The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 20

Dact Unse Grete
  • Lesson 20 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number 62 from The Lute Society's '114 Early to Intermediate Pieces
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

Dact Unse Grete

This piece is no.62 in '114 Early to Intermediate Pieces', and is written for a 7c lute with the 7th course at F. If you have only 6 courses, or have your 7th course tuned to something else, it is easy to replace the only 7th course note with the open 4th course.

Left hand fingerings

Firstly, ignore the time signature - this piece is definitely in triple time! The key of f minor is usually surprisingly straightforward on the lute, but this small piece contains some tricky left hand fingerings, where some hard decisions have to be made. The first occurs over the barline between bars 2 and 3; the index finger is the obvious choice to stop the b on the 5th course in bar 2, but is also the obvious option for the 2nd course b in the following bar. A very quick hop is probably the best solution, since using the 2nd finger in bar 3 leads to an awkward hand position. Another awkward moment occurs just one bar later. Ideally one would like to hold the chord at the beginning of bar 4, but using fingers 2 and 4 leaves nothing free for the treble note which starts a new melody at the end of the bar. I have opted to use fingers 2 and 3 for the chord, and to sustain it under the new melody, but some may find this a stretch. The alternative is to make the start of the new phrase obvious, by letting the chord go and making a bigger punctuation here.

Getting to grips with the barré

A bigger issue occurs with the barré in bars 7 and 8. The barré is something with which many players struggle for years. Some never master it, and avoid great swathes of repertory as a result. This piece offers a relatively painless introduction, since there is only one barré needed for a couple of bars. So, first some technical checks. Make sure your hands are warmed up before you start to play - immersion in hot water and a gentle stretch before you start playing always feels good. Make sure your hands are thoroughly dried after the dunking, though. Do not attempt a barré with the fingerprint face of your index finger; if you plant the fingerprint face perfectly flat on to the fingerboard the undulations of the various joints will be problematic, and the hand will have to be twisted quite far round. The side of the finger is equally troublesome, being similarly lumpy and requiring as much twist of the hand, just in the opposite direction. Somewhere in between lies the diagonal 'corner' face of the finger, which offers the best combination of hand presentation and surface texture, so your first task is to make sure that this is the face being applied to the strings. Secondly, make sure that the barré finger is adequately supported by the thumb; resist the temptation to plant the thumb directly behind the index finger! Remember that there is normally other finger activity happening over a barré - they rarely occur in isolation in renaissance tuning. I position my thumb so that it helps these other fingers too - usually a whole fret beyond the barré finger. This has the useful effect of making a sort of cam from the left hand, whereby the index finger and thumb rotate around an imaginary pivot which would be located within the lute's neck. A tiny rotation of the hand then presses the barré face to the strings quite securely. Remember one rarely needs every string to be barréd; even in a full chord, only the 1st, 2nd and 6th courses are usually covered by the barré alone, and other fingers will take responsibility for other notes. If you have moving passage work involving the barré on other strings, you will need to check that these strings are also adequately stopped, but never waste a barré. There is simply no need to mash down 6 courses of strings with brute force; most of the effort will be wasted. Another point to watch out for is to keep your other fingers well clear of the index finger, and sufficiently relaxed to move freely. Reinforcing the index finger with the middle finger is not an option, as it will usually be needed elsewhere. Another important point, once you have got a barré functioning adequately, is to make a note of exactly where the top string lands on your finger; this will enable you to replicate the exact position reliably. Most players cannot play a barré with the finger more than a few millimetres from its accustomed position, so finding this spot is crucial to success. The barré is a technique which responds well to frequent short practice sessions; it can be a tiring technique even when performed perfectly. If your left hand starts to feel tired, stop working on the barré, work on something else, and perhaps come back to it for another short stint at the end of your practice session. Any tiredness is likely to show up in the muscles in the 'web' between the thumb and index fingers; stretching and a gentle massage of this area after your practice session can be helpful.

Rhythms and phrasing

Apart from this small technical nightmare lurking in the middle of the piece, the remainder of the issues are mostly musical. The dotted rhythms throughout should be precisely and neatly played, with a consistent and accurate length of dotted note. The second half of the piece consists of many bars with repeated treble notes on beats 1 and 3, punctuated by a bass note on the 2nd beat. Hold these notes as marked, to create a 2-part texture. It is also effective to hold the bass notes over the barlines, which creates a series of tiny suspensions and resolutions. Be careful of the weight of the bass notes; too much emphasis on the thumb note will give an inappropriate bump in the middle of the bar. It is also helpful to group these bars into bigger phrases and to create a long line through them, otherwise the sheer number of repetitions of this motif can become come tedious.