Tablature is commonly but not universally used for written or printed lute music, and it is usual to employ a 6-line staff. Since 6-line tablature paper is not as readily available as music paper with ordinary 5-line staves, we provide these files for printing your own.
It is useful and desirable for a lutenist to understand the relationship between the tablature and pitch notation. One way to become familiar with that relationship is to spend some time doing manual transcriptions of pieces from tablature to pitch notation and vice-versa. We provide the following transcription guides to aid in that exercise.
The technique used in playing a lute depends greatly on the style of music and the particular instrument being played – especially the size and number of strings it has. However, in almost all cases, the technique used for playing a lute will differ substantially from that taught today for classical guitar. As examples of several styles of playing, here are some short video clips (without an audio track), courtesy of Kenneth Bé. It will probably be necessary to download the AVI files in order for them to play correctly – select the link with the right mouse button and then “Save Target As...” Note that these large files will take quite a long time to download unless you have a high-speed Internet connection.
Some examples of lute music, performed by Thomas Berghan:
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An intriguing and frustrating musical paradox is the fact that it is impossible to adjust a 12-step division of the octave in such a way that all of the intervals are perfectly in tune. Equal temperament is a compromise system, widely used since the nineteenth century, which simply adjusts all intervals so they are equally out of tune. Many earlier theorists espoused, and certainly many historical lutenists chose to employ other systems of tuning, which produce pure, or at least more nearly pure intervals between notes commonly used in tonalities with few sharps or flats. Intervals in more remote keys (which were rarely used before the 18th century) would then be much farther out of tune than with equal temperament.
For those interested in exploring some of the historical tunings, we provide here a spreadsheet that will calculate fret placement according to a number of early authorities. Equal temperament is included for reference. To use, simply enter your vibrating string length into the indicated cell, and the fret locations will be calculated in the table below it. Measurements may be in centimeters, millimeters or inches, but the units must be kept consistent. For printing, landscape mode is suggested. The spreadsheet was saved in Excel 5.0 format, so it should be usable in recent versions of Lotus 123, Quattro Pro or OpenOffice as well.
When an unequal temperament is strictly applied, one result is that “enharmonic” notes such as G-sharp and A-flat are not equivalent. In order to take that into account, early lutenists sometimes added a “small fret” (called a tastino), most commonly adjacent to the first fret. The spreadsheet provides a value for that distance when a logical method to calculate it was available in the source.
As is true for the other files on this page, the spreadsheet is available to be downloaded and shared freely. However, we request that any further distribution also be at no cost and that the copyright notice be retained intact.