Early Guitars and Vihuela

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Is there a Baroque text that gives technical details for rasgueado? You see plenty of creative variation on youtube, but I wonder what is the historical evidence? Following what I can discern from Sanz or Corbetta, it looks like either straight alternations up and down, probably at the same division as whatever the primary division for the punteado is, (eighth notes, say.) or in a triple feel, two down and one up. Is there a source that delves into this further? 

Likewise, is golpe accurate for this time, or inferred based on flamenco traditions?

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Corbetta describes how to play tepicco variations in his introduction.   Foscarini has some instructions which he probably copied from someone else.   There are also instructions in  Millioni's books.   None of them are very helpful and players in the 17th century may well have done something more complicated in the same way that players do today.   If you want to read translations of the original texts, I will blow my own trumpet and say that you can read them all on my web page starting with the section "The baroque guitar made simple".  Then the prefaces of Foscarini and Corbetta.  Translating these things is my speciality.  They are all there at monicahall.co.uk   

Marvelous. Thank you very much.

I spent some time at your site yesterday. I enjoyed it very much, thanks for sending me. I have a question. (probably a hundred, but I will try to contain my self.) It seems like an introduction along the lines of "here you will learn how to play the guitar without all the bother of reading music" was a common way to start a guitar book. This seems to strongly imply that previously guitarists had been expected to learn the notation that the authors are trying to avoid,  but this does not seem to actually be the case if I understand correctly. What was the more difficult alternative that the early guitar book writers were avoiding? are there examples?

In the earliest books to be printed specifically for the 5-course guitar (i.e. Montesardo, Millioni etc.) what they were trying to avoid was the sort of tablature notation used by lutenists.   What the early books were teaching was a system whereby basic 5-part chords were represented by single letters of the alphabet.   This is the equivalent of the kind of notation often  used today by beginning pop guitarists.  In popular song books with guitar accompaniments the chords may be represented today by symbols like Gm or G7 or in some sources with little grids showing the fingering rather than in staff notation which many pop musicians ((if I may call them that) can't read.   Sooner or later guitarists in the 17th century had to learn to read tablature if they wanted to do more than just "hold down a chord".  Today guitarists have to learn staff notation if they want to play seriously.   Hope that is helpful.

Do the earlier lute sources use tablature, or notation?

I think I know that notation evolved first primarily as an aide for singers, and that early instrumentalists generally worked from vocal music if from any notation at all. This is in the shadowy realms that I know I have little understanding about....

When did notation first appear for solo instrumental works?

When music for solo lute first began to be published, was it in tabulature?

I had thought that alfabeto pre-dated guitar tablature. 

I wish I had thought about these things more when I was getting started.

maybe I should just ask if you can recommend a good book on the history of music notation.

I will spend a bit of time with google today if I can get my schedule to permit it.

Earlier lute sources are in tablature and all  sources, whether printed or manuscript use tablature  until the beginning of the 18th century.   Surviving 16th century sources for the 4-course guitar are also in tablature. These are predominantly French and in French tablature.   There are a few pieces in the Spanish vihuela books.  These are in Italian tablature.  There are no pieces in Italian sources which are unequivocally for the 4-course figure of 8 shaped instrument.

Notation i.e. tablature notation for the  lute and other fretted  plucked stringed instrument probably came into use in the mid 15th century at the point in time when polyphonic music began to be played on such instruments.   Before the mid 15th century these instruments were usually played with a plectrum and played only a single line.   There are some 15th century sources which are probably for lute which are in the kind of  mensural notation used for vocal compositions.   However this is very different from modern staff notation and for several reasons is not suitable for solo instrumental music in several parts.    

Alfabeto does not  pre-date guitar tablature.  What happened in the closing years of the 16th century is that the guitar acquired a fifth course and it suddenly became hugely popular in Italy particularly.   Rather in the same way that the classical/pop  guitar suddenly became popular in the 1960s what with the Bill Haley and the Comets, the Beatles and all the rest of it.    The kind of music that was popular and which everyone in Italy wanted to play consisted of simple chords which were strummed and alfabeto notation (and other Spanish systems of chord notation) were developed to cater for it.    

Incidentally other instruments - especially keyboard instruments - also used tablature.

I can't think of a simple book about the history of notation.  The standard textbook is still "The notation of polyphonic music 900-1600" by Wiili Apel.   It is very technical but the chapters on instrumental notation would be helpful and a glance at the chapters on vocal music notation would give you some idea as to how complex and unsuitable for  anything else this is.  Hope this is helpful.


 '' None of them are very helpful and players in the 17th century may well have done something more complicated in the same way that players do today.  '' They could be maddeningly vague.

Many thanks for your web pages, Monica. I do dip into them  and it does help .

Monica Hall has given you some very good advice and her site is indeed full of accurate source information.

You were asking, as far as I understand,  if the early strumming technique was similar to modern flamenco strumming play. My reading of the sources is that it was generally not. As you quite rightly observe, most early sources speak of strumming with just the index and sometimes with the thumb too but, as far as I'm aware, no source describes the sort of full hand strum rasgueado practised by modern flamenco players. Much less do they describe the continues rolling strum common in flamenco playing. 


I guess my question contained some unnecessary assumptions on my part. I'm new to the baroque guitar. I haven't even received my first instrument yet (it should be done soon :-) ) I am learning to read the tablature and watching YouTube, trying to understand better what constitutes a serious players interpretation of baroque guitar music. One of the things that I've noticed watching you tube videos is that many players take considerable liberty in rasgueado, often sounding flamenco, nearly. I wanted to know if there was some original source explanation for this, or if it was perhaps a fanciful interpretation that is popular now.
I would like to study the similarities and differences between modern (traditional) flamenco and baroque mixed style music, but at present I am rather a novice in both of these areas.
The book "the keys to flamenco guitar" by Dennis Koster calls the modern quintuple flamenco rasgueado "Montoya" rasguado, after a 20th century player, so I assumed this particular rolling technique was not authentic for the baroque era.

Unfortunately I don't know much about Flamenco.   But I think the link between the 17th century and 20th century flamenco is much exaggerated by players who don't know much about 17th century practice.

It is a bit more complicated than that.  Foscarini mentions strumming with all four fingers in one stroke.  Corbetta's instructions for playing the repicco variation in the Caprice de Chacone on p.72 of La guitarre royale (1671)    indicate that the first chord of each bar should be played with all the fingers together.  Interestingly Ricci in 1677 describes the triillo thus..

“Questo trillo si fà con l’indice della mano destra, battendo tutte le corde all’ingiù con prestezza, si danno, dico, quattro botte, come per essempio, - there is an example here which I can't reproduce - le quali devono esser legate insieme, & andar girando, come una ruota, conforme lo spatio del tempo che si farà preso su'l principio”

 - in a nutshell it is played with the index finger like a wheel which suggests a circular motion rather than up and down.   

The information in all these books is really very basic and intended for beginners.  I don't think you rule out the possibility that accomplished players did something much more elaborate when playing entirely strummed music as opposed to music in mixed style.  The difference between 17th century strumming would be the different sound quality  due to the use of low tension gut strings rather than the high tension nylon (presumably) strings used by flamenco players today.

Ok, now that is interesting. I would have perhaps been more inclined to accept the flamenco- like strumming in a Spanish source. But that would clearly have been silly, then.


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