Brussels : Bibliothèque du Conservatoir Royal de Musique Ms.S.5615


The guitar has five courses of strings, of which the first is single and the others double. They are indicated in the tablature by five lines and they are called the first, second, third, fourth and fifth string.

[Illustration of the five strings with names - first the highest]

The frets, which are of double strings attached across the fingerboard, follow the order of the letters of the alphabet. The first fret is in the highest position [as the instrument is held] close to the nut, which is a small piece of ivory across which the strings pass so that they can be attached to the pegs which are in the head. There are ten frets; the first is b, the second c, the third d, and so on for the others as far as and including l. It should be noted that the a is never included in the number of ten frets because whenever one finds this letter, on whatever string it may be, it is necesary to play it open [unstopped]. It is played only by the right hand and this is so, not only on the chanterelle, which is first string, but on the whole extent of the fret, so that the first fret is always b, the second c, and so on for the others.

And you must understand that the letters represent the frets, which belong solely to the left hand, and that touching the strings above [behind] the said frets with the fingers of the same [left hand] does not produce any sound from the guitar; it is necessary that the fingers of the right hand pluck [touch] as many of the strings where one finds the letters indicated, on the lines which represent the said strings.Where the letters are one above the other, the strings are plucked altogether, either as a batterie, or otherwise, as I will explain later.

Of the Frets

The frets, as I have said above, are represented by the letters. There must be at least ten on a well arranged guitar and they must be in the correct proportion, without which it is considered defective. There are guitars which will accommodate eleven [frets]. The frets should be of strings crosswise, doubled and tied behind the neck. The first should be rather thick, the second a little less, and the third of a thickness less again, and thus for the others, always diminishing, so as to ensure that when applying one's finger to that string (which one ought to do as close to the fret as possible) the following fret does not rub against the string, but allows it to sound quite clearly and freely.

It is very necessary to observe the correct distance between each fret, which may be easily learnt by observing the [musical] notes corresponding to each letter [representing a fret] of the guitar, just as I indicate further on, (Note1) where one may see which interval ought to be found between each fret, however little one may be instructed in the principles of music, or only of the differences of degree between the seven notes of music.

The strings of the guitar ought to be of gut. It is necessary to guard against employing false strings, since they do not keep their pitch, but vary throughout and cause dissonances, and also jar the ear unpleasantly at the least intention.

The method of identifying them is to take lengths of them a little longer than guitar between the two hands, and to activate them with the little finger and if then observing them, they seem only to be double, this is a sign that they are good; but if on the contrary they seem to treble, quadruple or jump unequally, this is a sign that they are false and that they will not be of any use. Experience and practice will be better for the understanding of all that which concerns the frets and the strings, than a more extended explanation; but before finishing this article I find it convenient to indicate that of the five courses of strings which the guitar has, the first course which remains single, or of only one string, ought to be of a finer string than all the other courses. This string is called chanterelle, because it sounds the most prominent in all the pieces, and because in this way it seems all the time to be singing, and because one makes the most ornaments on it.

All the other courses or strings must be of a similar thickness: but it is essential to put an octave [une octave] on the fourth course; it is absolutely necessary. One even finds amateurs, whom I imitate, who similarly put an octave on the fifth course; they call it a bourdon. They also put on the third course strings a little thicker [than the fourths and seconds], but of which the thickness is not very noticeable. All this makes the guitar better and gives it an agreeable harmony. And so as to give the instrument more volume of sound, I cover the two octaves which I put on the fourth and fifth courses with a filament of brass or silver, the last the better of the two. And to prevent them from jumping when being raised to the pitch of the necessary octave, I only half cover them; that is to say that there remains an open space of string of the [same] thickness as the said filament, or even a little more [between each twist of the filament]; and I chose strings of less thickness. I prepare them myself because those which one finds in the shops are entirely covered, or too thick, which makes the sound dry and hard. I have used this sort of string for a few months with success and contentment, and I think I am the only one who sets them so. I take great care here. Before covering them, I choose well wound and very good strings which do not have any sign of being false, as explained above. This augments the sound of my guitar considerably, and makes it very resonant without taking away from it any of its mellow sweetness.

Of the Notes and their Value

There are six kinds of notes which indicate the time value which it is necessary to give to each chord, or each letter which is found in the tablature of the guitar. These notes are place above the rank of five lines which represent the five strings; and it should be understood that one [note] is set to as many chords or letters [as there may be] until another note of a different value is encountered. Here are the notes and the names.

[Illustration of a semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver, demisemiquaver]

It must also be understood [in connection with] that which I am going to say, that each note has a definite length of time which must not be diminished or augmented. This is what is called observing the value of the notes. Some must pass quickly, others procede more slowly, and the others very slowly; and the difference in their movement is distinguished by their shape. The semibreve is the note which lasts the longest of all. That is to say, the one which must go the most slowly. After it is the minim, then the others according to the order in which I have arranged them.

The value of a note is expressed by the length of time during which it is kept on the fret letter; thus it is necessary to remain the longest time on those which are worth the most, and to pass very soon from those which are worth the least. One ought to remain on the semibreve as much as is necessary to express 32 demisemiquavers, because a semibreve is worth 32 times a demisemiquaver.

In order to know how much time it is necessary to give to each particular note value, it is sufficient to know how much it is appropriate to give to one alone, because all the notes are executed in proportion, one to another. The crotchet, which occupies the middle position in value, is the one by which all the others are regulated. It is only necessary to know how one must execute the crotchets. But this it is not easy to explain. Only the measure, when one knows how to beat it, leads to this understanding and makes you aware of the duration that one should to give to each note.

I will say here only that one crotchet ought to last one beat, that a minim ought to last two, and a semibreve four; that a quaver is worth only half of a crotchet; it is necessary for two to pass during a beat, and when the notes are semiquavers, there are four in a beat, and eight whenever there are demisemiquavers.

Here you may see how one interprets [conducts] the notes by relating them to their value; and it is in observing this rule that one gives to the pieces the movement which is the soul of the music.

The semibreve = 2 minims, 4 crotchets, 8 quavers, 16 semiquavers, 32 demisemiquavers

The minim = 2 crotchets, 4 quavers, 8 semiquavers, 16 semisemiquavers

The crotchet = 2 quavers, 4 semiquavers, 8 demisemiquavers

The quaver = 2 semiquavers, 4 demisemiquavers

The semiquaver = 2 demisemiquavers

The demisemiquaver is the last of the note values.

Of the Dot

In music the dot is used to augment the notes by half their natural value, and for this effect, it is placed after the note which one wishes to augment.

[Illustration of dotted semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver and semiquaver]

The notes which have their value increased by half are called dotted notes. Thus one refers to a dotted semibreve, dotted minim, dotted crotchet, dotted quaver and dotted semiquaver, this last being rarely used.

The dotted semibreve = 3 minims, 6 crotchets,12 quavers, 24 semiquavers, 48 demisemiquavers

The dotted minim = 3 crotchets, 6 quavers, 12 semiquavers, 24 demisemiquavers

The dotted crotchet = 3 quavers, 6 semiquavers, 12 demisemiquavers

The dotted quaver = 3 semiquavers, 6 demisemiquavers

The dotted semiquaver = 3 demisemiquavers

Whenever a semibreve is dotted, it is necessary to give it the duration of six beats in place of the four which I have mentioned, because it is augmented by half. The dotted minim should last for three beats, and the other notes in proportion.

Whenever one finds two notes tied on a letter or chord [Illustration of tied notes] they should be regarded as a single note, to which one must give the value which these two notes indicate. Thus two tied crotchets must be considered as a minim, two quavers as a crotchet; and this is often found and similarly observed in batteries [Illustration in tablature of batteries] giving to the letter, chord or batterie all the beats which the notes indicate, before releasing the fingers and stopping other letters or chords when making some new batterie.

Of the Signatures which indicate the Metre [Mesure] and the Tempo [Mouvement]

There is always at the beginning of pieces a certain figure, which is called the [time] signature, which is placed in each piece to distinguish its character. The sign is most often one or several numbers, and sometimes also a letter or something similar. But before speaking of signatures, it is necessary to mention two things to the reader.

The first is that in all the pieces, the letters with their note values above are separated by short lines into small sections which are called measures [mesures = bars]. This is not to say that each measure contains the same number of notes, but that the notes of a measure taken altogether are equal in value to the notes of another measure also taken altogether, and this is why these little sections are for the most part unequal since one contains more notes than another.

The second thing that it is necessary to note is that in order to form an idea of the proper sense of the duration that it is necessary to give to each note in a piece, Musicians have invented an action with the hand of certain equal movements, by means of which they regulate their notes. This is what is called beating time.

There are pieces where one must make four movements, others where one must make three, and others which demand no more than two. These movements are called beats [tems], and when one makes four to each measure it is called beating time in four beats. If one makes three it is beating time in three, if in two, beating time in two.

Thus the signature that is placed at the beginning of a piece indicates three things at the same time; how many notes there ought to be in each bar, how many beats there are, and what movement, that is to say with what liveliness or gravity, it is appropriate to play the piece. There are thirteen different signatures; here are the names, the figures and the particular significance of each one.

C Majeur The major [common time] signature equals four crotchets in a measure, or the value of four crotchets. This signature is assigned to pieces with a slow and grave movement. There are four beats in a measure, and since there are four crotchets in this measure, each crotchet lasts for one beat, the minims must last for two, the dotted minims, three, and the semibreve, four. The quavers should not last more than half a beat; that is to say that it is necessary for two to pass during the duration of a beat, four semiquavers, and eight demisemiquavers. The first note of the measure is played when striking the first beat. If it is a crotchet, it lasts from the first beat to the second beat; if it is a minim, it lasts from the first beat to the third beat etc. But sometimes the first note is not played on the first beat [i.e. it starts with an anacrusis].

C Mineur (Note2) The minor [common time] signature also equals four crotchets in a measure or the value of four crotchets. This signature is given to pieces with a movement which is "one time quicker" [une fois plus vîte] - than the major [common time] signature. (Note3) For this reason its measure is counted as two grave or slow beats; thus it is necessary to place two crotchets in each of the two beats, in order to make an equal division.

2 Binaire The binary signature is similarly worth four crotchets or their equivalent in a measure; it is given a movement "one time quicker" than the minor [common time] signature. Its measure is also counted as two beats, with this difference; that the beats in binary time should go quicker than that of the minor [common time] signature. Apart from this, the two kinds of measure are made in the same way.

4/8 Four eight (Note4) The signature four-eight is worth four quavers or their equivalent in a measure and is given a movement "one time quicker" than the binary. Its measure is also counted as two beats, and as it only contains four quavers, in place of four crotchets, and only two are to be placed in each beat, and not two crotchets, as in that which we spoke of before, its beats ought to be more quickly than that of the binary signature. Thus this measure is very quick.

3/2 Three two The signature three-two or triple double is worth three minims or their equivalent in a measure. This signature indicates pieces with a very slow movement, and in every way similar in its nature to that of the major [common time] signature. Its measure is counted as three beats. It contains three minims and one gives one [minim], or its value to each beat, which ought to be grave, that is to say slow.

3 Trinaire The signature three, or simple triple contains three crotchets or their equivalent in a measure. It is given to pieces with a movement "one time quicker" than the preceding signature of three two. Its measure is counted as three beats, and to each beat is given one crotchet or its equivalent, since this measure is of three crotchets.

3/8 [Three eight] The signature three-eight is worth three quavers in a measure or their equivalent, and it is assigned a movement "one time quicker" than the signature three. This measure contains only three quavers, and they are similarly of three beats, so that it is not possible to give more than a quaver to each beat.

6/4 Six four The signature six-four has six crotchets or their equivalent in a measure. It is given to pieces with a very lively movement, especially when the measure is counted in two beats. But…

6/8 Six eight The signature six-eight has six quavers or their equivalent in a measure. They are given a "one time quicker", that is to say, very quick.

12/8 Twelve eight The signature twelve-eight has twelve quavers or their equivalent in a measure, and it gives to pieces a sufficiently lively movement. Its measure is given as four beats, and they contain twelve quavers; it is necessary to give the value of three quavers to each beat.

9/8 Nine eight The signature nine-eight contains in its measure nine quavers or their equivalent; and as it is counted as three beats, it is necessary to give the value of three quavers to each beat.

12/4 Twelve four The signature of twelve-four has twelve crotchets or their equivalent in a measure; it is counted as four beats in the same way as twelve-eight. It is necessary to give to each beat the value of three crotchets.

9/4 Nine four The signature nine-four contains nine crotchets or their equivalent in a measure. It is counted as three beats like that of nine-eight; thus it is necessary to give to each beat the value of three crotchets.

The four last signatures were previously little employed, and Monsieur de Saint- Lambert in his "Livre de principes de clavecin", p.65 (Note 5) printed in Paris, says that they are rare in French music, and he has only seen two gigues composed by Monsieur D'Anglebert (Note6) and the beautiful Italian air Ad un cuore from "L'Europe Galante" (Note7) in twelve-eight.

Meanwhile new authors increase [the signatures] further sometimes making use of the two following signatures.

2/4 Two four The signature two-four which is called the minor double contains two crotchets and its measure is counted with two very light beats; it is necessary to give the value of a crotchet to each beat.

3/4Three four The signature three-four is really the same as the signature three, or simple triple time. Its measure contains three crotchets or their equivalent; it is counted as three lively beats. It is necessary to give the value of a crotchet to each beat.

In this enough has been said in order to understand the significance of all the time signatures, what tempo the pieces need, which measure one must observe and how many beats one ought to give, all of which leads us to give here the following short explanation.

Of the measure

The measure is the space of time which is employed in raising and lowering the hand to convey the tempo [mouvement] of the songs and the pieces, sometimes very quickly and other times very slowly, according to the genre of the music or the subject of the song which one is playing. The kind of tempo is indicated at the beginning of a piece by the different signatures or figures, just as they have been explained in the preceding section. When two figures are found one above the other, the upper one indicates the number of beats which are found in the measure and the one which is below indicates the value of the note which each beat employs. For example, in 2/4, the 2 which is above indicates that the measure is composed of two beats, and the 4 which is below indicates that there should be the fourth part of a semibreve, which is a crotchet, for each beat. The greater the value of the note, the more slowly the measure is counted.

There are essentially only two sorts of measures, from which all the others are derived: duple and triple.

The duple measures are beaten with two equal beats, one down stroke and one up stroke. The down stroke is made by lowering the hand, and the upstroke by raising it. Example.

[Illustration of how to conduct two beats]

The major [common time] signature C is beaten with four equal beats. Example.

[Illustration of how to conduct four beats]

The ordinary double C is beaten with two equal beats. It is beaten more slowly when it is indicate by C, a slashed c, than when it is indicated by 2. But the slashed c, C, serves sometimes for the measure with four swift beats.

The minor double is beaten with two very swift beats. Its sign is 2/4.

The triple measures are beaten with three equal beats, two down beats, and one up beat. Example.

[Illustration of how to conduct three beats].

The major triple 3/2 is beaten with three slow beats. The ordinary triple, 3 or 3/4, with three lively beats. The triple minor 3/8 is beaten with three swift beats.

The signatures of the compound measures are explained before in the section on the signatures, where one can see how many beats are beaten in the measures.

There are sometimes moods which demand movements so rapid that it is disagreeable and also tiring to beat the measure so fast. To avoid this inconvenience, it is necessary to confine the notes of many beats to a single stroke of the hand. For example, when the movement of the triple measure is swift, it is only necessary to make two strokes, a down stroke and an up stroke, and to remain twice as long [une fois autant] on the down stroke as on the up stroke.

For greater ease, one sometimes beats triple time as two equal beats, in which case it comprises one measure on making a down beat and another on making an upbeat, in such a way that two measures become only one, and instead of six beats of the hand, one makes only two. This is what is called compound measure. It is indicated by 6/4 which signifies that each measure needs six times the fourth part of a semibreve, that is, there are six crotchets. Similarly the other compound measures.

These are the rules of music which he who sets himself to play the guitar ought never to ignore. But although these are thus established, nevertheless according to the preference of musicians, one can give to the pieces such a tempo as one would wish, provided that one makes sure that it is not directly opposed to the time signature to be observed through all the measures, that is to say, the rhythm of the piece, which consists of playing the notes of the same value with a great equality of movement, and all the notes in general in the correct proportion. For whether one plays a piece quickly or one plays it slowly, one ought always to give to it the rhythm which is its soul and the thing which is the least able to be passed over.

Observations on the movements of the quavers

This equality of movement which we demand of the notes of the same value is not observed on the quavers, when there are several following one another. It is the custom to make them long and short successively, because this inequality gives them more grace. If the number of quavers which follows without interruption is equal, the first is long, the second short, the third long, the fourth short, and so on for all the rest. If the number is unequal, the first on the contrary is short, the second long, the third short, the fourth long, the fifth short until they come to an end. Nevertheless, this inequality of several quavers in a sequence is not observed in the pieces where the measure is in four beats, as for example in the allemandes, because of the slowness of the tempo, in which case the inequality falls on the semiquavers if there are any.

In the pieces where the measure is in three slow beats, if many crotchets are found in sequence, they are made unequal like the quavers. See in the opera "Phaiton" (Note8) a duet sung to the words Helas! un chaine si belle. Apart from these occasions, all the notes of the same value are treated equally.

Monsieur Monteclair of L'Academie Royale de Musique in Paris in his "Nouvelle Methode pour apprendre la Musique" (Note9) treats this point of unequalizing the notes in the following manner. There are, he says, measures where the quavers are equal, and others where they are unequal, from pair to pair, the first longer than the second.

In the measures C, 2/4 and 3/8 they are equal, that is to say each is as long as the other. In ordinary triple, 3, they are often unequal, above all in the airs for violin, where the first ought to be nearly as long as if it were dotted. When the song procedes by disjunct intervals, the quavers are usually equal in the triple time, 3/4. The semiquavers are unequal in the measure of three-eight, 3/8. It is difficult, he continues, to give general principles on the equality and inequality of notes; because it is determined by the character of the pieces which are sung or played. Nevertheless it is necessary to observe that in any measure in which four notes are needed to fill up a beat, they are always unequal, the first a little longer that the second.

Remarks on the metre [mesure]

It is good to note that although we have said above that each measure of a piece contains an equal number of notes with regard to their value, this must be based on the supposition that the piece does not change its metre. For there are pieces which do not keep the same [metre] from the beginning to the end. They begin sometimes in the metre with two beats, and in the middle they take that of three beats, or they may have the metre with three [beats] at the beginning and finish in that of two. Often the same piece changes its metre two or three times. There are a few overtures to operas which make it [a change in metre] three times, and in the recitative, it varies from one moment to the next. It is also necessary to note that there are certain pieces where the first and the last measure are not complete, and that only the two [together] make one [measure]. Such pieces are more common in two beats than in others. But whatever time signature is indicated for the piece, if the first measure lacks some thing to be complete, the rest is always in the last [measure], and the one and the other taken together are not more than one.


(1) He is referring to the table on the final page of the introduction which correlates the notes of the chromatic scale in staff notation with the frets on the guitar in tablature. Return to text

(2) The slash should go diagonally through the C. Return to text

(3) Castillion seems to imply that the signatures indicate tempo as well as metre in some sort of proportion. Return to text

(4) Figures should be one over the other. Return to text

(5) Michel Saint-Lambert - "Les Principes du clavecin" (Paris : 1702). Return to text

(6) Jean-Henry D'Anglebert : "Pieces de clavecin" (1689). There are gigues in 12/8 on p.15 & 47. Return to text

(7) Ballet by André Campra first performed in 1697. The title of the aria is Ad an cuore tutto geloso - To a jealous heart. Return to text

(8) By Lully. Return to text

(9) Michel Pignolet Monteclair (1667-1737). "Nouvelle methode pour apprendre la musique". - (Paris : 1709). Return to text