Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Hernando de Cabezón: Obras de musica para tecla, arpa [y] vihuela.

Hi everybody!


is anyone knows about some English translation for this scores?

these are really strange tablatures!! the last pages so in 4 lines tablature, are probably tablatures for vihuela and not for renaissance guitar. At least Jose Miguel Moreno plays it on vihuela.

the tablatures are here: http://digirep.rhul.ac.uk/items/71bba38b-29a6-d6b7-baf1-16474646a8a...

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Looks like 4c music. A short string length too, with two-note chords from the first fret on the third string to sixth fret on the first.

Hi Rob,


thanks for your answer, but it really doesn't look like a frets on an instrument.

It is impossible to play it that way. There is some chords where the 7th and the 1th frets should be  played simultaneously...

I'm not sure we are looking at the same thing.  I randomly opened a page near the end and there are four lines.  However, they are not courses in an instrument.  It's actually 4 voice harmony.  The b at the beginning of each piece means b-flat should be used throughout the whole thing.  If b natural is required, you get a natural sign. The numbers are actually notes 1=f 2=g 3=a and so on. An f major scale looks like this


with a little thingy on the last 1.

This kind of tab was used for organ, harp,  and keyboard instruments.  Theoretically, you could use it for vihuela (as Cabezón does) and even for choir. But I seriously doubt the vihuela pieces were read directly. 


Actually I wouldn't callit tab. Tab is supposed to tell you WHERE you place your fingers.  Standard notation tells you HOW it is supposed to sound.  This thing with lines and numbers tells you how it sounds not how to play it.

Check my page for Ave Maris Stella from this book.  The original is on image number 15 on the right side page at the top. Since there is no transposition, the whole thing should be easy to follow.

Hi Juan,

Thanks for your answer!

actually, I'm a bit confused about this whole thing..do you know where can i get good instructions for this "notation"?

If it's what I think it is...LIke Juan, I just opened a few random pages but agree it appears to be numbered notation. You can find a general overview here with links to further information as well: 



It's not hard to learn although I found it confusing at first (I play a chinese instrument and most of the music is written in a similar manner) since my mind kept trying to play it like Italian or Spanish tab...doesn't work so well ;(


Juan may be correct that the vihuelaists didn't read it directly but some of the accomplished chinese players in my group can read up to 3 or 4 lines at a time so I think it's possible that the vihuelaists could have as well. I can read two at a slow pace...but my head begins to hurt after a few minutes ;)



Well... Check this cabezón book pages 9, 10 ,11 and some more and you will find a clear explanation of his notation (if you can read Spanish). You can find some "fabordones de Vihuela" and "Tientos de Vihuela" by Venegas de Henestrosa in exactly the same notation.

this is the point. I don't read spanish

I see. If you are interested in the music, maybe we can do a collective transcription as one discussion thread using everyone's expertise.  It might be fun.

nice idea. But I'm sure there is some English explanation somewhere

Not sure if I am on the same planet here, but if you get hold of Willi Apel's "The notation of polyphonic music" it has a chapter on keyboard tablature. 


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