Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Hi have the book 50 Baroque Solos for Classical Guitar by Mark Phillips. Has anyone translated any of the simple Bach pieces into 5 course guitar by chance? =)

When composing, are there scales to practice for Baroque guitar, there is not a wealth of information on this subject out there.


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I'll be brave and attempt to answer this but I will warn you that my knowledge on these matters is somewhat limited.
I don't know of any transcriptions for Baroque guitar. It should be fairly easy to transcribe pieces using modern guitar transcriptions, of course you will be missing the low 'E' so notes that fall on that string will have to be found elsewhere ( probably the 4th course) or the chord will have to be altered or inverted.
The lazy way (my kind of approach) is to either use a 6 course Baroque guitar or a Vihuela and simply employ the exact same fingering as the modern guitar transcriptions. Some of the pieces such as the type found in Anna Magdalena sound OK even on a 60 cm Vihuela, the Chaconne might be a different matter - not that I've tried it and I doubt that I'm going to do so anytime soon.
Scales are no different from the common major and minor that are found in many guitar books. Again you have the problem of the missing 'E' but the actual fingerings for those scales starting on the 5 th string will be exactly the same - the intervals don't change.
You suggested:
It should be fairly easy to transcribe pieces using modern guitar transcriptions, of course you will be missing the low 'E' so notes that fall on that string will have to be found elsewhere ( probably the 4th course) or the chord will have to be altered or inverted.

I tried this approach with mixed results. Bach's prelude to the first cello suite worked nicely... the allemande in the first violin suite didn't. Some work... many just don't do it.

Then there is this other approach... start from scratch and retune your guitar if needed... check this out:

from the page of V. Kaminik

I have not tried it, but It looks very good.
I transcribed Gavottes I and II from Bachs Cello Suite VI. They are on my page. While not the best possible transcriptions, they are good enough for me.

Transcriptions for modern guitar are usually in E. I decided to keep the original key, D, in order to be able to use more open strings.

I hope someone likes it.
Juan Pablo, I have just tried to play on my (homemade) baroque guitar your Bach transcriptions, and I found them very attractive indeed. Did you transcribe them with the full re-entrant tuning in mind? I use the French Tuning, with a bourdon on the 4. course so I guess I must try only to play the treble string in some of the passages. Thank you very much for sharing this fine work of yours with the rest of us! I do hope you will come up with other Bach transcription in the future... Fortunately I will soon get a real Baroque guitar of the Voboam type from Luciano Faria, then I can use a complete re-entrant tuning on my homeade one.
Best wishes
Thank you so much. Just like you described, I use a French tuning with one bourdon and one high string on the fourth, two high 5th strings. In some passages (second part of Gavotte I) I ran out of basses and there some awkward jumps... However, I decided that this was a minor inconvenience compared to the nice effect obtained by using the high 5th string in Gavotte II from ms. 15 and on. If you have any suggestions, please share them with me.

Congratulations on your new guitar. My baroque guitar is not based on a fine Voboam, Sellas or Stradivari. It was copied from an anonymous model of what must have been more of a very humble popular model rather than a fine concert instrument. It does not even have a rosette. But I must add, it has a very nice action and is easy to play.

Ok, thanks Michael, thats sort of what I was hoping to hear, but what scales did they use back then? I'm not sure how modern scale development happened, or what is newer than 1700, etc. I would like to develop a list of do's and don'ts because I compose my own melodies more than I play others.

Thanks again...
Same as we use today. Bach wrote the 'well tempered clavier' that covers all the Major and Minor keys. Here's a link to Wiki:

You may be interested to see that a few professional performers do tackle Bach on the 5-course instrument:

David Jacques:
(with two sound samples)

Marco Meloni

Antonello Lixi:

It sounds good to me, quite convincing.
Look here (but not so simple to play...)
Vol 14
Transcription by Javier Hinojosa.


Just as an update, I can strongly recommend the wonderful two Bach collections by Thomas Schmitt published by GatoMurr. And, yes, Javier Hinojosa's transcription of 1006a is a monster, but it's one of the most clever and imaginative transcription I know of. Well worth the try (the Prelude should keep you busy for months if not years, but the Gavotte en rondeau is quite straightforward). 

That said, the other way is to make your own transcriptions. the cello suites lend themselves very well to transcriptions for various instruments, and sound pretty good on a baroque guitar. The  campanella scales must be used with taste and elegance ; too much overtones can kill the beauty of this music but may be very effective in some places. 




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