Early Guitars and Vihuela

A network for historic guitars and vihuelas

New to the group, I thought I'd dive in and ask a question that has bothered me for some time. 

I love to play early plucked instruments, taking care to approximate alternation techniques appropriate to practice.  The Vihuela though has always plagued my conscious, because I don't know how it was done.  I thumb alternate with forefinger at times (like Italian Renaissance lute technique), and at other times I find an alternation between the fore and middle finger preferable on some runs.  I'm capable of both techniques, but don't know what they actually used and would like to stick to one methodology. 

Is there a correct way to alternate, or is it all guesswork?  Was it done only one way? The lutes, theorbo, and classical guitar, I understand and play accordingly, but the Vihuela, not so much.  What I do works fine, it sounds good, but I'd like to use the method appropriate to the instrument and music.

Any simple answer?

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Thank you Scott, the site was exactly what I needed.  The information gleaned verified what I'd been trying.  In fact I tried both over and under, nails and pads, etc., and played with both techniques depending on the piece.  My punk and rock friends can't get over the music that can come out of "that tiny little instrument."  Cool to transfix them with16th century vihuela music. 

Need to pull out the Griffiths article and see if I can get any more out of it too.

Have read the piece twice and practiced three times, cool technique if not a tad too brittle for my taste.  Anyway, it will make a nice change up, so will include it more and see if I warm to dedillo.  I've been doing a change up of the alternation techniques (depends entirely on passage and piece) with a more bright bright sound off the nails.  The instrument is so small in relation to some of the other instruments, any of these techniques can be made to feel quite natural with practice.  

Such a strange alternation technique, one finger, up stroke for strong beat, downward nail for the weak.  It's more a mind thing about the up and down being opposite.

Yes it is an interesting technique and one that I haven't spent much time on to tell the truth.


I agree that it can be a bit harsh in some hands (fingers) but there are others that have a silky smooth dedillo. I think the smoothest I've heard is by fellow EG&V member Hideki Yamaya. Check out his videos on his page and see if you agree.


Keep at it, there's hope!

Ultimately I think, as the article pointed out, that it is a matter of taste.  But even owing that, learning historical technique is still a good thing.  How can you make a choice, if you don't have one?  Anyway, the music is beautiful and again, having another color to apply is great.  I'll definitely watch the videos, as I tend to pick up a lot more from application.  The notion of not making a full stroke is the hardest part for me.  I mean it is a stroke of sorts, but not what I'm used to, more an abbreviated movement if you will.

His support of the forefinger, or rather holding the thumb against it, can easily be missed and appear as a thumb-under stroke, and is approximately what I've found works best.  Trying to move the finger from the joint at the palm lends itself to an inaccuracy, something perhaps described in the documentation.  Also, I note the relaxed movement of the fore-arm, rather than hand movement, similar to that of longer runs present in the thumb under technique of Renaissance lute.  All minor details, but in those details dwell the technique.  From the fingers, the movement is a bit more inaccurate.  Supported, it is more like holding a plectrum, though the alternation of strong/ weak is opposite owing to the upward movement of the flesh having a stronger sound.  Such a cool technique.  This is exactly what I wanted when I asked the question.  Now comes the choice of application (or not) to personal taste. Thanks!

I might be mistaken of course but it does sound to me more as an alternating thumb-index stroke, rather than dedillo ... Perhaps the maestro himself can clarify?

Theres also "The Vihuela de mano and it's music" by John M. Ward. I think it can be purchased on line somewhere. Here maybe...




It's been a long time since I've read it so I cannot remember how much technique talk there is. I picked it up years back when it was available as a Doctoral Diss. I'm not sure if he updated anything over the years. Maybe for publication??


But Ralph is the best at explaining dedillo that I have seen. I'm sure you can contact him and discuss things with him if you like. He's a very nice fellow...

Dedillo is the one technique I've not given as much time to as I probably should, so spent last night working on it.  What was great, is that after practice, the whole of the article made more sense especially with the videos that were included.  I use a combination of the techniques depending on the piece, and adding a bit more of the dedillo only adds to the fun. New tool in the toolbox as it were.  I have a lot of different techniques I play with, trying to keep it close as I can to historically appropriate.  I've also used the vihuela as a starting point for the nails, alongside the Renaissance lutes.  Moving from them, to baroque lutes, and then to classical guitar and Theorbo, I cycle the instruments according to nail length.  It will be interesting to play with longer nails on the vihuela, then trim and play it without them.  Two for one, cool.

Checked viaLibri but no copy is available.  I might check to see if the local library can get a loan from one of the universities. I seem to recall an LSA journal or quarterly with a Ward article in it, so will dig through them when I can.  Funny how I pour over the material only to have it resurface as the need arises.  Wish my memory was better with it, but then too, it's an awful lot of material. 

Thanks again, it's amazing how much there is to learn when talking about plucked instruments.  It gives me new found respect for those teaching it in academia, like John Schneiderman.  So much to know and put into practice, it's amazing.


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