The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 22

  • Lesson 22 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number 13 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


For this lesson I have chosen this attractive little piece, no.13 from '58 Very Easy Pieces', which has a moderately mobile treble line over a slower-moving bass. The issues here are familiar ones we have encountered and addressed before - locating the correct bass course accurately with the right-hand thumb, (especially in places such as bar 6 where the thumb has to cross several courses), and obtaining a good balance between the treble and the bass. If you have progressed as far as combining a thumb rest stroke with simultaneous finger notes, this piece makes excellent practice material for that technique. There are also a couple of three-note chords which need to be played cleanly and without hesitation. However, the main issue I want to address in this lesson is what to do when, as here, a largely straightforward piece has one or two tiny sections which are significantly more difficult than the rest of the piece. Great swathes of otherwise easy repertory are blighted by these awkward moments, and it is useful to find a way of addressing them. There are basically two options, and I suggest that the choice should depend on your level. If the rest of the piece is only just within your capability at the moment, you can simplify the tricky corners to even out the technical challenges. This is only a stopgap measure, but one which enables you to gain a piece, and get a bit more practice at all of the technical issues mentioned above.

To do that with Larouse, I suggest the following. The difficult bars are those with the fastest notes, so bars 5, 7 and 17-19. Simplifying bars 5 and 7 is easy because they are merely decorated versions of bars 1 and 3 respectively. All you have to do is take out the decoration and play a repeat of bars 1 and 3; you might like to try adding a simple left-hand ornament or two instead to give a sense of development rather than just repetition, and/or you could vary the dynamics. Bar 17 is another decorated repetition of bar 1, so again you could revert to the original undecorated version. In bars 18 and 19 I suggest keeping the bass line intact, halving the speed and number of treble notes, and keeping the basic melodic shape as much as possible, so you will end up with something like this:

If the piece is comfortably within your capabilities except for the tricky bars, you need to make an effective practice plan which will help you to conquer those bars. The first step is to work out exactly what is required from both hands by way of fingering. In this case there are no shifts involved, the issues are simply those of speed (especially for the bringing up of the right hand thumb) and co-ordination. Most inexperienced players compound the difficulties in situations like these by tensing up and by rushing. The latter problem is easy to tackle; buy a metronome AND USE IT! If you're buying a digital metronome seek out one which offers an unpitched clicking sound, as those with a pitched beep are unpleasant to play to. There are also many metronome apps available for smartphones and tablets, and most are so cheap that there is no excuse for not having one. Get into the habit of playing along with it and really listen to it - it is all too easy to blank it out and get out of time with the click!

If you are tensing up...

The problem of tensing up at difficult points can be helped by warming up thoroughly before playing, working in a calm and relaxed manner on the manageable parts of the piece, and only then moving onto the difficult corners. Begin by slowing them down to a speed at which they are easily managed, and very, very gradually increase the speed. Use a metronome to do this. This will increase your familiarity with the sections, and enhance your awareness of exactly what your hands need to do; much tension is caused by uncertainty about shifts or fingering Break your practice session into short segments separated by stretching. Pay particular attention to your jaw, neck and shoulders; it is not just the hands which can get tense. Take your hands away from the lute one at a time, let them hang in a completely relaxed way, then replace; do this frequently during your practice session, so that you are constantly bringing relaxed hands to the instrument. Sometimes it can be helpful to play a tricky passage at full speed but pianissimo; the lightness of touch that results is often a revelation to tense players. If you fall into this category you may find it helpful to practise your pieces pianissimo and gradually increase the volume whilst staying relaxed. Remember that in fast decorative passagework the essential structural harmonies are usually in slower-moving parts; the fastest notes are often only decorative so should be played lightly anyway. Although the right hand will need to work a bit harder to increase the volume, the left-hand's touch should remain 'pianissimo' - light and deft is the order of the day.