Blog Archives

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it…

It might seem on the face of it to be impossible to know how people spoke 400 years ago, before the invention of sound recordings, but in fact there has been considerable research in this area and we can be pretty certain about some aspects of the way that Shakespeare or Jonson or Dowland would have pronounced their texts.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized


Message in a bottle: how to play ornaments in 16th century lute music

Listening to lute recordings of the last 50 years, it is rare to find any ornaments at all played in “pre-baroque” music.  The consensus seems to be that it wasn’t until  the 17th century that cadential trills and other kinds of ornaments became an essential part of lute playing.  When playing the beautiful polyphonic music of the early 16th century,

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized


Playing polyphony on the lute

In the previous blog I looked at historical evidence for fingering chords and some scale passages. But lute music is usually polyphonic, so how is the polyphony notated in lute tablature, and how can we best interpret it? Tablature was apparently invented at around the same time that lutenists started playing all the parts of a composition with their fingers rather than just one or two parts with a plectrum.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,

All fingers and thumbs: some thoughts on left-hand fingering

Many lute players today have played the guitar before starting to play the lute, and while it was obvious that right-hand technique would have to be different for the lute, to cope with double strings, lack of nails, and possibly even “thumb-inside” – it has generally been assumed that the left hand was already well trained and needed no real consideration.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Making things, making mistakes, and perfection

Having now spent most of a lifetime making things, I reflect that I’ve been lucky to do so. In our culture we tend to distinguish people who “work with their hands” from people who “work with their brains”. Our education system has enshrined this for hundreds of years, and even now many people are fond of the idea that some children are “academic” and should go to university and study traditional subjects,

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Octave stringing: ‘irregular to the rules of music?’

If you asked a modern lute player – any time from the revival of the lute in the early 20th century to the present day – whether their bass courses were tuned in octaves, they would probably say that they were tuned in unisons because none other than the great John Dowland himself had said that tuning in octaves was “irregular to the rules of music”.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

Body frets: Who needs them?

…those that be exercised in the same art, stop the strings justly … as cunningly as though they had frets.

Nowadays everybody uses tied gut frets as far as possible on the neck (usually up to the 8th fret), and wooden frets up to fret 12, but in the past it was normal to use no frets at all beyond the 8th.

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Dowland’s ‘Tremolo’ Fantasia: What’s wrong with it?

Dowland’s famous “tremolo” fantasia is familiar from many performances, starting with Julian Bream in the 1970s and continuing to be a favourite piece amongst modern lutenists.

This piece appears in the Collected Lute Music of John Dowland (London: Faber. 3rd edition, 1981; edited by Diana Poulton and Basil Lam;

Read more ›

Posted in Featured pieces, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Was Dowland a composer of lute music?

Practically the entire corpus of English lute music exists only in manuscript. It was customary for a composer to include an instrumental piece in a printed book of songs, but apart from those few pieces we have only William Barley’s Newe Booke of Tabliture (1596), Thomas Robinson’s Schoole of Musicke (1603),

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized


Are lutenists less HIP than they used to be?

First we had “authenticity”, then we had “historically informed performance” (HIP). What do we have now?

This is a book-length topic, of course, so I can only make a few remarks which relate specifically to the lute.

A bit of history – from the pioneering work of Dolmetsch and others in the early 20th century,

Read more ›

Posted in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,