The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 24

  • Lesson 24 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number 12 from The Lute Society's '70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces'
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue


This lesson looks at piece 12 from ’70 Easy to Intermediate Pieces’, an elegant and tuneful setting of the Spagnoletta. This piece delivers a useful lesson in interpreting original sources, since several bars include a little ‘x’, an original hold mark from the manuscript, indicating that the adjacent note is to be sustained by leaving the relevant finger down. As is common in some sources, a literal interpretation of these hold marks is not always possible and one must seek the intention; an x attached to an open string helps to clarify the duration of a bass note but requires no action. I suggest adding hold marks to the bass notes in bars 13, 15 3rd beat, 17 3rd beat, 25, 26, 35 3rd beat, and 44. Those in bars 22 and similar places should be assumed to apply to the tenor note on the 4th course, rather than the open bass course. What is clear from the relative profusion of hold marks in the bass is that the underlying harmonic structure is very important, and indeed, the ‘Spagnoletta’ is a common ground bass with many settings surviving. When I play the piece myself I treat the 2nd note of b.27 as an error in the source and replace it with the 1st fret note; use your judgement and taste to decide for yourself.

Rest Strokes

Rest strokes with the thumb, to enhance the bass sound, are recommended. If you find it difficult to simultaneously perform a rest stroke with the thumb and a free stroke with a finger, make an exercise out of this texture, choosing any pair of treble and bass notes. Start with just the thumb, and simply let it fall through the course, coming to rest lightly on the adjacent course. This gives a fast stroke with consistent angle on both strings of the course, so you should hear one bass note. If you actively pluck by pulling the thumb across the course, you will probably hear the ‘ker-plunk’ of two individual strings, which is undesirable, and/or you might pluck only one of the strings, which severely impairs the bass sound. When the thumb is working well, add a finger – the middle finger is easiest to start with, but practise with the index finger as well. Aim for perfectly simultaneous notes, and be careful not to play a rest stroke with the finger. This is especially important if you have a classical guitar training, where rest strokes are commonly used with the fingers but not with the thumb! It is easiest to start by plucking well-separated courses, for example the 1st and 6th courses, but gradually close up the gap between them until you can apply the technique on more closely spaced courses.

Left Hand

The main difficulty for the left hand is the profusion of B flat and E flat chords, such as in bars 2 and 3 respectively, where the hand has to stretch across several courses, and it is easy to confuse the two chords and end up putting a bass B flat under an E flat chord. The ring finger normally takes the bass notes in these chord shapes, but remember that the main part of the left hand should be placed to enable this finger to reach easily. This will usually be slightly forward of its usual position when playing on the treble courses. If you struggle with these chords, make an exercise starting by planting the ring finger on the appropriate bass note, then ‘walk’ your little finger across the fingerboard at the same fret, starting with the easier reaches and progressing to the strings further away. Keep the hand relaxed, and use the minimum fretting pressure possible. If you put your fingers precisely behind the frets you won’t need to press hard.

Finally, when you have mastered the piece, it makes a wonderful vehicle for improvising your own variations using the existing harmonic framework, so explore and enjoy.

Lynda Sayce