and 44. It is more difficult to control the strum if the top course is not involved, so I do not recommend it for bars such as 7, where you would need to come to a halt on the 2nd course. Such chords will need either a clean pluck, involving thumb and 3 fingers, or some kind of spread, for example, the thumb taking the two lowest notes, with the index and middle fingers taking the top notes.

Resist the temptation to spread every chord, even though a lot of them have 4 notes. The strum texture will be more striking and effective if the context includes lots of unspread chords, and the rhythm of the dance will be stronger. It is very hard to achieve a crisp rhythm with lots of spread chords. If you struggle to pluck 4-note chords cleanly, start with chords where not all of the voices are on adjacent courses, for example, the C chord on the downbeat of bar 15. Arpeggiate the chord slowly at first, and listen for the individual notes. Now pluck the chord; do you still hear all of those notes? Often one gets lost because its finger is weaker than the others. Isolate the culprit finger, and practice it on its own, experimenting with the amount of finger contact. Gradually add the other notes back into the chord, checking that all voices are audible. Next, move onto to a chord where all the voices are on adjacent strings. This is a little harder, because there’s less room, but apply the same listening and isolating technique. Being able to play a clean 4-part chord with all voices audible is an essential skill, so this work will pay huge dividends.

Left hand

For the left hand, any strongly rhythmic dance piece with lots of full chords relies on quick, clean chord changes, so if you are struggling with any of these, isolate the offending chords, and check that you have chosen the best fingerings. We can be creatures of habit, and often use a fingering because we know it, rather than because it’s the best one in context. Be prepared to try different fingerings, and if you find one which is definitely better, WRITE IT DOWN, otherwise you will default to your usual fingering, or stumble at that point, trying to remember which one you chose. There is no shame in writing fingerings into your music. I recommend writing them in colour, so that your eye and brain have a little advance warning as you approach any tricky corners.

There are many different ideas about the tempo relationship between the duple and triple time sections. For me, it makes sense to maintain the same speed of strummed chord / repeated notes, so I keep the speed of the 1- and 2-flag notes constant, and simply change the length of the bar.

Lynda Sayce