Lute Tuning

Renaissance Lute Tuning
To mimic the tuning of the six string renaissance lute the 3rd string of the guitar can be tuned to F#. The guitar then sounds a minor third below what is accepted as usual lute tuning. However there would in practice have been considerable variability in pitch and I sometimes use a capo at position 2 rather than the more usual 3rd position to give an approximation to lute pitch as it results in an easier fingerboard with the 'equivalents' of D and A and E at the 12th fret on strings 1 and 2 and 3. 

It takes a certain amount of practice to get used to this altered tuning but it makes many renaissance pieces easier to play. However some pieces are just as easy to play in guitar tuning, especially those in flat keys, eg the Anthony Pavan (in my view this piece also sounds perfectly satisfactory at guitar pitch). My practice is to aim at arrangements at guitar pitch and in guitar tuning if feasible and only to adopt lute tuning if it clearly appears necessary.     

Sometimes the best option for an arrangement is to transpose the key. Often it is possible to make an arrangement in the notional original key, a minor third higher than a direct transcription (assuming a lute in G). A good example of this that showed me how it could be done is the arrangement by Michael Lewin of Dowland's Pavan, "Semper Dowland Semper Dolens" in the Trinity College of Music Grade Seven book for 1986-9. This is a difficult arrangement to play even for grade 7, but sounds exceptionally well. Alternatively transcription to a pitch a fourth higher is sometimes possible. This enables the preservation of some aspects of the fingering of inner voices and gives a good pitch without resorting to the capo. I have used this approach in the Wilson preludes, which in any case make very little use of the top string of the lute.

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