The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 6

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from The 'Thysius lute book'
  • Lesson 6 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece taken from 114 Early to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute (piece #98)
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue


For this lesson I’ve chosen this little Dutch tune which is included as piece 98 in the Lute Society’s latest collection of ‘114 Early to Intermediate Pieces for Renaissance Lute’. It comes from the so-called ‘Thysius’ lute book, begun around 1595, so dates from the transitional period when the thumb inside right hand technique gradually gave way to thumb outside.

Thumb inside or outside

This piece can be played with either technique, the rule of using the index finger to pluck off-beat notes remaining constant. However, as with any piece in triple time, there are issues of which off-beat note(s) takes the index finger, and whether or not one repeats a right hand finger. I have added some fingering suggestions in addition to the few original ones. Generally the 2nd beat in each bar will be the lightest, and should therefore be taken by the index finger. Exceptions are the punchy off-beat melody notes in 17 and 21, which work better with the middle finger. Since the thumb is occupied with a bass note on every down beat, the middle finger will take the first and third melody notes in most bars, requiring a ‘retake’ of the finger over most barlines. This will require some care to ensure that the melody does not sound lumpy; it may help to consciously lighten the third beats of each bar, and aim for a smooth legato line.

Right hand - the rest stroke

This piece is excellent for learning the important technique of using a rest stroke with the right-hand thumb. The thumb plucks its course but instead of finishing in the air it then carries on moving until it comes to rest on the next highest course (in pitch, that is; the movement will of course be downwards towards the floor). This does not require any extra plucking effort - in fact it usually works best to simply let gravity take a completely relaxed thumb and allow it to ‘fall’ across the course. However, it has the effect of giving more contact of the thumb on the strings, and a stronger sound as a result. It is particularly useful when bass notes need to be projected. When the thumb has completed its stroke the time spent resting on the next course will depend on context. To learn the technique it may be easiest to approach this rather mechanically, plucking the bass note on the first beat, resting the thumb during the second beat, and lifting it on the third beat to move it towards the next required bass note. When the next required bass note IS the next highest course, as in bars 3-4, 7-8, etc, the thumb can simply pluck the lower note and remain resting on the next highest course until the next bass note is due; it is already perfectly placed to deliver it. It can be hard to co-ordinate a rest stroke by the thumb with a free stroke by a finger, especially if you have played classical guitar and are used to doing the opposite! If necessary practise two-part chords using the thumb rest-stroke, and make sure that the notes are exactly simultaneous, and that their dynamics are controlled before tackling the piece. Don’t be too vigorous with the thumb, or the bass note may rattle; it really is sufficient to just let the thumb drop through the course.

You may like to experiment with playing the 4-part chords in bars 19 and 23 with the thumb only, to give an accent to this high point of the phrase. The left-hand fingering for this piece is very straightforward, and I suggest playing the whole piece in second position, using the 1st finger on fret c and the 2nd finger on fret d.