The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 19

The Owld Man
  • Lesson 19 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number 2 from The Lute Society's '58 Very Easy Pieces'
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

The Owld Man - TCD MS 408/2 p.83 edited

This little tune, the second of '58 Very Easy Pieces', is a setting of the common renaissance ground bass pattern called the Passomezzo moderno, which also forms the basis for many 'Quadro' pavan and galliard settings in the English repertory. It is a very useful chord sequence to know, because it offers endless possibilities for improvising your own variations.

Rhythmic Detail

The main technical issue is the surprising amount of rhythmic detail, particularly the dotted rhythms. These need to be precise; don't let them loosen into triplet-like 2-1 rhythms. The fully dotted 3-1 ratio of note lengths will better preserve the perkiness of the major key ground. This means that the second note of each dotted pair is very short, and good co-ordination between the hands is essential to perform these rhythms tidily. Practise the whole piece at a speed at which you can play the dotted rhythms neatly, and gradually increase the tempo. Don't feel that you have to dig out the second note of each dotted pair; they are all offbeat notes and should be lightly played with the right-hand index finger. The dotted rhythm in bar 2 is particularly tricky because it is combined with a reach in the left hand. Make sure that your left hand 3rd and 4th fingers get right up to their frets in this bar, and that the notes speak cleanly; this is the high point of the melody. The left hand spends the entire piece in second position, so before you start to play ensure that you have positioned your left thumb correctly for 2nd position, since the position of the whole hand derives from this. As a warm-up, it may be helpful to try reaching for the 4th fret notes with your 3rd finger, and for the 5th fret note with your 4th finger, before starting the piece, just to get a feel for the distances. Many beginners find it hard to stretch the 3rd finger far enough to get it tidily up to its fret, so pay attention to this. If you find the stretch hard, try some chromatic 'one finger per fret' exercises at the top end of the lute's neck, where the fret distances are smaller, and gradually work your way down towards the nut as your fingers get accustomed to stretching.

Right Hand

The right hand is kept fairly busy because of the frequent bass notes. These need to be carefully balanced with the top voice; the foundation of each chord needs to be clear, but the repeated bass notes will deliver frequent reminders of the harmony, so each note doesn't need to be played hard. With so many bass notes I would leave the thumb down among the bass strings, and use the right hand middle finger to take treble notes which could otherwise be taken by the thumb, for example, the second note of bar 2. However, bringing up the thumb in such places is an option, particularly with a real thumb-inside technique. If you choose to do this, be careful that the thumb starts its return journey to the bass strings as soon as possible, so no travel time is wasted. Making a last-minute grab for a distant string almost guarantees a missed or rattled note.


To make good use of the piece once you have learnt it, you may like to experiment with adding left hand ornaments to the melody. Remember that an ornament adds a stress, so start by ornamenting the important notes rather than passing notes or those on unaccented beats. Try improvising some divisions to embellish the existing melody. Another useful exercise is to take the basic chord sequence and try making your own melody over it. If you make several variations on the chord sequence, you can order them to make a longer, more structured piece, exactly as many renaissance musicians did.