Friday, 28 July 2017

Ammerbach: Passamezzo Antico

A woodcut illustration from the book in which this organ piece was published.
The organist looks very laid back with his stockinged leg and uncomfortably long sword.

I transcribed this piece for low-Gth ukulele from an arrangement by Paul-Gustav Feller for organ, from the original in Orgel oder Instrumant Tablatur, Pub. Leipzig 1571. I believe that the original was written in a kind of tablature.

Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (c 1530–1597), according to the brief article in Wikepedia, was a German organist and arranger who worked in Leipzig.

This arrangement contains:
(a) two simple versions of the passamezzo (4/4 time);
(b) a rather more difficult but fuller passamezzo;
(c) a reprisa, which is mostly simple block chords;
(d) a saltarella (3/4 time)

According to my musical dictionary, a passamezzo ('half-step') was a fairly lively dance in duple time, popular in the late 16th century. The bass line (in Gm) of passamezzo antiqua was: G | F | G | D | G | F | G:D | G , and passamezzo moderna was similar but with F replaced by C. So, the first section in this piece looks more moderna than antiqua – or am I showing my ignorance here?

The saltarello or saltarella was a kind of after dance played following a passamezzo, in triple time, with a jerky, syncopated feel, so perhaps the dancers had to do a bit of jumping (saltere = to jump). Some regard it as a kind of galliard.

The arrangement is available in various formats here:
pdf (quick preview)
pdf (download)
MIDI (rather slow and expressionless)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dowland: Suzannah galliard (91)

Albrecht Durer (1555): Susanna surprised by the elders.
I doubt that she is the subject of the galliard but I can't resist the incongruity and humour of Durer's engraving.
This must be a companion to his picture of men at the bath house of about the same period.

This is a lovely little galliard, and not too difficult to play. I particularly enjoy the sweet harmonies.

I have inserted the chord names on the tabs, although I realise that such an approach is as anachronistic as the illustration above. Nevertheless, I reckon that there are 13 chords in this short piece.

I have made the arrangement so that it can be played as much as possible by holding the chord shapes, and moving the appropriate finger. If you are a used to strumming this should be a help. In bar 13, the last (split) beat can be played by forming a 1-3-4-3 chord (a sort of unrooted C7, though that's not how John Dowland would have seen it).

Anyway, I hope you like it as much as I do.

Available for download in these formats:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Posts listed by hardness – a new page

 Image from John Davis: The seaman's secrets, 1607
(complete with misprint)

  As this blog has grown, it has become more and more difficult to navigate, to see what is on offer.

  Now, you can access the tab files, in various formats and in alphabetical order, using the "Quick links" box towards the bottom of the right-hand column.

  However, a number of correspondents have asked me to give some idea of difficulty of the pieces, so I have classified each post, from easy to hard, on a scale of 1 – 10. Just click on the "Posts listed by hardness" tab in the navigation bar above

I wonder if you will agree with my evaluations.

Trad (Anon & Cutting): Greensleeves in Dm

Well, it had to happen: I thought that it was about time that I had a go making a simple and accessible arrangement of Greensleeves, although there are already plenty available.
  The main theme (bars 1 – 16) of this one is really easy, taken from The Lute Society's Fifty very easy pieces for lute, which is a transcription of an MS at Trinity College Dublin.

Anon: Green Sleues for lute. MS, Trinity College Dublin

  The rest of the piece is an adaptation of a version by Francis Cutting (1550 – 96) in the British Library, transcribed by Sarge Gerbode. After a couple of tries, it's quite easy, too. Such a relief after Loth to depart.
Greensleeves by Maister Cutting. British Library, London

  I am currently making a fuller arrangement in Gm, which has more of interest (and so is a bit more difficult), and I will post it soon.
  You can hear the same pieces played together on the lute by the indefatigable Luthval – well worth a listen.

History of Greensleeves
Loads of myths have accumulated around this tune, and I can do no better than to direct you to an impressive history and analysis published by Early Music Muse here.

Available to download here:
pdf (preview)
pdf (download)
TablEdit (download)
MIDI (download)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Purcell: Festival Rondeau from 'Abdelazer'

Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695)

One of my occasional excursions into the Baroque. After all the 16th century pieces, it's fascinating to see how music had evolved into a more familiar style.

I heard this piece on a BBC TV programme about British Composers of the Baroque Period, and couldn't resist having a go at transcribing it for the uke. It's such a stirring tune and has a clear chordal structure.

The first 8 bars are a simple version of the main theme, and the following bars are a fuller version of the theme and variations. The whole piece is not too difficult, and in some places you just have to hold the chords and play. The Gm in bar 11 and elsewhere is a bit of a stretch, but works well once you get used to it. I like to play it on my 8-string tenor, as the double strings make it sound a bit more orchestral.

It's available in the following formats for you to download:


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Dowland: Loth to depart (P 69)

Edward Matthew Ward: Sir Thomas Moore says goodbye to his daughter
(I admit that this image is anachronistic – the event took place about 75 yrs before Loth to Depart was written.)

A bit sooner than I promised in my previous post, here is a ukulele version of Dowland’s lute composition Loth to Depart, P 69 (in Gm). It is possibly the most difficult that I have arranged –Diana Poulton refers to it as a graduation piece for lutenists. I have maintained the native fingering as much as possible, so this ukulele version is set in Am.

Structure: the piece consists of a 16-bar theme followed by 6 variations, each deviating further from the original.

Harmony: the piece makes much use of the Emajor chord (in this version) but, as we don’t have a low E available, the voicings I have used are necessarily unrooted, using either G# or B in the bass. You may find a few discords elsewhere, but I have checked back and they seem to have been intended by Mr D.

I have mostly omitted LH fingerings (information overload!), but there are a few indicated where it is more efficient to deviate from the ‘defaults’.

Where there are overlapping runs of notes (divisions) I have tried to distinguish them in the notation, but this is not always feasible in the tabs; nevertheless, I have tried to make the tabs as full as possible, so that they can be used independently.

Some notes may be shown longer than it is possible to play (especially where an open string on the lute is represented by a fingered note on the uke), so just regard them as something to aspire to.

Bars 65 and 67: the divisions were distressingly fast, so I have used simplified versions in the main score, and added more complete versions at the end. Good luck!

Available to download in the following formats:
pdf (notation + tabs), 8pp
pdf (tabs only), 5pp
MIDI (60 bpm - sounds slow at first, but just wait...)

I wish you joy.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Dowland: Lothe to departe (P31)

Facsimile of Lothe to departe in the Matthew Holmes Lute Book
Can be seen on the Cambridge University Library Website here.
Well, at last a reasonably accessible piece from John Dowland. As usual, Sarge Gerbode has made a fair copy, which I used for this arrangement. It is set in G minor (kind of).

Dowland made at least two arrangements of the air: this is the easy one, with 5 variations of the 8-bar main theme. There is another version (P69) of 112 bars, in which successive variations diverge further and further from the main melody. Transcribing it for uke will be a job for the long winter nights.

I have attached the original air to the end of the score. (The words are, sadly, lost.) It consists of 16 bars in A A' structure. A' varies from A only in the last 2 bars, and this is where I came across the term Picardy Third: the practice of ending a minor or modal piece in the major mode (i.e. with a major third in the final chord). Practically all the Renaissance pieces in a minor key that I have transcribed do this in the final bar, and usually at the end of each section as well. Either that or they omit the third of the chord altogether (as in the 'power chord' of rock musicians).

Dowland's version of Lothe does this, of course, but the original air (also shown) emphasises the change of mode by sharpening the B-flats to B-natural in the final 2 bars of the melody line – which sounds to my ears rather desolate. (It's very reminiscent of the Coventry Carol.) You can replicate this effect in the uke arrangement by changing the mode in the last 2 bars, and ending on a G-major chord voiced with B-natural on the first string.

Available in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf (automatic download)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Anon: The Duke of Milan's Dump

Philip II of Spain, Duke of Milan when Holmes' Lute Book was written
Painting by Titian

I was browsing the facsimile of Matthew Holmes' Lute Book in Cambridge (you can see it here) when I noticed this intriguingly titled piece. Fortunately, the ever industrious Sarge Gerbode had made a transcript of it, which I used to make the arrangement for low-G ukulele.

The normally rather dry and dusty Oxford Companion to Music (10th edition) has this charming definition:

DUMP, DUMPE. An old dance of which nobody now knows anything, except that the word is generally used in a way that suggests a melancholy cast of expression ... There is a Triste Dumpe in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, and it is not particularly doleful – but then it is Irish.
Meanwhile Collins' Dictionary of Music says:
dump, 16th and 17th century musical term, probably indicating an elegy or lament. The original meaning of 'dump' is a fit of melancholy or depression, [hence] 'to be down in the dumps'... All [dumps] are instrumental and most are constructed on a simple ground bass.
Well, hard as I try I cannot think that this piece is particularly melancholy. Dumps were often written in remembrance of a deceased personage, so perhaps whoever wrote this piece wasn't particularly sad about the demise of the duke. The Lute Book was written in England c. 1588–95, and the incumbent Duke of Milan was the Hapsburg Philip II of Spain who reigned 1540 to 1598 and married Mary I of England. Spain was not that popular at the time, and one wonders if there was a message here in the cheeriness of the lament. Or, have I read too much Hilary Mantel and CJ Sansom? (I am always open to correction from the cognoscenti.)

Anyway, it's a simple jaunty little tune, with a lot of ground bass on the open 4th string. On the lute, this is played on the 7th (F diapason) course, so we uke players have to do our best. My main liberties with the original have been:

  • Moving the ground bass to the 3rd string in § D, so it's not a bass any more.
  • Moving the melody up an octave in § D' (which is not in the original) to leave room for the bass. This means that bars 21–25 have to be played with a 2 barré on the top 2 strings.

You can download this piece in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf (automatic download)

Monday, 5 June 2017

Dowland's first galliard

Final bars of Dowland's first galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Final bars of Dowland's First Galliard from the Matthew Holmes Lute Books
Facsimile published online here by Cambridge University Library
Well, if this really was Dowland's first galliard, he really hit the ground running. It's full of memorable passages.

The image above shows the end of the piece in Holmes' MS (in this period they seem to have put the title at the end, so we have the six first bars of the next piece too.) The top of the page is really worn, and I take my hat off to Sarge Gerbode for transcribing it. You can read more about the MS by clicking on the link in the caption above.

The 'catch' in §A is the melody line in bar 6 echoed by the bass line in bar 7 (and centuries later echoed in turn by the theme tune to the film Deliverance).  Similarly, in §B there are repeated catchy motifs in bars 23 and 24.

§§C and C' are the easiest bits, especially as I have necessarily simplified the tabs. It consists of repeated motifs in the following basic harmonic sequence (on the uke):

A  | A  | C  | C  | D  | D  | E  | E  | A  | A  |

with a passing 4th note in each chord.

The pattern in §C' reminds me of the folk banjo picking style known as double thumbing – there's nothing new under the sun.

In these final sections I have taken the liberty of shortening the final chord in most of the bars, following Nigel North's performance on the lute. You may prefer to allow these notes to ring out to the end of the bar, or use both versions if you repeat the piece. It's all to play for.

Available to download in the following formats:
pdf (preview)
pdf automatic download

Dowland: Lacrime (from Barley's lute tutor)

William Barley Lute Tutor

I was browsing this old lute tutor by William Barley (published by Early Music Online) when I noticed a version of John Dowland's Lachrimae. Out of curiosity I decided to transcribe it for the ukulele, correcting a few instances of what appeared to my inexpert eye to be typographical errors – in particular a strange harmony in bar 23 (I have appended a literal transcription of the bar at the end of the piece).

The three undecorated sections (A, B, C) are quite spare, whilst sections A', B' and C' consist of similarly spare bars interspersed with 1 or 2 bars of divisions. To be honest, I prefer the transcription I uploaded a few posts back, so I'm including this version for the sake of completeness.

Versions available to download:
pdf (preview)
pdf automatic download

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Dowland: Queen Elizabeth's Galliard

Miniature of Queen Elizabeth playing the lute
Miniature of Queen Elizabeth I playing the lute.
(Thumb under or thumb over?)

This is a rather more challenging piece than The Queen's Galliard, which I posted a few days ago.

Not only was Queen Elizabeth I a player of the lute, but she was also an enthusiastic dancer - one way for her to exercise. I like to think of her dancing vigorously to this galliard, and the other dancers being very careful.

Knowing little of Renaissance dancing (except from watching Wolf Hall) I have done a little background reading. The galliard was a frisky dance in triple time, with 5 steps to 6 beats (or 2 bars); the missing step is a jump on beat 5, in the middle of bar 2. The most familiar tune in galliard form is, at least to the British, God save the Queen, presumably with the jump on the second syllable of 'gracious'.

The first 16 bars of Queen Elizabeth's Galliard are in 3/4 time. It took me a little while to divine that the rest of the piece is in 9/8 time (I hope), which must have made the dancing interesting. As it's quite quick (I have heard performances of 80 – 100 bpm – how on earth do they do that?), it involves a lot of fast chord changes at the beginning, and the divisions in bars 9–16 are, to be honest, terrifying. Perhaps one day ...

Anyway, do have a look:
pdf preview
pdf automatic download
 Good luck!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Dowland: The Queen's Galliard

Dancing a galliard

This is a simpler piece (Poulton 97) than the more famous (and more difficult) Queen Elizabeth's Galliard, an arrangement of which I will publish soon. I must admit that I was first attracted to it because in the original for lute most of the activity was on the top 4 strings, and there were no notes on the open 3rd string (which on the uke you have to play on the 4th string, which I would rather use for bass notes).

It's a lively little tune, and a good exercise in quick chord changes and in syncopation in 3/4 time.

I hope you enjoy playing it. Here are the files for download:

pdf (preview), pdf (auto download),  TablEdit, MIDI.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Dowland: Lachrimae Pavane (15 & 15a)

This haunting and melancholy piece is perhaps Dowland's most famous, and was performed in Europe as well as in England. You can read an article about its influence here (which is also where I pinched the images from).

Facsimile: Contemporary printed version of lute tablature for Lachrimae
Contemporary printed version of lute tablature for Lachrimae
(The inclined # symbols indicate graces, but ... what graces?)

In the past I have avoided transcribing it because the variations are not the easiest, but after my previous post it was suggested by Gilles T that I have a go. So, here it is.

Fortunately Sarge Gerbode has published transcriptions of two MSS of this piece for lute, and I have taken the easiest versions of the 3 sections and interleaved them. The arrangement is not all that difficult to play, but it did take me a while to get to grips with the syncopated parts in §B. I leave the difficult variations to more cunning hands then mine. It fills one with admiration for lutenists who can actually play the whole thing off lute tabs.

I have fiddled with my transcription for several weeks, off and on, because it is impossible to perform the various lines on the 4 strings of the ukulele. I have made the fullest version feasible, but there are many simplifications. Where relevant I have modified the fingerings so that notes can be played in position (here, 2B and 4B) rather than using open strings; but if you prefer the other way, it's easy enough to change.

As always, I have used the directions of the note stems to indicate melody (up), bass (down) and harmony (mostly down, except where obviously running in parallel with the melody).

Dowland's signature
Anyway, why not have a look and see what you think. Available to download in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadTablEdit (tef) and MIDI.

PS: Gilles T has directed me to this page:, which includes an arrangement for Renaissance guitar of Lachrymae, amongst many other pieces. These have been made by Stephen Wentworth Arndt from Jacob van Eyck, Der Fluyten Lust-Hof , so I imagine that they are original arrangements made from versions written for flute. Very impressive! They can be played directly on the ukulele if you are comfortable with the French-format tablature for guitar and lute used in the Renaissance.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dowland: Melancholy Galliard

This is perhaps my favourite Dowland lute piece to play on the ukulele – possibly because one can take ones time over it. It's not half so difficult as the lute version which has some chords that seem to me to be physically impossible, as well as having all those extra strings to play.

The first few bars of a contemporary copy by Matthew Holmes, to give you an impression of the original lute MS. (The label covers the end of a previous piece, as the pieces are contiguous, presumably to save paper.)
The first two strings of the lute translate directly to the uke, so you can compare it with my translation below. The lute symbols are: a = open string, b = 1st fret, c (looks like r) = 2nd fret, d (looks like j without a dot) = 3rd fret, and so on. In the indication of note length, they used one more tail or beam than we do.
You can see a full facsimile of the original here.

Dowland Melancholy Galliard Tabs for ukulele
An image of the tabs for the first section of the piece. The full version can be downloaded by clicking on the links below.

As usual, reducing the lute version has entailed great simplification, but I have tried to retain the several voices, and the sweet transient dissonances, where I can. I find it is not always possible to hold the bass notes for as long as I might want. The tabs give a reasonable impression of the music, but the notation shows the note lengths and voices more clearly.

The structure is a simple one: a, a', b, b', c, c', with the primes indicating a slightly more decorated variation.

It's available in pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadMIDI and TablEdit formats. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Dowland: Extract from 'A Fancy' (P73)

When I am looking for lute pieces to transcribe I do a sort of mental triage on them:

1. No too difficult to play, or
2. Playable with a lot of practice (should I survive that long), or
3. Never in a month of Sundays.

Most of this piece falls in the third category. Just look at bar 37 in the image below, or better listen to some of the excellent renditions on YouTube, to see why. But .... I was reading Diana Poulton's biog of John Dowland and she wrote that A Fancy (P73) was based on All in a garden green. It just so happened that I had posted a home-made pseudo-Renaissance version of the song a few days before. So, I was tempted.

One bar of Dowland's Fancy on which this transcription is based
A single bar of Dowland's A Fancy
From a transcription for lute by Sarge Gerbode

Mr D's Fancy seems to be in 3 sections of 19 (sic) bars, and as the first section wasn't impossibly  challenging I have burnt the midnight oil to produce something playable (I hope) on the Ukulele. It wasn't always easy, as my inexperience made it difficult to decide which notes were the lead, which the harmony and which the bass (the 'melody' was sometimes on the lower strings of the lute.) This all meant that fitting 8 courses on the ukulele was more than usually hard. I was helped by a Guitar-pro arrangement for guitar (3rd to F#) here (which is readable with TablEdit) when I encountered problems, particularly in interpretation of note lengths.

I have followed as far as possible the native fingering of the lute in the arrangements, so the uke piece is in A rather than G. (I tried lowering it to G, but it's not so pleasing.) In places I have used the directions of the stems of the notes to discriminate between overlapping runs of notes. This may or may not be conventional, but it helps one to see what is happening. Also, I've added an final bar (chord of A) to round off the previous 19 bars.

There are two versions here. The first (simple) one mainly picks out the 'melody' part, with a few bass notes to fill in echoing gaps. The second is as full a representation of Mr D's original as I can make, and it doesn't sound too bad when played back on MIDI.

You will notice that I am more than usually diffident about this piece, so if you are a specialist in the field do let me know of any errors and misinterpretations, and I will amend and acknowledge appropriately.

Downloadable in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download,  TablEdit and MIDI.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Traditional (Playford): All in a garden green

All in a garden green arranged for ukulele low-G

All in a garden green was probably at least a century old when the melody was included in this famous dance manual. It was drawn to my attention by 'Ukatee' on the Ukulele Underground forum, who also sent me this link to a performance on lute by the wonderful Luthval.

I couldn't find a version for lute or guitar online, so I thought I'd have a go at making my own ersatz  Renaissance-style arrangement for low-G ukulele. The first section is simple, and the base line  alternates the root with (where relevant) any convenient 3rd or 5th, so it has a see-saw feel, I think. (Imagine the lovers on a swing.) I especially enjoy the ascending melody motifs (riffs) in bars 13 – 16. You can play much of this section just holding down the chords. I have added the words of the first verse, as it helps me to keep track of the tune. It's much more demure than Watkins Ale, which I uploaded a few weeks ago.

I have not included the chords in the score as it is getting a bit full up. Here are the harmonies I used:

G    |G      |C Am |D    |C    |G    |Am  D  |G    |,
D    |C D G /|G Em |Am C |G    |Am   |Bm  G  |C    |Am D |G   ||

In other words: I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, which I hope are consistent with Renaissance usage.

The second section has more divisions (twiddly bits), but I wrote them with the uke on my lap so the notes mostly fall easily under the fingers (well, when I play them slowly). The third section has the melody almost unaltered in the bass (to be played louder), and ornaments on the top (quieter). John Dowland has kindly provided some turns of phrase, and also the whole of the penultimate bar (a motif that occurs in many of his pieces, such as Solus cum Sola).

If you've got the time and inclination, have a look and see what you think: available to download as pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadTablEdit and MIDI. (The MIDI tempo is a bit on the slow side, but this makes the divisions easier to hear.)

As usual I urge you to feel free to modify the arrangements as you wish and, above all, to have fun.

PS I have just read in Diana Poulton's biog of John Dowland that his piece 73: A Fancy (1600) strongly resembles this tune, so I have downloaded it from Sarge Gerbode's site and will try to transcribe it.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

De Visee: Three pieces, from Suite en La mineur

Image of low-G ukulele tablature of Bourree by De Visee
A tabs-only version of one of the pieces, to give you a feel for the music.
You can download full versions (tabs plus dots) following the links below.

The three guitar pieces transcribed here are two gavottes and a bourée, published in 1682 as part of Suite en La mineur (i.e. Am – although the ukulele tabs are in Dm).

Robert de Visée was, according to Wikipedia:

   a lutenistguitaristtheorbist and viol player at the court of the French kings Louis XIV and Louis XV, as well as a singer and composer for lute, theorbo and guitar.

I admit to a level of deceit as the music is about a century later than the Renaissance (i.e. Baroque), but a correspondent on the previous post suggested I look at his work, so I did. The first transcriptions I lighted on (here) rarely used a string lower than the 4th, so I couldn't resist transcribing three of the easier ones for the low-G ukulele. This was easier than usual as the transcriptions were very clear, and all I had to do was imagine that the uke was a guitar, and enter the fingerings.

These pieces feel to me more chordal (and therefore familiar) than the Renaissance pieces I have earlier transcribed, and I observe that a new chord form, the dominant 7th has crept in (e.g. Gavotte 1, bar 8).

Thanks to Gilles T for suggesting the composer, and to the transcriber of these pieces for doing all the hard work.

Available in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Happy playing!

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Luis de Narváez: Diferencias sobre "Guárdame las Vacas"

Woodcut of a vihuela player
Vihuela player

Last week I posted variations by Alonso Mudarra (Romanesca) on the same piece, namely Guardame_las_vacas. The present variations (Diferencias) were written for vihuela* by Narváez in the second quarter of the 16th century. The variations are built on the 8-chord sequence:

| III | VII | i | V | III | VII | i,V | i |,

whilst Romanesca adds an extra 2 bars (| IV | i |) at the end.

This is a popular piece, and there are loads of versions on YouTube. The indefatigable Luthval has loaded a performance on vihuela here.

It looks like being a good exercise for enthusiasts of arpeggios and scales. I transcribed it from a notational transcription of the vihuela original, published by Bernd Goldau here. Where there was an open 6th string (E) in the original, I have substituted low G# in the uke version.

At first sight I thought that this would be a nice easy one, but keeping a smooth line at speed is a  challenge. I have tried to finger the scales so that if there is a change in position there is an open string between positions to give me a chance to jump there. You may well have your own preferred way of moving around the fingerboard.

The piece does involve the full range of the uke (well, up to fret 15 on the 1st string), and can sound a bit plinky on the top notes. One has the option of dropping an octave in some places, but it could then sound disjointed. My main stumbling block is the pair of chords in the second half of bar 35: my best way of dealing with this is: to form a second barré; finger the frets 3-5-4-2; play strings 1, 2, 4; finger off string 1; play strings 1, 2, 3. If you find any difficulties, it's always possible to simplify – I try to make the arrangements as full as possible so that you (or I) can do just that.

Most performances seem to be about 130 – 140 bpm (otherwise the final bars of each section seem too long), but I have set the MIDI version at 120 bpm, which is minimally less scary. Even so, it remains an aspiration.

It's available in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download,  TablEdit and MIDI.

* The vihuela was essentially a guitar strung and fretted like a lute – I hope this description doesn't offend any vihuela-ists.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Trad: Watkins Ale

Wood cut: couple expecting Watkins Ale
A delivery of Watkins Ale is expected.
And now a song for low-G ukulele with a strong, bouncy melody line. I noticed this piece (taken from the Weld MS, c 1600) in Diana Poulton's Lute Tutor, and thought it should be easily playable on the ukulele, with fewer than the usual number of compromises in transcription. To put the arrangement in context, I have included the bawdy song on which it was based; all the words (taken from here) are at the end of the file. Looking at the image above and reading the first verse will give you the general thrust of the piece, and a good guess at the metaphorical meaning of 'Watkins ale'.

    The structure of the song is a a b b c c, and of the arrangement a a' b b' c c', where the primes indicate more elaborate variations. As a beginner, I found comparing a with a', etc. to be a useful introduction to the construction of divisions (decorative short runs) in the late 16th century.

    The melody of the lute version is not identical to the song (it's rather less interesting), so I've done a bit of tweaking, particularly to the 1st and 3rd bars of sections b and b' of the arrangement. The basic harmonies are quite simple, and there are a few trivial chord substitutions.

   This piece was used by Poulton as an exercise in ornaments (mordents, appogiaturas, shakes, slides, etc), although no-one is certain exactly what the symbols in the original MS meant. Rather than prescribe any kind of treatment I have used the mordent symbol (a short zig-zag) to indicate the position of an ornament (to be applied to the top note), and leave it to your skill, dexterity and judgment to add the twiddly bits as you wish. After all, we're only in this for the fun.

   All in all, this is an easy piece (which I at least find reassuring), but as with everything I post it's just a starting point for your own simplifications or elaborations.

   As usual available to download in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI. Before you print the pdf file, you might like to know that on pp 1–2 is the song, pp 3–4 the arrangement, p 5 the words (they just about fit); p 6 is a phantom blank page.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Fantasia facil

Image of title page of Mudarra in Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela, Libro I, Folio VII. Sevilla, 1546
The title page of Mudarra's Tres libros, including a jolly little graffito
From Wikipedia
If you want to know why I chose this particular fantasia, just look at the title. Some of Mudarra's fantasias I've watched on YouTube are really quite challenging. It was published in Tres libros de musica en cifras para vihuela, Libro I, Folio VII. Sevilla, 1546.

I derived this version from a transcription for guitar by Thomas Könings available here. As far as possible I have followed TK's formatting – so much easier than working out note lengths, ligatures and stem directions for oneself. There have been the usual compromises in going from 6 to 4 strings, but it still sounds OK, I think.

This being a fantasia, there is no rigid structure such as in a song or dance, and therefore no repeated chordal pattern. I have therefore abstained from inserting modern chord names into the score, as they don’t really help in understanding how the music works. Also, this being polyphonic music, the chords made by the overlapping lines often merge into eachother. Consider bars 2 and 3: there is a chord change from Dm to A(major), where the note of D carries over from the second half of bar 2 to the first half of bar 3, giving us a chord of 'A add 4' (ugh!), resolving to A in the second half of the bar. Again, there is a lovely dissonance in bars 52 and 53, where an insistent F natural is sounded against a chord of Amajor, which gives us something like A+, but doesn’t sound like it.  I don’t find that knowing the chord names in such a context helps me – they just clutter up the score. Something else I've learned.

Available to download in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Pavana de Alexandre

Another (shorter) piece from Mudarra, arranged for low-G ukulele, derived from an arrangement for guitar by an anonymous setter here.  About half of the piece can be played in second position with whole or partial barrés. It is just about possible to sustain the longer notes whilst playing the runs, and I have indicated the fingerings that I find most comfortable – you may prefer your own.

image: 2 dancers dancing the pavane

The pavane was a slow, stately, processional dance; this means one can take ones time playing it.

Here are the links to versions in these formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Have fun!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Alonso Mudarra: Romanesca, o guárdarme las vacas

Image of Alonso Mudarra, from

Alonso Mudarra

Alonso Mudarra (c 1510 – 1580) was apparently the first man to set down guitar music on paper. The Spanish are justifiably proud of him – he has an extensive web presence, should you want to learn more.

This version is made for the low-4th ukulele from a transcription for lute published by Wayne Cripps here.

Available in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI – just click the links.

About the piece

The title translates as Look after the cows for me.

There are 5 variations. Most of the lute work is on the upper 4 strings, which made for easy transcription, but bars 35 to 39 involved runs on strings 4, 5 & 6, so I have had to take greater liberties to maintain the lines. The most efficient fingerings are not always the most obvious, but I found that including them the score made it cluttered and difficult to read, so I leave the choice to the player.

Some years ago, Michael Parmenter made a transcription for low-G uke of Mudarra’s original version for Renaissance guitar, available here. It is in the same key as this one (though in 6/2 time) so one version might well be played after the other.

There is a fine uke version played by the fretted instrument performer Jocko MacNelly here.

The format

Romanesca, also known as "Guárdame las Vacas", is a form of song that was very popular in the Spanish Renaissance on which many composers made different versions and series of "differences" (variations).’ [Quoted from this blog] There is more information and an image of the composer here.

According to Wikipedia: ‘Romanesca was a melodic-harmonic formula popular from the mid 16th to early 17th centuries’, following this 8-bar sequence:  III–VII–i–V–III–VII–i-V–i'. The present version is, however a 10-bar sequence:
III – VII – i – V – V – III – VII – I-V – i – IV – i,
with sometimes ♭VI substituted for i in bar 3, III for V in bar 4, and I for i in the final bar of the piece.

The words

Guárdame las vacas,
carillejo, y besarte he;
si no, bésame tú a mí
que yo te las guardaré.

Keep my cows for me,
darling boy, and I will kiss you:
or else, you may kiss me
and I will keep the cows for you.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues

This fantasy is the first in Adrian le Roy's volume of Renaissance guitar music: Quart livre de tablature, 1553. Transcribing it for ukulele appealed to me for two reasons. First, I managed to play much of it (admittedly badly) directly off the facsimile, though I do have trouble with the B♭ chord in bar 16 [see footnote]. Second, I checked the definition of 'grues' in a modern French dictionary: it currently means either 'cranes' or 'ladies of the night'. Either way, it gives one an image to ponder whilst playing the music.
Facsimile: First 5 lines of the tablature by Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues
Facsimile: First 5 lines of the tablature by Le Roy: Fantasie, des Grues

    My music dictionary tells me that, in the 16th century, 'fantasia' applied to compositions of very contrapuntal nature: the combination of two or more parts or voices to form a harmonic whole. It evolved into the fugue. The form was freer than a dance or song, and for purists an instrumental fantasia had to be extemporised and not written down.

   The present piece consists of overlapping lines, punctuated or accompanied by chords. As usual, my problem has been to determine which note falls into which category, because the tablature shows only when to pluck the note, but not how long it is to be. The convention I have used is to have the stems of bass and harmonising notes pointing down, the stems of the top line pointing up, and where other lines overlap to direct the stems in the least confusing direction. It's easier to see the structure in the notation than in the tabs. Apologies if I have transgressed any norms of music setting, but I'm learning this as I go along.

   At first sight this looks undemanding, but I found maintaining the line(s) and keeping the long notes ringing a bit of a challenge. Part of the trouble is that with a percussive instrument like the uke, the notes don't last all that long. The Renaissance guitar was double strung, and I wonder if it had more sustain than the uke. If you can, try changing the MIDI instrument to 'recorder' or 'string ensemble' to hear the lines more clearly.

The arrangement is available to download in pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI formats. Have fun!

Footnote added later. I was having trouble fingering the notes around the Bflat chord (I have converging middle and ring fingers) so I have simplified bars 14 – 18 (see below). You'd hardly hear the difference. The brilliant Luteval has loaded here on YouTube his performance of this piece (with variations) on Renaissance guitar, in which he plays this section with misleading ease whilst holding a 3rd barré, so it is possible! Many thanks to 'Ukatee" for the link.

music Les Grues bars 14 - 18

Monday, 30 January 2017

Thomas Dallis: Passamezzi

I am grateful to The Lute Society for publishing their 58 Very Easy Pieces for the Renaissance Lute, from which these two pieces were adapted - first by them, and now simplified by me for uke. It is taken from a MS in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, and images of the original can be seen on their website here.  I reproduce one of the clearer pages here, to show you what the editors, all credit to them, have to work with.

Lute tablature: Thomas Dallis Lute book, Trinity College Dublin, MS 410/1
An example page from the Dallis MS (but not showing the pieces adapted here)

Thomas Dallis (fl 1580–1600) taught music in Cambridge and Dublin, and this MS is believed to have been written by his student(s) about then.

These two similar pieces (in D) are entitled Passamezzo d'Italie and Passamezzo, and sound well played in sequence. They are jaunty little tunes, and show you just what our ancestors could to with what we call the "three-chord trick" – D, G and A. The fast bits (divisions) aren't too difficult if played reasonably slowly, and I hope to build up to full speed one day. I've had to make the usual compromises too fit the bass lines to the lute, particularly where the lutenist has the luxury of allowing open bass strings to sustain through several beats, whereas we have to finger and hold them, which can lead to a shortage of available digits for the other notes – good luck!

As usual, they are available in pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI formats.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Campion & Dowland: What if a day

Painting of Thomas Campion playing a lute
Thomas Campion (seen here with a rather wonky lute) was a poet, musician and physician.

It is fascinating to see how this air by Thomas Campion (1567–1620) was turned by John Dowland (1563–1626) into a solo piece for lute. To this end, I have made a simple arrangement of What if a day for low-G ukulele, complete with words, and with a very clear melody line. The verse structure is: a a' b c c' c" (bars 1–26).

The subsequent bars are a transcription, as full as I can manage, made from Dowland's lute version. He modified the structure to: A A' B B' C C'. The first of each pair is close to the original air (and not coincidentally to the simple arrangement), the repeats (A' etc) are far more decorated. By comparing A with A' etc, one can see how Dowland did it.

The arrangements are available here in pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadTablEdit and MIDI formats.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Henry VIII: Pastyme with good companye (3 versions)

Henry VIII Pasytme with good companye
Image of the Cantus (melody) part of the original MS of Pastyme ...

I was watching the BBC programme Music and Monarchy when I heard this air being played, and it occurred to me that I had made an adaptation in an earlier foray into this music. Michael Parmenter on Ukeclassicaltabs had made a jolly version for re-entrant tuning, so I had a go at adapting it for low 4th uke, from various sources.

More recently I found a facsimile and a transcription of the original MS on Wikipedia (where else!) and so I  transcribed the three voices into uke tabs. This sounded a bit modal and discordant in places (see note below), so I made another adaptation based on the transcription by Allen Garvin, which seems more comfortable on the ears.

The block chord effect can be a bit heavy, so when playing I must admit to omitting some of the non-melody notes on un-accented beats; this makes it lighter (and easier to play). See how you get on.

There are more details in the comments at the end of the transcriptions. I admit that my confusion may be due to my inexperience in this field.

You can download the files in the following formats: pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.
Note added later: A very helpful correspondent ("Ukatee" on Ukulele Underground) explains it this way:

Accidentals in early music like this are a whole can of worms - try googling "musica ficta" and you will see what I mean! Basically these old manuscripts didn't add them as they were already implied by the rules and conventions of the time.

For example, an E natural against an Bb was strictly forbidden - "diabolus in musica" - and the singers would flatten the E. Their method of thinking in hexachords (a precursor of modern sol-fa) would make them do this automatically. In modern transcriptions the editor will indicate these 'extra' accidentals by either writing them above the note, or making them smaller than original ones. 

So, the first version of Pastyme provided here is more or less what was written, but not what was played.  I leave it here for the record, where it may help other beginners in the field. The second version, based on the Garvin transcription (which uses the convention just described for accidentals) is nearer the mark.

"Ukatee" has also pointed out that my comments about note length are incorrect: I said that they were as in the MS but in fact they are halved; they are however twice as long as in some published transcriptions. I must edit the files soon. So much to learn ...

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Le Roy: Three Dances

Title page of Le Roy: Renaissance guitar tablature
An image of the title page of the book from which I have transcribed these three dances. The first two are bransles, or branles or brawls. The Oxford Companion to Music describes bransles as originally round dances which became popular in the French Royal Court around the period of these tablatures, the rhythm usually being two-in-a-bar, although those from Poitou (Poictou) were three-in-a-bar.

In transcribing Bransle de Champagne, I dithered between 2/4 and 4/4 time, but the latter looked more readable, so that I what I chose. You can decide by downloading the tabs in these formats pdf (preview), pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI.

Bransle de Poictou caused no problems of time signature (3/4). Download the tabs in these formats pdf, pdf auto downloadTablEdit and MIDI.

I chose Pimontoyse to transcribe because the name intrigued me. It's in 3/4 time, and the first bar is reminiscent of Twelfth Street Rag, a popular jazz-tinged record of my youth. I imagine that the name is an early version of 'Piedmontaise', but I'm open to correction. Anyway, here it is in pdf, pdf auto download, TablEdit and MIDI formats. [Note added later: I am grateful to "ukatee", a contributor to the Ukulele Underground Forum for many helpful suggestions for improving  this transcription; the linked files have been updated accordingly.]

The tabs look pretty simple, but the sounds and rhythm are intriguing. I found some of the harmonies in Champagne and Pimontoyse a little weird, but I have double-checked the transcriptions and they look OK. As I'm doing these transcriptions, in part, to help me understand the music of the period, I've added chord symbols to help my analysis. So much to learn ...

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Dowland: Tarleton's Resurrection (in D and C)

Richard Tarleton, or Tarlton, (d 1588) was what we would today call an all-round entertainer in the Elizabethan theatre – stand-up comic, impromptu rhymester, actor and dancer. This dance was arranged for lute by Dowland in his memory.

Portrait of Richard Tarleton
Richard Tarleton. [Wikipedia]

I've included arrangements for low-G ukulele in 2 keys: D major, which retains as far as possible the original lute fingerings, and C major, which I find falls more easily under the fingers. There is a quick peek at the tabs below, and here are links to full downloadable versions in png, pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadTablEdit and MIDI formats.

On one of his CDs, Nigel North plays this piece first at a slow funereal pace, and the repeat as a fast jig – reminiscent of Jelly-Roll Morton's Dead Man Blues, which represents a  New Orleans funeral.

Music tablature low-G ukulele Dowland's Tarleton's Resurrection

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Traditional: Trenchmore

A bouncy little tune, from the later 16th Century. Trenchmore is described as "a kind of boisterous English country dance" in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. There is an extensive article on the possibly Irish origins of the name and dance here.

Adapted from The Lute Society's excellent but rather optimistically titled publication 58 Very Easy Pieces for the Lute, No 16.

The fingering is mostly simple, the timing not so straightforward – plenty of syncopation. I must admit to using the MIDI files to get it clear in my head.

The bass-line is mostly alternating tonic / dominant. Fortunately the 6th and 5th strings on the lute are tuned G & C, an octave lower than the 4th and 3rd strings of the ukulele.

There's a full printout below, and you can download the arrangement in pdf (preview), pdf auto download, png, TablEdit and MIDI formats.

Music tablature tabs Ukulele Low-G transcription Trenchmore

Monday, 9 January 2017

Polonais: Courante

 Jacques Polonois (Jakub Polak) was a Polish lutenist who moved to Paris in 1574. He lived 1545 – c 1605, so was John Dowland’s senior by about 18 years)
    This arrangement is from a transcription in the tutor by Diana Poulton. She points out the importance of keeping the voices alive in this polyphonic music, pointing out that “several books of instruction … say that no [left-hand] finger should be lifted … until it is needed for another note”.

  The original lute piece makes use of the diapaisons – the 7th and 8th courses on the lute, which neither the ukulele nor the guitar possess.

   In the 2 versions of the last 6 bars I have (a) moved the main voice up an octave to make room for a base line, or (b) maintained the main voice in position and raised the diapaisons several octaves to sit above the main voice. See what you think.

  There's a quick peek below, and you can download the arrangement here in pdf (preview), pdf auto downloadTablEdit and MIDI formats.

Music Tablature Jacques Polonois Courante

Music Tablature Jacques Polonois Courante