Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Discussion of all aspects of early instruments, lutes, theorbos, vihuelas, Renaissance guitars and Baroque guitars.
2lost2find
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Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Sep 22, 2018 4:33 pm

I'm hoping people who have experience with baroque lutes will chime in here. This is a subject I've found a remarkable paucity of information about online. I am preparing to drop some change on an extended range instrument, with a single-strung thirteen course baroque lute heading up my list of candidates at the moment. I'm wondering what people with real experience have found to be the pros and cons of the baroque Dm tuning in practical terms... not just "it's easier to play baroque lute music on it." I'm looking for an instrument to mostly WRITE music for, and am trying to decide how I want to tune it. My first instinct was just use my familiar guitar tuning for the first four or five strings, then I thought about baroque lute scale length and realized that was completely absurd.

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Sep 22, 2018 7:41 pm

I'm partly answering my own question via the retuning of a guitar I have lying around to match the top six strings of a baroque lute (albeit somewhat lower). Just dinking around with chord shapes and what have you. There are some nice movable chord forms to be had within this tuning, although I must say I'm not sold on the locations of the existing P4 skips. The tuning would certainly not be for everybody; cowboy chord strummers would hate it. Scales are a bit of a mess. The non-symmetry of concert guitar tuning with that random M3 in there creates some scalar weirdness as it is; this setup where you have three different intervals happening adds a huge layer of complexity for melodic playing... or so it seems based on an hour of noodling around.

I might try out Eric Bellocq's tuning, which is all in major and minor 3rds.

Wuuthrad
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by Wuuthrad » Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:54 pm

Here's all the tunings from Renaissance to Baroque:

https://www.lutesociety.org/pages/lute-tuning

I think what I've found is you can certainly tune however you like except when playing others compositions. Seems quite obvious, but it also seems composers sometimes tuned how they liked, as there are unlisted experimental and transitional tunings, as mentioned.

Also important to remember: A415 for Baroque Lute, and if I remember correctly not to tune any Lute much higher than that.
"Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic." -Jean Sibelius

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:03 pm

Wuuthrad wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:54 pm
Here's all the tunings from Renaissance to Baroque:

https://www.lutesociety.org/pages/lute-tuning

I think what I've found is you can certainly tune however you like except when playing others compositions. Seems quite obvious, but it also seems composers sometimes tuned how they liked, as there are unlisted experimental and transitional tunings, as mentioned.

Also important to remember: A415 for Baroque Lute, and if I remember correctly not to tune any Lute much higher than that.
Sure, but I'm looking for something more or less standardized and consistent. Not saying I might not retune a bass string or something for a given key, but I want to keep it at a minimum. Back in the 90s when I was doing solo acoustic gigs on a steel-string I had literally eight or nine tunings I was cycling through... it was insane. Not doing that again.

Wuuthrad
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by Wuuthrad » Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:17 pm

2lost2find wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:03 pm
Wuuthrad wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 8:54 pm
Here's all the tunings from Renaissance to Baroque:

https://www.lutesociety.org/pages/lute-tuning

I think what I've found is you can certainly tune however you like except when playing others compositions. Seems quite obvious, but it also seems composers sometimes tuned how they liked, as there are unlisted experimental and transitional tunings, as mentioned.

Also important to remember: A415 for Baroque Lute, and if I remember correctly not to tune any Lute much higher than that.
Sure, but I'm looking for something more or less standardized and consistent. Not saying I might not retune a bass string or something for a given key, but I want to keep it at a minimum. Back in the 90s when I was doing solo acoustic gigs on a steel-string I had literally eight or nine tunings I was cycling through... it was insane. Not doing that again.

I believe standard for Baroque Lute would be A415 d minor with the bass courses adjusted as needed. I play a 7
Course Renaissance so I'm not an expert by any means.
I think 10 11 or 13 might be my next lute. 10 is rare, but seems more adaptable to both periods.

I hear you about the tunings- I do that myself between drop D, open D, G and DADGAD, 3rd F of F# and a Flamenco style tuning.

Kinda makes me wonder why those digital tuning pegs from Gibson never caught on!
"Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic." -Jean Sibelius

RobMacKillop
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by RobMacKillop » Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:42 pm

I have extensive experience with baroque lutes. The 11c lute employed a variety of tunings (as did the 10c - both transitional instruments) but the by the time the 13c came along, the Dm tuning was pretty much fixed. Lutes are very finely balanced instruments, and do not take kindly to much retuning. So unless you want to give yourself a headache, I would either buy a 13c lute and keep it in Dm tuning, or buy a Dresden guitar with modern tuners.

Practicalities: the tuning of ADFadf has a clear symmetry, so scales and chord shapes are quickly and easily learned. The surviving repertoire does not have much in the way of barre chords, as most of the basses are open strings. If you do get 13 courses, make sure you learn to always play rest strokes with the thumb - it's the only you'll navigate your way around the basses. It's much easier with single courses, as you plan for, but still needs a lot of work to become confident without looking. Jacob Lindberg, on of the world's best lute players, told me NEVER to look at my right hand - and I thank him for that advice.

Remember that, for composing, the Dm tuning is very resonant, so playing in keys which do not heavily feature d, f, and a, will sound a little choked by comparison.

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sat Sep 22, 2018 11:44 pm

RobMacKillop wrote:
Sat Sep 22, 2018 9:42 pm
I have extensive experience with baroque lutes. The 11c lute employed a variety of tunings (as did the 10c - both transitional instruments) but the by the time the 13c came along, the Dm tuning was pretty much fixed. Lutes are very finely balanced instruments, and do not take kindly to much retuning. So unless you want to give yourself a headache, I would either buy a 13c lute and keep it in Dm tuning, or buy a Dresden guitar with modern tuners.

Practicalities: the tuning of ADFadf has a clear symmetry, so scales and chord shapes are quickly and easily learned. The surviving repertoire does not have much in the way of barre chords, as most of the basses are open strings. If you do get 13 courses, make sure you learn to always play rest strokes with the thumb - it's the only you'll navigate your way around the basses. It's much easier with single courses, as you plan for, but still needs a lot of work to become confident without looking. Jacob Lindberg, on of the world's best lute players, told me NEVER to look at my right hand - and I thank him for that advice.

Remember that, for composing, the Dm tuning is very resonant, so playing in keys which do not heavily feature d, f, and a, will sound a little choked by comparison.
Thanks. Did you find the Dm tuning conductive to playing in a wide variety of keys, resonance notwithstanding? Judging by the little bit of time I spent this morning chord shapes seem easy enough... easier really than on the guitar... so long as one is not hung up on open chords. Quite a bit less stretchy, if you will. And nobody will miss barre chords.

I'm really hoping to settle on one tuning and stick with it. I don't really like the sound of deep basses on a standard guitar, and if I go for something like a ten string guitar I am more likely to try Decacorde tuning a la Carulli than I am to take it down to the basement.

RobMacKillop
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by RobMacKillop » Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:07 am

There is a 17th-century piece which goes through all keys, but unfortunately I can't remember who wrote it. Falkenhagen, maybe? I never encountered a need for playing in "distant" keys, so can't really answer your question. But where there's a will...

Conall
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by Conall » Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:47 am

To me, the most obvious "con" of Dm tuning is having to relearn how to read on the guitar. Sight reading on a normally tuned guitar is hard enough and it has taken me decades to get to the point that I really know the fingerboard very well. I did learn to read Renaissance tuning (G, with 3rd course down a semitone from "normal") & that was a bit of a pain but Baroque tuning is another thing altogether!

No tuning is going to make playing distant keys and "guitar keys" equally accessible because accessibility obviously depends largely on open strings but having even just one extra non standard pitch bass string makes at least one extra major & minor key that bit more resonant / easier. I've noticed that with a low C it's even possible (but not easy) to play the Bach Chaconne in Cm!
And you probably know of a few Sor pieces with low E tuned to F, making F major / minor more effective than in normal tuning.

Normal guitar tuning is there for a reason - which is why I & most other CGists prefer it. Adding stepwise basses is the most obvious worthwhile extra addition in my opinion because, aside from opening up more faithful renditions of Baroque & Renaissance music it will, with only a little variation, allow playing in plenty of keys not normally used on modern guitar. If you went for a 13 string tuned ebgdaedcbagfe you could add F, G, B & C minor & majors easily enough (provided you are happy with low basses) and with only a semitone variation in tuning of one bass string you'd make a load of other keys accessible too - while keeping the fretted notes largely in the same place you are used to.

RobMacKillop
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by RobMacKillop » Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:50 am

Or try Yepes' tuning on a 10-string.

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sun Sep 23, 2018 2:41 pm

Conall wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:47 am
To me, the most obvious "con" of Dm tuning is having to relearn how to read on the guitar. Sight reading on a normally tuned guitar is hard enough and it has taken me decades to get to the point that I really know the fingerboard very well. I did learn to read Renaissance tuning (G, with 3rd course down a semitone from "normal") & that was a bit of a pain but Baroque tuning is another thing altogether!
That doesn't scare me. When i was using open tunings back in the day I'd just spend a couple of weeks in full immersion... if I was somewhere I couldn't play my instrument I'd be writing out chord voicings, scale shapes, and note positions on paper. I'd do the same thing with baroque tuning.
No tuning is going to make playing distant keys and "guitar keys" equally accessible because accessibility obviously depends largely on open strings
Part of the reason that accessibility is so dependent on open strings is the heavy stretches necessitated by tuning in mostly 4ths. You'll never make all keys equally accessible, but I've come to believe that the situation could be radically improved. I've been thinking for years there has to be a better way; just been too lazy to pursue it. It was fine as long as I was mostly learning existing compositions, but now that I'm trying to write for CG I'm finding the limitations thrown into sharp relief. Fully 80% of the time at least, if I just write down what I hear in my head it's unplayable. And I've been playing guitar for most of my life! I can't even imagine what it's like for composers who don't play.
Conall wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:47 am

Normal guitar tuning is there for a reason - which is why I & most other CGists prefer it.
The main reason standard guitar tuning exists is ease of playing open position chords in a fair number of keys. The guitar's history... and tuning... has been heavily influenced by it's popularity as a folk instrument.
Conall wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:47 am

Adding stepwise basses is the most obvious worthwhile extra addition in my opinion because, aside from opening up more faithful renditions of Baroque & Renaissance music it will, with only a little variation, allow playing in plenty of keys not normally used on modern guitar. If you went for a 13 string tuned ebgdaedcbagfe you could add F, G, B & C minor & majors easily enough (provided you are happy with low basses) and with only a semitone variation in tuning of one bass string you'd make a load of other keys accessible too - while keeping the fretted notes largely in the same place you are used to.
Well, once again I've never liked the sound of low basses on a standard-sized guitar. The concert guitar is already a very dark-sounding instrument; and notes below C or so just lack brilliance to me. As Rob said in his excellent video, the lute guys really understood low notes.
RobMacKillop wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:07 am
There is a 17th-century piece which goes through all keys, but unfortunately I can't remember who wrote it. Falkenhagen, maybe? I never encountered a need for playing in "distant" keys, so can't really answer your question. But where there's a will...
I admit I haven't gone into much depth with baroque lute music; my head has been stuck in the 19th century for most of my classical guitar playing life. What would you say are the most common or idiomatic keys?
RobMacKillop wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 7:50 am
Or try Yepes' tuning on a 10-string.
What Yepes had in mind is not the same thing I have in mind; I'm not trying to increase sympathetic resonance. In fact I carry with me an old habit from my years as a rock player of being pretty aggressive about damping anything I'm not actively playing if it's possible to do so. Yepes tuning really doesn't address the issues I want to address, although I do like the accidentals on open bass strings idea. I still might get a ten string, but if I do the first thing i'm going to try is Carulli's Decacorde tuning. Basically it sticks G and F in between A and E, so E becomes the 8th string. Then you get low D and low C... the latter of which I strongly feel is the concert guitar's lowest good note. On paper the idea makes a tremendous amount of sense, and I kind of want to try it out in practice. I've done some preliminary work with taking existing pieces and re-fingering them for the tuning, and right off getting rid of that 4th interval between the 5th and 6th strings dramatically simplifies some things.

RobMacKillop
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by RobMacKillop » Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:32 pm

Common 13c keys are Dm, G, Gm, F, C, A, and curiously, Eb.

Conall
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by Conall » Sun Sep 23, 2018 4:50 pm

One related thought I had (because I've been thinking about alternative tunings & extended ranges too as well as added resonance) was the idea of adding chromatically tuned strings below A5th.

So what about 6-14 as Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C? Or a 10 string missing out Eb-C?

This would solve the problem of impossible stretches between the low notes & highest notes. Wouldn't be easy though!

It could have a light thin neck by making 6-10 or 6-14 floating / swan necked.

Anyway, if you find a reasonably adventurous & not too expensive luthier the possibilities are fairly endless.

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Sun Sep 23, 2018 10:09 pm

Ok, so what does one do on a cold Sunday afternoon when his two eldest kids are visiting their mother, his girlfriend his visiting HER mother, and his youngest is sick and only content when sitting on your lap? Can't play guitar... can't get any work done...

I spent a couple of hours creating a transcription for baroque lute of one of my favorite Sor etudes, Op. 35/17. Once my son FINALLY went to sleep and I was able to put him down I tested it out on a guitar which is tuned to match the top six strings of the baroque lute... I just had to leave out a few low notes. Significantly, I was able to do a note-for-note transcription that included all notes and note values exactly as written, and with no interruptions in the arpeggios. And by taking it up the fretboard a few times I was able to make it significantly less stretchy than Sor's guitar version. If someone who owns a baroque lute wants to take a stab at it I would love to hear your thoughts. A few notes:

1) This was done in Guitar Pro, which I will be the first to tell you is not the best choice for something like this but it's what I have.

2) GP is not equipped for ancient tablature, so it's got a modern tab staff attached. It's a ten string staff because that's the max GP will do, but since this transcription does not need more strings it will suffice. In order to make the whole thing fit on a single page I omitted rhythm notation on the tab staff.

3) The arrangement is fully fingered on the notation staff.

4) You need nine strings to play it as written, low to high E F G A D F A D F.

5) The notes are 100% identical to the original. I resisted the temptation to add some low bass notes.

6) It lies quite comfortably under the left hand. Some easy position shifts are indicated in order to avoid stretches. The shift down to the 2nd fret in measure 19 is the most dramatic shift and it's still not difficult.

7) There are two parts that some might find a bit stretchy depending on hand geometry... I find them quite comfortable but my hands are large. In measure 15 there is a half barre across the fourth fret while the 4th finger plays the 6th string at the 7th fret, and in measure 29 it is necessary to pull off from the 4th fret to the 2nd on the 2nd string using the 4th and 3rd fingers while holding other notes with the first two. If you can't reach that one, you could forgo the slur and just replace the 2nd string 4th fret with the open 1st string.

8) I admittedly picked the low-hanging fruit... this was in a key that I was pretty sure would translate easily. But it was fun and gave me a better feeling for how the tuning works. Hopefully somebody will enjoy it besides myself...

https://drive.google.com/open?id=105FMX ... prGGjqoKsh

2lost2find
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Re: Baroque lute tuning: pros and cons

Post by 2lost2find » Mon Sep 24, 2018 1:44 pm

I decided to get a little more ambitious and did a similar transcription of an Aguado waltz (Op 7/3 or 7/1 depending on which edition you are looking at) in E, with a modulation to A. There are very few open strings, but it still came out quite easy to play. I did have to make some slight modifications because there were a few places in which there was a sustained open string in the original that was now a fretted note, and a change of fingering for a new chord forced me to replay the note instead of simply sustaining. One is tempted to try moving it to a new key, but the point is it's really not necessary. Even in a key with few open strings for this tuning, it came out stone-simple to play.

I also got to thinking about decent notation. If we're talking about looking into the future we can hardly write stuff in 18th century French tab, can we? A 13 course instrument is too big for a single stave. I did it on a grand staff, with a treble clef stave for the first six strings and a bass clef for the remaining seven.

I'm getting a lute. I'm watching for amazing deals, and failing that I'll pick up a La Luth Dore after Christmas.

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