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I've just refurbished my old 4c renaissance guitar that up until now has been used only for chordal accompaniment.

I'm tackling some of the Morlaye and Le Roy pieces now that the instrument is greatly improved, and have a simple question that may have no simple answer:

Would these solo pieces have been played with lute technique, or is it likely that some chords  might have been strummed, as is done with baroque guitar music from the next century?  Certainly some of the pieces seem to lend themselves to strummed chords, but I don't want the authenticity cops bugging my home . . .


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Hi Bill, 

Just yesterday I was digging around my university's music library and I ran into a copy of the 5 guitar books by Le Roy. I didn't take it out since I have those on pdf, but I read through James Tyler's intro.

This is what I recall: Le Roy published a tutor for the guitar around 1550, it was later reprinted in England and translated. BUT, the original print, the reprint and the english translation are all lost. However, PIerre Phalese, in 1570 (if I recall correctly) republished parts of that guitar tutor in Latin. Tyler says that because Phalese's version was translated from english, which was translated from french, a lot got lost and garbled, but enough has been preserved to show that lute and guitar techniques were identical.

That's what I remember. I hope this is never held as evidence against me in the 'Early Music Court'.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,


James Tyler does indeed say that playing technique for the 4-course guitar was identical with that for the lute in the introduction to the Leroy and Ballard books.   But that is  rather sweeping statement.  It would be more appropriate to say that the technique for both instruments was similar.   And how much do we know about it anyway.   Don't worry about the "Early Music Court".   Monica

For more detailed information, check out this article:

Dobson, Charles; Segerman, Ephraim; and Tyler, James. "The Tunings of the Four-course French Cittern and of the Four-course Guitar in the Sixteenth Century." LSJ 16 (1974), pp.17-23.

To summarize, the guitar instructions from Phalese 1570 are probably taken (and garbled) from the cittern instructions of Vreedman's 1568 cittern book (or both sets were taken from a third, earlier cittern source) -- NOT taken from Le Roy's guitar tutor.

What can we learn from this? For one, Phalese (the elder) probably considered the guitar and cittern to be similar enough (in some respects) to borrow from the instruction, in which case strumming the guitar might also be considered appropriate -- OR Phalese was too lazy / sloppy / careless, etc. to bother with correct instructions, considering it "good enough," leading us to the conclusion that no conclusion may be drawn.

However, Chris Goodwin has pointed out in some articles in FoMRHI (Comms. 1932 and 1947) that we can learn something about how instruments in the past were perceived based on the use of the onomatopoeic sounds used to describe them. In Comm. 1932 he cites the description of the onomatopoeic sounds of instruments in the play Ralph Roister Doister (c. 1552):

So fervent hot wooing, and so far from wiving,
I trow, never was any creature living ;
With every woman is he in some love's-pang;
Then up to our lute at midnight, Twangledom twang !
Then twang with our sonnets, and twang with our dumps ;
And Heigho ! from our heart, as heavy as lead lumps.
Then to our recorder with Toodleloodle poop !
As the howlet out of an ivy bush should hoop.
Anon to our gittern, Thrumpledum thrumpledum thrum,
Thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrum !

This could give some indication of the strumming of the gittern (which in this case is presumably the same thing as the 4-course guitar).


Hi Andrew,

A bit of doggerel is worth a thousand instruction books!  :o)

"Thrumpledum, thrum" it is.


PS  Sounds uncannily like Mr Formby . . .

It is the instructions for tuning or rather stringing the 4-course guitar which are actually a garbled version of the cittern instructions not the whole book as far as I remember.  

Yes - just the instructions!

Phalese's garbling of the tuning text is fairly well described by Tyler, et al. This is where pulling from the cittern text creates confusion, and I don't think there is any reason to believe (based on this passage) that the guitar had octaves one the 3rd course also.

Martin, how did you come to understand that the octave strings are on the opposite side as they are on the lute? I don't gather that at all...

FWIW I think there is a HUGE difference in carefulness between Phalese the elder and Phalese the younger. The latter seems much more careful with his publications with far fewer errors -- at least based on the extant cittern books.


High octave strings closest to the floor, as one holds the instrument for playing. (If facing the instrument and holding it vertically, strings to the right -- lute-wise.) Iconography (most? all?) shows the same. I'll have to recheck Vreedman, but I don't think he advocates for counter-lutewise stringing.


Heartz's translation is reasonable clear.   However his interpretation of was completely impractical.   I have tried to add the scan of his example in staff notation but so far have not succeeded.   however in Helmhoz notation he suggests that this is

         g'     d'    b flat    f

                        B flat    F

Notes on the piano would be treble clef   g on the first line/d below the stave///   bass clef  bflat above the stave doubled the octave below i.e. the bflat on the first line/ f on the fourth line doubled an octave below i.e. f below the stave.   Hope that makes it all clear.

If you go to my page you will see that I have added the musical example as a photo.

Well - Phalese's instructions may not be garbled - but they refer to the cittern, not to the 4-course guitar.   He refers to the 3rd and 4th courses as the First and Second Bass and indicates that they are both strung in octaves.    The 4-course guitar had octave stringing only on the 4th course.   A high octave string on the 3rd course would would sound a minor 3rd above the first course which is not very practical. 

As regards frets - most of the illustrations may show only eight frets.    But Mudarra at least specifically calls for 10 frets.  

I would guess that, as with the lute, notes could be stopped at higher positions without frets.  Morlaye's books show an 8-fretted guitar even though there appears to be room for more on the long neck.  Be that as it may, it's comforting to know that only a small part of the repertoire calls for notes beyond the 8th fret.

There has been a lot of talk about Phalese.  Do you know if a facsimile of this book is available?


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