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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.

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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”.

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