The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 11

Beginners' lesson 11, December 2011

  • Lesson 11 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number 24 from The Lute Society's 70 Easy and Intermediate Pieces edition
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

For this lesson I have chosen a piece for those learning on lutes with 7 or more courses. This Corrente, piece number 24 from '70 Easy and Intermediate Pieces', requires the 7th course to be tuned a tone below the 6th course - in other words to F on a G lute. (If your lute has only 6 courses, play the bracketed bass note in bar 3, and simply omit all 7th course notes; you will still be playing the correct chords.) I have marked in some fingering for both hands. I find that the piece has a more satisfying shape if both sections are repeated.

Right hand - the rest stroke

The main technical difficulty, and the point I would like to focus on in this lesson, is moving the right hand thumb around the bass courses, especially if your lute has 8 or more courses, and the 7th course has to be located. Rest strokes should be used with the thumb wherever possible, partly to help supply a firm bass tone, and partly for technical security. This means the thumb drops through the course and comes to rest on the next course up (in pitch, but physically closer to the floor!), where it may sit until required somewhere else. It is very hard to accurately locate bass strings if your thumb is generally hovering in the air. Practise the thumb movement on its own at first, if you are unfamiliar with the rest stroke. The movement should be a short, quick drop through the course, basically driven by gravity. The rest stroke is a surprisingly passive stroke; if you try to push the thumb too actively through the course you are unlikely to get a good balance between the two strings, and a rattle may result.

In many bars the use of a rest stroke will automatically deliver your thumb to the next required bass note, and it merely has to sit there until that bass note is due. This is true of bars 2, 5 and 6, for example. However, in some places you will have to do a short 'retake' of the thumb, moving it backwards after a rest stroke to locate the required course - for example, over the barline between bars 5 and 6. In other places the thumb has to move a long way, for example in bar 1, and over the barline from bar 1 to bar 2. In such cases, it is good to get into the habit of moving the thumb early, so that it does not have to make a last-minute lunge for a bass string, but instead can move in a controlled way.

Planting the thumb early whenever possible also helps you to develop a sense of spacing in the right hand. You will come to recognize when your thumb is sitting on the wrong string because it won't feel right, and you will have time to correct it before the note is actually due. This practice means that your thumb will lead a somewhat independent life from the fingers, and will often be moving very early. When the thumb has to be placed, it can be very helpful to practise playing a chord then preparing ONLY the bass note of what follows, just to get used to this idea of the thumb moving before it has to. When you are learning this technique it may help to devise some way of marking on the music when the thumb needs to move, and to where; writing the next bass note - perhaps in a different colour - at the point where you will move the thumb to it can work well.

It is perfectly possible to navigate around a 7 course lute without making much use of this technique, but it helps enormously with agile bass lines, and the technique is absolutely essential on lutes with more courses. Be careful that the dotted rhythms in the piece are not disturbed by this independent movement of the thumb; again it may be helpful to isolate the thumb movements before putting the whole texture together.