The Lute Society: Beginners Lesson 3

Lesson 3

  • Lesson 3 of our beginners lessons, by Lynda Sayce
  • Piece taken from 58 Very Easy Pieces for Renaissance Lute (piece #8)
  • Full copies of the playing editions from which the lessons are taken can be ordered in our catalogue

O what it is to love

In this lesson we will look at 3-part chords, and two different ways of filling a bar effectively with a single harmony. These simple but effective techniques form the foundation of most lute accompaniments - in fact this piece was probably intended as a starting point for improvising variations. It can work either as an accompaniment for a second player’s divisions, or as the basis for your own solo variations.

Left Hand

Technically, 3-part chords build on the 2-part chord techniques we studied in the last lesson, using essentially the same touch and ‘pincering’ technique. You may wish to revise the previous lesson before tackling this one. The first four bars present only two different chords; on a G lute these will sound as G minor (bars 1 and 3) and D major (bars 2 and 4). Find them first with your left hand, and you will notice that they require the same fingering ‘shape’ which simply moves over by one course. Practise these left hand moves to make sure each change is quick and tidy; this will help you achieve clean chord changes over the barlines.

Right Hand

The right hand has a rather harder job. The three-part chords will use the thumb, index and middle fingers, and because the notes are all on adjacent courses, the fingers will be close together. Also the touch is more critical than with 2-part chords because of the additional finger and note. Start by placing each digit on its course, centrally placed within its course ‘ribbon’ so that both strings of each course will sound: press each course gently towards the soundboard to get a good ‘grip’, then use the same pincering technique that you used for your 2-part chords. Our aim is to pluck three notes simultaneously, and each should be clearly audible. It will be obvious if they are not simultaneous! If you’re not sure you’re hearing every note, pluck them individually so you know what notes to listen for, then play the chord and try to pick out each note within it. You may find it easier to hear detail with your eyes closed. At this stage, start each chord with the right hand fingers on the strings, and when the chords are sounding well, start with the right hand off the strings. Do not lift the little finger from the soundboard, and don’t bring the fingers too far from the strings when you’ve completed the pluck - they only have to travel back again. If you stumble at each barline because of the imminent 3-part chord, practise playing each chord with the single note that precedes it, (thus removing the complicating left hand change), then put the chords back into context. As always, practise slowly and rhythmically, and gradually increase your speed.

You may, at some point, choose to spread your 3-part chords, but it is essential to learn to play them unspread first. The rhythm of your accompaniment will be crisper that way, and you will be able to choose how you spread your chords if you have the technical control to play without any spread. The arpeggiated chords need the same positive right-hand contact as the block chords. Follow the right-hand fingering carefully: note that the weak note - index finger rule is abandoned here to avoid cumbersome string crossings.

Second half

The second half of the piece fills in bars with walking lines and passing notes. Hold down as much of the chord as possible so that it sustains around the moving line; you should leave down the 4th course note in bar 5, and the 3rd course note in bar 7. Again, if your rhythm stumbles around the chords, practise them with the preceding and following notes, then put them back into context. The melodic fills in this piece are all useful to memorize, and to apply to different chords. A repertory of such chordal and melodic links is the foundation of every improvisation and continuo realization.

It remains to make music of the piece. Even a lute can sound boring if you give every chord and note equal weight, so consider how the musical sentences might go. I would emphasise bars 1 and 3 a little more than bars 2 and 4, and make the second half of the piece ‘grow’ towards bar 7 and then phrase off in bar 8, but you should experiment with your own phrasings.