Early Guitars and Vihuela

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I am trying to understand how a vihuela is to be tuned. 

Is it literaly tuned like the guitar with the exception of the third string (E,A,D,F#,B,E)?

What does it mean when a vihuela is tuned to a A, of tuned to G (etc.)? Does that mean that I can only play music in that key? If so, in what key should I seek in a vihuela in order to learn its more popular and traditional music?

Is there a standard tuning (like in guitar)?

Thank you so much for your help!

What tuning shoul 

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sorry I meant "or" instead of "of" for the third sentence.

Usually vihuela is tuned like the lute : GCFADG (for a string length of around 60 cm), or one tone higher if a shorter string length (55cm). If you have a vihuela with longer string lenght you can tune it to F or E (E,A,D,F#,B,E), even D.

Hello Valery and thank you for taking the time to reply.

Being that I am familiar with the classical guitar, I would want to purchase a vihuela in E but would this allow me to learn the more traditional and popular music or would I need a different tuning for this? 

The point is = the vihuela is usually smaller than the guitar. The highest course is tuned to a' or g'  rather than e'; the 3rd is between the 4th and 5th courses rather than the 2nd and 3rd, A vihuela with the first course tuned to E would be tuned to the same intervals as one in a or g but at a lower pitch. You wouldn't have a problem playing  from tablature which is not pitch specific but it wouldn't be so  easy to play from staff notation unless the transcription is specifically at guitar pitch.  I am not sure what you mean by traditional and popular music. Vihuela music is in Italian tablature.

If you switch from classical guitar to lutes or vihuela I would not go for compromises...  to me it's better to pick up normal vihuela with its regular tuning and treat it as a different instrument... 

Vihuela music is in spanish versioin of Itallian tablature (it uses figures but the order of strings  is upsided down. Actually it is similar to modern guitar tabs used in pop/rock/jazz guitar methods).

I can't remember any traditional music for vihuela (except some variations and transcritpions made by vihuela composers).

I believe those dayse renaissance guitar was used for comping and playing simple traditional tunes. 


Only Luis Milan's tablature is "upside down" or "downside up". All the others are in standard Italian tab. The lowest line of the stave is the  highest sounding course. 

I agree with you - if you want to play the vihuela it better to get a proper instrument not some sort of compromise.  It should of course be double strung and have tied on frets.

Yes, thank you I have a much better understanding now. It seems to me that a vihuela in A would be ideal as providing a bit more comfort and ease of playing.

Now, Being that it is a smaller scale instrument, would it suffice for accompaniment? Would it be useful for both solo and accompaniment?

From what I've read it seems that vihuelas in E are used for accompaniment, but could they also be used for solo music?

You are right, of course, Monica. Thank you.

I played mostly Milan and just mixed it all up.

I understand now and agree Yuri.

What is your opinion as far as a vihuela in A being used for both solo and accompaniment as opposed to one in the key of E? 

Let's figure it out step by step

1) First scale and tuning...  60 cm and G tuning is most common today I believe (just as renaissance lute).

If you doubt about convinience, put a capo on the 3rd fret of your guitar and play some vihuela tablature to feel if your hand feel comfortable with it...

Note that vihuela music has lots of stretches which can difficult to execute on long scale

2) There are different comping styles. I assume you mean strumming? So it depends much on what kind of music you want to comp for..  you see if you use it for American bluegrass sone it will hardly work) You said traditional songs but you did not specify exactly what you meant...

You can comp using even shortest scale ukulele if it fits the style and if you use proper technique..

So it depends...

As per vihuela I never heard it used as strummed instrument. Besides those vihuealas I tried are not that sonorous in strumming... they have body shallow enough and seem to be built for picking style of playing.

And yet...  what music would you like use as accompaniment for?

Thanks for replying Yuri,

I would use it for Vihuelista pieces that require accompaniment. 

The University I am planing to attend has a continuo course that often turns into a baroque ensemble of sorts and I want to be able to participate.

Sorry, I do not know what you mean by Vihuelista...

But anyway if it is not a strumming accompaniment it does not make much difference really...  it should be just loud enough not to be covered by singer.

As per continuo...  genrally speaking you can play continuo with any harmonic instrument that gives you possibility to produce good harmonic support.

Considering historical accuracy...  vihuela is mostly renaissance instrument and I do not think it is appropriate in baroque repertoire. Of course it is quite possible that some vihuelas were still in use in Spain and - especially - Latin America even in baroque time (some kind of similar instruments are still there even now). Also Spanish baroque has its own way of development - I would say - stylistacally more connected and intermingled with renaissance period than in other countries.

But I believe that during study process it's not that important...

 vihuela has the same tuning as first 6 course of archlute so even if you use vihuela in a baroque group it will give you invaluable experience that will help you in a future.

I was in course for continuo where there were all kinds of plucked instruments from any period playing baroque music. Of course for professional recording or performance it's not appropriate to use renaissance lute of vihuela for - say - German baroque music. But in the classes it would be quite ok to master the skills of thorough-bass playing.

I believe you just have to consider what is most practical for your budget and demands for the moment.

Please, note one point...  from my personal experience vihuealas can be very different in sound....  lutes too.. but I believe lute construction makes it more consistent sound-wise...  lutes are usually louder and have more resonance and it makes it a bit more versatile maybe and easier to build more or less decent one.   

So try before you buy.


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