The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 27

  • Lesson 27 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece number no. 53 in ‘114 Early 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 a very flamboyant little preludium from a manuscript of around 1603, which is piece 53 in ‘114 Early to Intermediate Pieces’. It uses a 7 course lute with the 7th tuned to F, but if yours is tuned to D you can fret the relevant note. Preludes serve many useful purposes - checking your tuning, setting the key for a group of pieces, and giving a gentle warm-up for your hands and your audience’s ears when you start to play. However, some preludes, including this one, have real musical merit and are worth working on as pieces in their own right.

Musical challenges

The main technical issues in this piece are producing a good sound across the entire range of the lute, achieving fluency in the scalic passages, and managing the transitions between single-line and chordal sections. The first musical challenge arrives in bar 1, where you need to decide whether the notes of the arpeggio should be sustained to gradually build up a chord, or delivered as a tumbling line. If you opt to build up the chord (my personal preference), all but the first note of the first bar should be held while you work your way down the chord, and the initial note will need a good strong attack to start off the chord in suitable style. The final note in bar 2 is a low third in the chord, which can muddy the waters with lots of harmonics, so I always release that note as soon as I’ve played the low F in bar 3. If you choose to sustain it, make sure that the left hand finger is cleanly placed so it doesn’t create a buzz against the adjacent open strings. Be careful not to land short of the 2nd note in bar 3 - your finger must reach all the way to the fret to achieve a clean and ringing note. The subsequent descending scale doesn’t need to be metronomic; such passages always sound better if they have some rhetorical shape, but learn the scale thoroughly first before you experiment with pacing. Once under the fingers, the scale works well if it begins steadily and gradually gathers pace. Broadening out the tempo again as you reach the bottom strings of the instrument can be effective in conveying the low notes, and will also set up the cadence at the beginning of the second line. The chord that begins line 2 comes as a cruel technical shock after the long single-line scale; you may find it helpful to pencil that chord at the very end of the first line, just as a warning to the brain and the hands that the chord is imminent. Such line transitions can create an unhelpful bump in the road when reading a piece.

Bars 9 and 10 will need good bass projection to bring out the moving bass line, and the chords above should be crisply played; don’t wallow in too much spread on each chord, otherwise the bass line risks losing direction. Bar 9 needs a tricky left-hand fingering with a barré to best sustain the chord. I have added some hold marks in the bass in the following bars, and indicated fingering to help you navigate the very strong two-part texture. Rest strokes in the bass in bars 11-16 will help project the sound. The long scale in bars 16-17 takes a much more direct, unornamented route downwards than that in bars 3-7. Rhetorically, it works well to let the chord at the beginning of bar 16 settle, then don’t be too hasty to reach the top note later in the bar. Once you have arrived at this high point, a controlled tumble down the 2-octave scale can be very exciting. The final cadence needs to be strong and rhythmically crisp, so use the final rising notes of bar 17 to set up your cadential pacing.