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Re: Lute tablature

From: William R Brohinsky
Subject: Re: Lute tablature
Date: Tue, 20 May 2003 21:06:15 -0400

This whole subject would be considerably reduced in breadth if one
simple thing can be understood: lute tab is not banjo tab. It isn't the
popular internet guitar tab either.

Yes, lute players get the rhythm from the stems. Yes, lute players
expect them to be there, and no, lute players will not go looking for
their rhythms from a piano 'version' of the lute tab. Why is this?
Because those of us who have learned to read from lute tab have learned
from historical sources, and historical sources do not have keyboard
versions of the lute part - they're unnecessary, since all the
information you need is in the lute tab. There's another very real
reason: historically, composers who wrote the 'same' music for both lute
and keyboard (intabulations of chansons, continuo parts, even the Bach
Partitas, which exist both for violin and lute), the two parts would be
different, sometimes very different, almost always different in small,
very characteristic ways. This is because most composers never thought
of the so-called foundation instruments (keyboards, lutes, instruments
that could play more than one 'voice' at a time) as being the same, but
rather equal. Each had its own characteristics, which were worthy of
paying heed to.

Lute tablature is performance notation, despite the didactac statement
made in this list to the contrary. I was able to sightread and play
directly from lute tab after only a few weeks of effort. I have
sightread from the lute tablatures provided with some of the LPM
editions of Adson Music for Cornets and Sackbuts in a live situation
with others who would brook no waiting. One of the first modern editions
of lute tablature I found (and purchased) was the volume of lute and
bandora tab from Holborne's complete works.  Half of that volume (really
much more than half) is a total waste: the piano notation grants no more
information for a lutenist than the tab does, confuses the issue in a
few places, and takes up a lot more realestate. Piano versions of lute
tab are guesses by the version-maker of what a lutenist might do...and
tend to 'freeze' the lute music in ways that are very unrealistically

Lutenists, even today, learn more than just picking up the instrument,
putting their fingers where the tab says, and plunking. All of the
musical and compositional skills involved in handling multiple voices,
for instance, in Dowland's lute fantasias, are obvious after only a
little experience with the instrument, as long as the lutenist student
tries to learn to play it like a lute, and not an understrung guitar, or
even banjo.

If lutenists have a failing, and it is certainly one of mine, it is that
they tend to favor the string-notation-arrangement they started with (or
worked most extensively on). Thus, I far prefer to see notation that has
the top string (in pitch) drawn on the top line or space. I am not
greatly affected by whether the notation is on the line or in spaces,
and I don't believe that is a norm, because many others I've known have
complained bitterly if the letters weren't where they belonged. Another
thing that might upset people is when they've learned letters, and are
confronted with fret numbers. I find that one is overcome much more
quickly (or at least the futility of complaining about it sets in
sooner.) Here is a place Lilypond could really shine, since it shouldn't
be hard to make the notational symbol (letters in some scheme or
numbers), whether it is placed on line or space, and whether or not
stems are printed all the result of backslashed-commands in the page

Incidentally, another rabbit trail that I'll predict is going to be
brought up someday is german keyboard tablature. Since there is a
separate symbol for each note, keyboard tab (sometimes called organ
tablature) needs no lines, per-se, and individual voices can be arranged
linearly. It is usual for stems to be placed vertically over keyboard
tab, too, although that may also be omitted in some historical sources.
The reason I mention this is that as late as Bach keyboard tab was in
regular use (so much so that many of his keyboard works, where he ran
short on paper, are finished with a 'paragraph' of organ tab), But it
was also used by Brahms when he felt it appropriate, which brings it a
lot closer to our century.


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