The piece I have chosen for this lesson is the first piece in the Lute Society's complete edition of Newsidler's 'Erst Buch', edited by Steward McCoy. An attractive dance-like piece in triple time, Newsidler's arrangement is in two parts, and includes many repeated chords. I have given some technical tips on 2-part playing previously, and shall not repeat them here; instead, I'd like to look at how one might deal with repeated chords. It can be quite difficult to introduce light and shade into one's playing, especially if the texture is too thin to spread chords meaningfully, and the chords are fairly unvarying. There are two main issues here - one technical and one musical.
The technical problem is how to achieve dynamic variety. It basically hinges on the amount of contact one's fingers and thumb make with the strings, and the energy with which the strings are activated when the hand leaves them. The more contact, the more energy, and the bigger the sound. (Note, I'm assuming a thumb-under technique here.) For a stronger chord you'll want plenty of contact; the strings should encroach well onto the pads of the thumb and fingers, and you should press quite firmly into the strings before the gently 'pincering' movement which actually plucks the strings. For a lighter chord, the thumb and fingers should make less contact and press more gently before releasing the strings. Try a series of repeated single notes, first with the thumb, then with the middle finger and finally with the index finger, and see how much dynamic variety you can make. Try to make a long and gradual crescendo through your repeated notes, then an equally long and gradual diminuendo, to develop subtlety of touch. Record your efforts and see how much dynamic variety you can hear when you listen back. Next try the same with two-part chords, using thumb and middle finger, then repeat with thumb and index finger. When this is all working well try alternating the middle and index fingers, aiming to put the middle finger on a strong chord and the index finger on a weak one. Record and listen again.
The musical issue involves working out which chords in the piece should be stronger and which weaker. Most musicians find this obvious, but newcomers to renaissance music can be puzzled by unfamiliar forms and harmonic progressions, so here are a few tips. The mostly trochaic rhythm of the piece (long - short in most bars) translates as stressed-unstressed. However, watch out for the hemiolas, where two bars are combined into one long one, thereby altering the stress patterns. I've marked the hemiolas with square brackets, and the first chord in each bracket should be stressed. This will go a long way towards introducing dynamic variety, but one can still end up with a very predictable series of identically stressed bars, so pick out the bigger phrases. In this piece they're very regular 8-bar phrases, and they are paired, like questions and answers. You may find it helpful to think in terms of punctuation; the phrase ending on the first chord of bar 8 would take a question mark; the one ending in bar 16 would end with a full stop. Both phrases need a mid-point comma, after the first chords in bars 4 and 12. You should be able to identify the rest yourself. Pay particular attention to shaping longer sequences of identical chords. For example, in bars 3 and 4, the first three chords should be phrasing away into the comma; the fourth is the upbeat to the second half of the phrase, and needs to lead into bar 5. You can experiment with replacing thumb and fingers on the strings early, to stop the sound and give the opposite effect from the legato we have striven for in previous lessons. If you do this with a strong chord you'll make a heavy accent, but doing it with a lightly plucked chord will give a delicate upbeat effect. As before, record your efforts and listen, and above all, enjoy experimenting with dynamics and articulation. You are bringing the rhetoric of words and vocal delivery into your sound.