Explorations in French Tuning

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Fri Oct 12, 2018 12:38 am

Day 1

Here I shall document my quest to answer the following question: is the tuning of the 13 course French baroque lute a historical anachronism suitable only for the performance of historical music, or is it a viable and perhaps untapped resource for today and tomorrow? Now, I do not yet own a baroque lute. Prices even for used ones are quite high if you want something worth buying, so I am deal shopping at the moment. What I do have is an 8 string guitar that I received via UPS just today.

Obviously this leaves me far short of the resources of an actual baroque lute, but it allows me to get the full six-string Dm chord and then get my full guitar bass range back. In a way it's a better test; if the French baroque tuning's only advantage lies in the extra bass strings then it's really no advantage at all because I can duplicate that and keep my familiar chord and scale shapes on the top five or six strings. The new tuning is only worthwhile if it opens up significant new possibilities whether I have the extra bass strings or not, and that is what we are here to discover. At the moment I will be tuning the instrument E G A D F A D F.

At first I didn't think I'd be able to get into the new tuning immediately as I do not expect my custom string set till next week. But then I got to rooting around in my string drawer and created something that will work for now by combining a low tension set with a medium tension set and throwing in a few random singles that were in there. All told today I have spent about 90 minutes in the tuning.

I'm calling this Day 1 because this is my first day on an instrument that I can put in this tuning and still get a decent bass range, but in truth I cheated a little. I've had a six string guitar tuned to the Dm chord for several weeks, have created a complete set of chord voicings in all inversions along with a basic set of scale fingerings, and have composed a couple of very simple etudes along with arranging several CG pieces for the tuning. The CG pieces in question are Sor 35/17, Etude #1 from the Aguado's Escuela de Guitarra, the prelude from De Visee's suite #9, and the first movement of Carulli's Sonatine #1 from 0p. 7.

Being unrealistically ambitious I went for the latter first. I tried the Sor and the De Visee and never got to the other two; clearly I was in over my head. Fooling around with them on the six string did not prepare me to try to PLAY them on the eight string. My reading was stilted and slow (to put it mildly), and my right hand was unreliable at best. But I was able to establish that my arrangements were quite playable, although I did modify a few fingerings slightly. My suspicion that the stretches would be reduced was correct, particularly with the Sor.

So I took a step back and went to my etudes. They're composed at a beginner's level and only make use of the first six strings, as well as staying within the first few frets. That went better, and after I can play them well I'll challenge the other material again.

I was going to spend some time with chords and scales but didn't get there. Tomorrow...

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:00 am

Day 2:

The two volume lute method Rob recommended arrived in this morning's mail. It has a nice history of the instrument, bios of significant composers, a good section on the care and feeding of your lute (including a string tension chart!), good images to go along with the info on technique and positioning, a set of scale fingerings, and A LOT of music. Not a word about chord forms and applied harmony, but overall I think a very good buy. I'm going to go as far into it as I can with my present limited bass range, then hold in place till I get my lute.

Another development: my daughter declared a desire to try out the tuning. I tried to discourage it due to her present stage of musical development, but ultimately these are personal choices; a teacher can advise but must never demand. So I took another step back and wrote the first of what will be several etudes even simpler than the ones I already have. I went for a different approach; learning notes by string rather than position. I wrote an F major melody to be played on the first string only, with a drone bass on the open 4th string (which is also F) that is played between melody notes. So she could focus purely on the notes I limited the rhythm to nothing faster than a quarter note. So I am doing what I swore I never would: taking on the basically impossible job of writing extremely simple music that doesn't suck. It's only 8 measures long for a reason! So she wouldn't have to read my chicken scratch I did it in software (I'm doing the 30 day trial of Dorico) and if I get home by a reasonable hour tonight I'll export to a PDF and upload it... you guys can laugh at me. It's a pretty dippy little tune.

A note on that. After playing around with a few different ideas I'm notating this music on the grand staff. I'm simply not going to create modern compositions and arrangements in esoteric tablature that only early music specialists understand... that just strikes me as inane, but once I get my hands on a real lute I don't want the ridiculous ledger lines that would happen with the extended bass range on a treble staff alone. I'm still doing it 8v just like regular guitar notation, so the appearance of the treble clef staff remains the same. My general rule is that anything played with the thumb goes on the bass staff and anything with the fingers on the treble but I'm not getting stupid about it; no more than three ledger lines in either direction happen between staves.

I spent some time working with chord inversions and then cracked open The Real Book and tried following some of the easier jazz charts in realtime; I reckon that's the gold standard for finding out how well you really understand the harmonic workings of a tuning. Epic fail; I still have a ways to go on that. Once I get a better feel for scale patterns I'll have to try some soloing but here I already see a weakness in the tuning; scale patterns are going to require either a fair amount of lateral hand motion or awkward fingerings. Lightning fast three note per string patterns are simply not going to be a thing here.

Finally, I put in an offer on a used lute. I have a hard price cap I will not exceed on it, so we'll see if the seller is willing to deal a little bit.

jscott

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by jscott » Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:16 am

nm

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:29 am

jscott wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:16 am
nm
Combination of factors. Part of it is that I do like Weiss, the de Visee lute suites, Gaultier, etc, and have rarely if ever heard a guitar rendition of that music that I like. Part of it is a certain frustration with trying to write classical guitar music; to get what I want almost always involves impossible stretches so I am sort of hunting for the better mousetrap. Part of it is just my nature... when I was playing steel string fingerstyle in my early 20s and checking out open tunings I would force myself to spend several months exclusively in each one and try to do EVERYTHING with it. Push it to the limits and find out what it's strengths and limitations were. But mostly right now I'm trying to write a lot of music and finding that, for me personally, standard guitar tuning is not working that well. So I'm looking for something else.

jscott

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by jscott » Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:46 am

Thanks, that's a great reply. I deleted my message because I was afraid that I was being too inquisitive. For others, my deleted question, that 2lost read, was essentially,'what's the origin or backstory of your determination to follow this very interesting route?'.

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Oct 13, 2018 9:38 pm

jscott wrote:
Sat Oct 13, 2018 2:46 am
Thanks, that's a great reply. I deleted my message because I was afraid that I was being too inquisitive. For others, my deleted question, that 2lost read, was essentially,'what's the origin or backstory of your determination to follow this very interesting route?'.
No worries, I didn't mind the inquiry.

Today is not Day 3; I am filling in with a rock band tonight and had a bunch of material to go through. In fact I have the guitar in standard tuning today as I am taking it to the gig. I actually think I could play the gig stuff on it in the Dm tuning given some time to prep, but I didn't have it. Next time perhaps. I'll be back at it tomorrow.

User avatar
tateharmann
Posts: 1752
Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 4:31 pm
Location: Saint Paul, MN

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by tateharmann » Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:08 pm

I agree with you ...it's tough to find french baroque music played at all on guitar let alone played well! It's some of the most beautiful music ever composed in my opinion and would love to hear what you could come up with in a similar tuning.
"One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them."

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Sun Oct 14, 2018 5:29 pm

I was reflecting last night at my rock gig (which I'm starting think I'm getting too old for; my whole body hurts) on what it means to play in a tuning. I had a student come to me once who had been exploring country blues from the 20s and 30s in open G/open A (same relative tuning). He wanted to try some arrangements of his own but did not know how to get started. It was immediately apparent why; he'd been learning arrangements by rote from tab and hadn't given the slightest thought to how the tuning actually functioned. He could not play me a ii V I progression in a specified key, nor could he play me a major scale across multiple strings. He could not even play a specified interval across any given string pair without considerable thought.

The fact that all this bothered me should be explanation enough for why I am doing it like this. If I am going to play a baroque lute in baroque lute tuning I MUST understand how the tuning actually works. If I can't create original pieces and do arrangements than it's not worth the bother and I might as well just tune my lute like a guitar with extra strings. 'If I'm going to play in this tuning, I want to be as familiar with it's inner workings as Weiss and Gaultier were. It's not enough for me to retune my strings and play by rote from ancient tab.

With that in mind, today I'm going to look into the feasibility of using the tuning to play the music I used the acoustic for at last night's show. I don't plan to spend a lot of time on it... just want to see how it works out. You can bet that if Weiss had walked into a room in which people were playing simple songs, he could have pulled out his lute and played along.

jscott

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by jscott » Sun Oct 14, 2018 7:11 pm

This may be like learning languages. For Weiss, lute tuning was his mother tongue. For us, it's like learning a second, even dead language like Latin. We generally remain more at ease in our mother tongue; nothing wrong with that! But with practice can become fluent in a second language.

User avatar
Tonyyyyy
Posts: 2305
Joined: Tue Aug 15, 2006 3:20 am
Location: Sussex, UK

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by Tonyyyyy » Sun Oct 14, 2018 9:51 pm

Its good for the brain to try another tuning. I think less difficult then learning 10, 000 words and grammar of a new language

I think maybe not more than one "other" tuning...learning ukulele chords did make my head hurt after learning ren lute tuning and baroque lute tuning

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Oct 15, 2018 1:39 pm

Day 3 (yesterday)

The custom string set I put together for this is working well; I miraculously managed to get it right the first time. I devised a set that works out to medium tension on this scale length for this tuning at A=415. Everything feels and sounds balanced, so I'm calling it successful.

I got it into my head yesterday morning to try playing some of the songs I performed with it at the Saturday night rock gig in the Dm tuning. Actually not bad. I just did the strummy stuff in G or Em, but I might see how some of the fingerpicking tunes work out over the course of the week.

The deal I was trying to work on that used lute fell through; the asking price turned out to be rock bottom. Damn.

I'm toying with the notion of attempting a build from David van Edward's course as a winter project. My girlfriend thinks I've completely lost my mind.

I went back to my CG arrangements yesterday. it's working better now. I still read very slowly in this tuning, and keep forgetting where things are. But it's coming together. I spent about an hour on Sor 35/17.

Speaking of which, it's clear I am NOT used to thinking in terms of more than six strings. It doesn't even occur to me half the time that I can, you know, fret notes on the extra strings. There were two places in my arrangement in which grabbing a Bb bass at the first fret of the 6th string felt a bit awkward, and then late yesterday it dawned on me that I could do it at the 3rd fret of the 7th and it would be easy. Ok, so I am an idiot.

I still haven't gotten into the baroque lute method yet. For some reason I am strangely reluctant to do so without an actual lute. Maybe because I know I'm going to run out of bass strings in a big hurry?

My kid spent a little time yesterday with the very easy little eight bar etude I wrote for her. I'll attach it below. Please be advised I do NOT claim to have a great piece of music; the idea is to learn where the notes are while playing something that sounds at least vaguely musical. It uses a single-note drone bass so it would be quite playable on any plucked instrument with two open strings in the same pitch class. A few notes:

1) As I am not approaching this purely as a vehicle to play ancient music by rote, I refuse to do it in tablature. I'm using the grand staff because once I get an actual lute the ledger lines will just be ridiculous, so this may be problematic for folks who don't read bass clef. The upshot is that it's an easy way to learn; almost all of the bass clef stuff will be one note at a time as I am essentially using the bass staff to denote stuff that is plucked with the right-hand thumb. It may seem silly on this piece because the only bass note is F two ledger spaces above the bass staff, but it establishes the convention if that makes any sense.

2) It was created in Dorico, which is why the fingering is above the staff piano-style. Dorico has still not implemented a lot of guitar-specific features, although I am assured that guitar-style fingering is in the works. I'm doing the Dorico free trial and am thus far very impressed; smoothest workflow I have ever seen in software of this kind.

3) All the action is on two strings. The main point is to learn the location of notes on the first string which is F, and the bass is a single-note drone. The fingers will alternate on the first string (I would make a student use all finger pairs) whilst the thumb plays the bass note on the 4th. I basically made it almost impossible for the right hand to get lost so most of the focus can be on the left.

4) A major didactic focus here could be maintaining a smooth, singing melody line whilst moving along a string. I put an open string in to assist most major position shifts, but where there isn't one it's important to hold each note until the last possible millisecond prior to shifting.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OspC6g ... sp=sharing

RobMacKillop
Posts: 3530
Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2015 5:24 pm
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by RobMacKillop » Mon Oct 15, 2018 4:55 pm

An interesting experiment. I'm familiar with Dm tuning on the baroque lute, and have played a lot of French music by the Gaultiers, Mouton, Gallot, etc, and think it wonderful. I too have never heard a good performance of this music on the modern classical guitar, whether six strings or more. There's a goldmine there waiting to be discovered. A little snippet of info you might care to ponder: some players in the 17th century tuned the 11th course up an octave from where you would expect it.

Oddly, almost all (99%, I'd wager) the song accompaniment tablature from the same period in France is actually for the 10c lute in Renaissance tuning. Why did they reserve the old tuning for accompaniment? I'm not sure of the answer, but hazard a guess. The Dm open chord tuning was but one of over thirty experimental tunings in a forty-year period. They were trying out different sonorities, quite often including a searching prelude with no bar lines. Eventually the Dm tuning won out, and by that time the theorbo was the instrument of choice for accompaniment from a bass line.

None of this will be much help to you, but it's background info you might be interested in. Weiss also used the tuning on the very large theorbos, but removed the first string (as it would break at that string length) and moved all the other string over one place, the top string now being d'. Again, not much help to you!

BrunoB
Posts: 73
Joined: Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:19 am
Location: Cumbria

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by BrunoB » Mon Oct 15, 2018 7:14 pm

there was a fairly recent edition of Weiss sonatas for 10c lute in renaissance tuning. I cannot remember who the editor was but I tried it on a 10c, with a 67cm string length as compared to a 71 cm SL on my baroque 13c, and it was almost impossible to play in my hands. I also tried re-stringing an earlier baroque lute to renaissance tuning and it sounded awful with no resonance. I wonder how far the tuning of a baroque lute body/soundboard is predicated by the Dm tuning although I have an 11c that can be restrung as a 10c renaissance instrument very successfully.

RobMacKillop
Posts: 3530
Joined: Wed Jul 29, 2015 5:24 pm
Location: Edinburgh

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by RobMacKillop » Mon Oct 15, 2018 7:20 pm

When it came to making baroque lutes, the old Renaissance-lute bodies were highly valued, to the extent that hardly any unaltered Renaissance-lutes survive. The fact that you compared two modern instruments with one another sadly proves nothing.

2lost2find
Posts: 404
Joined: Thu Aug 16, 2018 11:04 am

Re: Explorations in French Tuning

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Oct 15, 2018 9:26 pm

RobMacKillop wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 4:55 pm
An interesting experiment. I'm familiar with Dm tuning on the baroque lute, and have played a lot of French music by the Gaultiers, Mouton, Gallot, etc, and think it wonderful. I too have never heard a good performance of this music on the modern classical guitar, whether six strings or more. There's a goldmine there waiting to be discovered. A little snippet of info you might care to ponder: some players in the 17th century tuned the 11th course up an octave from where you would expect it.
So... C3 instead of C2? There's actually some logic to it, if you consider voice leading in the registers we tend to do a lot of our playing in.
Oddly, almost all (99%, I'd wager) the song accompaniment tablature from the same period in France is actually for the 10c lute in Renaissance tuning. Why did they reserve the old tuning for accompaniment? I'm not sure of the answer, but hazard a guess. The Dm open chord tuning was but one of over thirty experimental tunings in a forty-year period. They were trying out different sonorities, quite often including a searching prelude with no bar lines. Eventually the Dm tuning won out, and by that time the theorbo was the instrument of choice for accompaniment from a bass line.
I'll hazard a different guess Rob, although with respect to your immersion in this area which is greater than my own. I've spent a fair amount of time with guitars in Renaissance lute tuning and the difficulty of playing chords encompassing most or all of the strings is about the same as that of standard guitar tuning. I'm finding it quite doable in the French Dm tuning... but it's not quite as amateur-friendly, and doesn't really extend past string six or seven at most so you have the additional issue of keeping your basses quiet. Plus I sometimes find myself having to use the edge of the first finger to kill out the first string, which you never have to do with these types of chords in guitar or Ren lute tuning. Simple chordal accompaniment is NOT as easy in the Dm tuning, and the extra courses just complicate things. Could that account for it?
None of this will be much help to you, but it's background info you might be interested in. Weiss also used the tuning on the very large theorbos, but removed the first string (as it would break at that string length) and moved all the other string over one place, the top string now being d'. Again, not much help to you!
No worries about helpfulness... I'm a sponge for the history. Don't hesitate to post any weird tidbits that pop into your head. The Weiss theorbo tuning is something I did not know about.

RobMacKillop wrote:
Mon Oct 15, 2018 7:20 pm
When it came to making baroque lutes, the old Renaissance-lute bodies were highly valued, to the extent that hardly any unaltered Renaissance-lutes survive. The fact that you compared two modern instruments with one another sadly proves nothing.
That tallies with what I was reading the other day as well, that many baroque lutes were in fact retro-fitted Renaissance instruments.

Return to “Public Space”