My second month of renaissance lute lessons.

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home_again.ft2(original version)
Trying "Home Again, Market is Done" (Board) from Alexander's web site.

Tip from teacher: after striking a note with your right fingers, quickly set your right fingers up to strike the next note, and wait above the strings, rather than rushing to put your fingers in plucking position at the last moment.

Received handout from teacher: a former student of his wanted to learn basso continuo, and so my teacher made these handouts for each lesson. The student quit after 4 lessons, so these four page have been made: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4. They're really condensed lessons, and get difficult very quickly, so I'm not sure I can make much use of them, but here they are.

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Monkey Exercises

Received exercises from French lute book (called "the monkey exercise" because it has a drawing of a monkey playing the lute next to it): with a 3 note chord, alternate playing two different notes from the chord at once, then play the 3 notes 3 times as a triplet, then as a chord, then repeat.

This is a good exercise for getting a clear tone, and making sure you're striking all the notes in the chord equally. Also, doing the triplets cleanly is tough. Especially hard is not causing buzzing on the bass note as you repeatedly hit it in time -- since there's no time to let the bass note decay, when you hit the note again you mute it for a small time, and it's easy to get a buzzing tone each time you strike the note.

Also, try to rest your thumb on the 5th course after you hit the 6th course when doing the triplets. It gives for a move solid feel on the other notes hit with the index and middle finger, but requires more dexterity.

I found that playing the "monkey exercise" as a warm up before playing helps my right hand find the strings easier. For "Home Again, Market is Done" there is lots of reaching across many strings, so the monke exercise especially helps with this.

I have trouble doing a thumb rest and plucking the first two courses with my index/middle finger at the same time. I mentioned this to my teacher, and he did confirm that this is something you want to do. So, to try to get to a point where I can do this, I made these variations on the monkey exercises.

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Went over "Home Again, Market is Done" with teacher.


Here is a new version of "Home Again, Market is Done", with the changes applied.

A few clarifications made:

1) whenever a bass note is struck, this is sustained for all long as it makes musical sense, which is often through the current measure. I've made markings in this new version of the piece to indicate sustained notes.

2) teacher believes that the original copyist made some mistakes with this piece. We compared Alexander's version against a facsimile of the Board manuscript, and they are identical. However, the timing on the final section is stilted, and not very danceable. Also, a single note indicated as on the 7th course is likely on the 8th course. Looking at a french lute tutor book, we find that the author has this piece in the book, and has changed the timing on the final section to be fit better. The new version changes the time signature on the last section, whereas the original manuscript preserves it, but teacher (and the french book version) think this the original copy is flawed, and so changes are prescribed.

3) some fingerings were added to the tablature to cause key notes to sustain

4) in 8 course music, it is ok to use the index and middle fingers on the high notes, and keep the thumb resting on the last bass note. This helps you keep your mental positioning better, while in 6 course music, it's typically the case that all runs are done with the thumb and index fingers, the thumb jumping back and forth between the bass notes and the fast runs. In eight (and beyond) course music, it's difficult for the thumb to jump those big distances and not lose its place. Also, the ring finger can be brought in when the first three courses are played in succession: each finger taking its own course (ring takes the 1st course, middle takes 2nd, and index takes 3rd).

When I was doing the 'monkey exercise' I found that the exercise increased my right hand dexterity, and that I wanted to use the other fingers, and leave my thumb anchored on the bass notes, so it was good hear that this was ok (actually, encouraged)

I need to practice resting my thumb on the course below when doing bass notes. In general, my thumb flies up, ready for the next note, but this de-anchors my hand somewhat, and I find that my high notes are more definite when I thumb-rest. Playing slower makes it easier to thumb rest, so I need to practice that.

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WEEK 6 - second lesson

In working through the songs again after the previous lessons, I had a minor epiphany. Each song is a kind of puzzle: the notes on the page need to be played, yes, but as the performer you also need to determine how to play them. Specifically I realized that the left hand fingering has a significant effect on the feel of the performance of a song.

There were a number of simple songs that I felt I could play, but not I see that I could get the notes out, but that I was missing the soul of the pieces as my performance was very choppy -- there were audible gaps between notes: especially when a difficult chord was introduced, but also but the bass lines.

With two voice music, you really need to try to make the two voices sound good independently. I've heard many lute players short-change the bass line, not properly sustaining the notes (it's easier to play when you don't) but then the feel of the song suffers.

So, I went back to a few of the songs I thought I could play, and looked for ways to improve the performance, mostly by improving legato, but also sustaining notes longer, which requires more planning in left hand finger usage.

Franklin cautions me that it's in the nature of learning the lute that in a few months, I'll want to go back to these fingerings and change them according to what I prefer then.

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In this updated version of "Calleno Custure Me" I've added new fingering for the first two chords (/c/d//a and /d/a/a/) that keeps the 2nd finger on the fretboard during the first two measures.

Also, I changed the right hand fingering in the 2nd course throughout the piece, to use the middle finger, since that's the finger being used on the chord, so it's naturally floating over that string.

The final two measures get their left hand fingerings changed quite a bit, so that there's a smooth transition between chords.

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In this newly annotated version of the Scottish Tune from the Pickering Lute Book, the main differences are:

1) in the 7th & 8th measures, I now hold down a chord for the melodic progress.

2) the 15th measure (right before the last) previously didn't make sense to me. A nice set of chords is followed by a slightly dissonant scale? But, if you sustain the 3rd and 2nd course notes through to the last measure, the 6 note scale run sts up tension that gets released on the very last note, when the 2nd course backs down a half step from a d to a c, and four notes (5th, 3rd, 2nd and 1st) are all ringing. I've marked all the held notes on those last two measures.

A newly annotated version of the thumb rest / scale exercises

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Played "Home Again, Market is Done" for my teacher, who quickly pointed out that I'm not dependably using the thumb stroke on the emphasized notes. Part of the feel of this music is the strong/weak stroke of thumb/index right hand alternation (or middle/index, if the thumb is resting on a bass note). So, now I'm revisiting this piece that I could almost play, and focussing on strong/weak strokes lining up with the rhythm.

Teacher wrote our some chordal variations on the monkey exercises. Two scans: page 1, page 2.

Received several things in the mail:

- I joined the London-based Lute Society, and received their new member pack. It contains a large amount of beginner-level tablature, that I'll need to explore.

- Diana Poulton's Lute Tutor book (ordered from Boulder Early Music Shop). This is the original famous lute tutor, and I've heard several people say bad things about it. My opinion so far, is however the oposite: I think it's quite well organized and layed out, with progressively more difficult music. I also like how there are very few non-musical exercises: the things to practice are real songs. Her commentary and hints seem to accord with everything I've been taught. I suspect that people's problem with Poulton is that her scholarship is old, but I haven't run into any problems with it yet. This week, I worked through the first 3 lessons.

- Galliani's lute tutor book (also ordered from Boulder Early Music Shop), which I will reserve for after working through some of Poulton's book.

- Bought Paul O'Dette's "Robin Hood" (favorably reviewed in Goldberg Magazine) and (received from a back-order from The Musical Offering cafe) Dowland-complete-lute-works 5 CD set. The orpharion tracks are amazing. The orpharion is a lute-tuned metal-strung instrument, popular in england during during 1580-1620. It's a beautiful, metallic, rich sound -- similar to a harpsichord, but more chorused, and O'Dette does a wonderful job playing it, especially on the Dowland CD (only the first CD has any orpharion pieces). Now I'm tempted to order an orpharion from Stephen Barber (who, FYI, made O'Dette's orpharion as well).

Photograph of a Stephen-Barber built Orpharion, from Kenji Sano's instrument collection.

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Session with teacher was mostly about technique - specifically the angle of string plucking attack on the right hand, and body posture. The problem with my right hand is that my thumb doesn't naturally go into my palm. We found that if I angle the lute neck up a little bit more, my thumb tends to automatically go into my palm. This causes my index and middle fingers to strike the strings more directly (less at an angle) but the sound is very clear (I get a better sound with this hand angle [with the fingers coming from the top] than when my hand is more angled). I find this uncomfortable for my thumb when using thumb-rest technique (it's too angled) but ok for the others. I'm going back to my earliest, simplest pieces to see if I can play them with this technique.

Received a 3rd installment of written out monkey exercises as a teacher hand-out.

Read through the first 5 chapters of Galiani's lute tutor. Much more than Poulton's, this emphasizes technique before all else. It's a somewhat dull read (compared to Poulton, who starts immediately with real songs) but is interesting in its focus on getting the player started off with the right technique, rather than having to change later on (which will presumably be more difficult).

So, while before I could basically play the lute pieces I've listed so far, now I'm revisiting them with an emphasis on technique, so they're once again difficult to play.

Things I'm trying to keep in mind are:
1) use thumb rest technique on any bass notes that are amenable to it
2) use index/middle technique for lines where a thumb rest is used
3) use thumb/index where a long fast line is needed
4) use a strong stroke (thumb or middle) on the downbeat, index (weak) on the upbeat.
5) keep all fingers down on the fretboard as long as possible
6) plan the fingering of a piece ahead of time to sustain bass notes (and sometimes chords) for as long as musically sensible
7) have my thumb move into my palm when hitting a bass note that isn't thimb rest
8) when doing fast thumb/index runs, don't move the thumb or index fingers much -- mostly this is an arm movement
9) always try to alternate finger usage - don't use the same finger twice. Sometimes, this rule is broken when two emphasized notes in a row are played (eg, half-note bass note, followed by another half-note bass note)
10) controlling the striking force of the thumb-rest on bass notes. Especially when chords which combine a thumb-rest with other notes, my thumb-rest bass note tends to be boomy (I can control the bass note when I'm not doing thumb rest, but my goal is to learn to use thumb rest).
11) body position -- I tend to hunch over the instrument, which makes my back ache after 30 minutes of playing. With the lute neck higher up, I tend to sit striaghter up, and it's more comfortable.
12) left foot on a foot rest -- I tend to let me left foot ride up the chair, which puts a strain on my achilles tendon, creating an artificial foot rest. If I keep the lute neck up high, I don't tend to do this, because the neck is at a comfortable height, and I don't need to artificially raise my entire left side with my leg.
13) play slower and pay attention to details

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Next: third month


calleno_custure_me_countdown_v2.ft2 lei_exercises_thumb_rest_v2.ft2