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The Weekly Guitar Session

Week Number Thirty Seven -- Updated June 23, 2005

Understanding Lute Tablature &Transcription Basics

Part One

The day will come when you will hear a piece of music performed on the lute and won't be able to find a guitar transcription. Or maybe you'll realize that what you thought was a good scholarly transcription is actually full of interpretive errors and not in the style of the period the original was written in. Whatever the reason, you will want to take a look at the original lute score. So you schlep down to the music library and find the piece. What? What is this gobbledy gook? It's lute tab and unless you're familiar with at least three different methods of intabulation, you are sunk.

Let's start with what I think is the easiest to understand -- the intabulation method used by John Dowland and Anthony Holborne:


Lute Tablature: Viel Ton

The staff consists of six horizontal lines, representing the six upper courses of the lute, the top line being the highest or first course (g'). A course intended to be plucked “open”, that is without the left hand fretting, is marked as an “a” on the line corresponding to that course in the tablature. A course intended to be plucked fretted or stopped by ~a finger of the left hand at the first fret is marked “b” on the line7 corresponding with that course in the tablature. A “c” indicates the second fret, “d”, the third, and so on up to the highest fret alphabetically. These letters have no correlation to the pitch names of the tones produced.

Rhythmic values are notated above the staff.

Like most systems in flux, lute tab is not a precise science in some respects. Intabulators and composers often use the symbols for duration to mean different things. Suffice to say that any flag indicates that the pitch attached to it should be played one half as long as a pitch attached to a symbol with one less flag and twice as long as one with a symbol with one flag more. See the following examples. I believe this is a fairly decent interpretation.

The symbol for a whole note.The

notes written below this symbol have

a four beat duration.

The symbol for a half note. The

notes written below this symbol have

a two beat duration.

The symbol for a quarter note.

The notes written below this symbol

have a one beat duration.

The symbol for an eighth note. The

notes written below this symbol have

a duration of one half of one beat.

Add flags for sixteenth and thirty-second notes


The rhythmic value written above the staff is meant for all pitches indicated below it, until the next rhythmic value is reached.


All the pitches indicated in this example are eighth notes. Note the g minor chord on the first eighth.



First chord is a quarter in duration, the next four pitches are sixteenth notes until the final g minor chord, which has the duration of a quarter note.



Right hand fingering is sometimes included in the tablature. When it is present, one dot indicates the first finger; two dots indicate the middle finger. The thumb is considered understood, and left blank. (Not indicated in the tablature.) In my exercises I will use the marking (v) to indicate the thumb when the necessity arises.

The Lute tablatures do not include key signatures, as they are not required for understanding the pitches of the music. The lutenist need never know the names of the notes he is playing. Time signatures are also missing from tablatures, some early tablatures even lack bar lines. Careful observation of the ways in which the rhythms are grouped should guide the musician towards an understanding of the rhythmic flow of the piece.


Next time, another method of intabulation. Once we've gotten a handle on how the stuff is notated, we'll begin transcribing some pieces for the guitar. Okay?

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My Mission, My Policy

In my opinion, the murder mystery genre reached its zenith in the 1930's and 1940's. The novels penned in those decades were taut, no-nonsense stories of people in life and death crises, people who did not flinch when confronted with overwhelming odds or overwhelming emotion. Some of these tales could be hard-edged and hard-boiled, but the heroes invariably had a soft side as well.

I believe that over the years, in an attempt to mimic real life, the writers of murder mysteries--and most other literature, for that matter--have lowered the standards of excellence set by such authors as the gritty Raymond Chandler and the sophisticated Dorothy Sayers. Many authors misinterpret smut for romance and brutality for strength.

My novels aspire to the standards set by the 1940's mystery writers. My tales are as real and grimey as the mean streets that spawned them. Even so, and though they deal with modern issues, you will not find gratuitous sex in my characters' relationships. Sex may be alluded to, but it is never allowed out from behind closed doors. You will find that my books are entertaining to a broad audience--I have had positive comments from teens to grandmothers. One reader was surprised when I told him that there were no obscenities in the book he'd just finished. He hadn't missed them! A good story doesn't need such unnecessary 'embellishment.'

I have conducted book signings at churches, country clubs, libraries and even a street corner (don't ask!) and I've never been called to task for, or ashamed of, my work. Pick up a copy of my latest novel and see if it isn't a good read!

Harry Pellegrin


As a native New Yorker and an American, I am still angered by the cowardly attacks of 9/11. Unless we restore New York City's skyline to its condition prior to September 11th, 2001, the miserable scum who attacked us will have won! Visit and rebuild America!



About My Site:

This site is a way for me to commemorate and celebrate a life and lifestyle that is now extinct. Why extinct? Is it that Thomas Wolfe " You-can't-go-home-again " thing? Is it because life is so much different now that what we experienced in the Bronx in the 60's and 70's is no longer relevant? Yes. No. Yes and no? Definintely maybe ! Why do I always start these little essays with questions?

At first, the main thrust of this site was to promote my book. It is a worthy goal; the book tells a good tale and eveyone who has read it finds it entertaining and thought-provoking. With that sole goal, I went live with this site back in August of 2003. What happened next is what makes this site truly valuable.

There are people I grew up with, attended school and with whom I played in bands -- neighbors, friends, good family -- who I hadn't seen since I moved from the Bronx in 1986. Divorce had forced me into exile, time and distance conspired to seemingly turn this into a life sentence. Thank the muses for the internet! This site wasn't live for more than two months before I was reunited with Paul Silvestro , a childhood friend whom I hadn't seen in seventeen years. His brother Larry , the guy who had turned me on to playing guitar and taught me the things about music that matter the most, now with him I had no contact since 1983. Twenty years! Too long. I felt as if a part of my soul had been restored -- a part that had been missing for ages and had long ago been written off. But more was to come.

Anthony Pernice, Art Clement , Mike Moretti -- all reunited to me.

The 1960's weren't good to a number of us -- many of us had our personal demons to exorcise, be it substance abuse or the insidious hedoniosm of the times. but through it all, we were instilled with a vibe, cast in an artistic mold--call it what you will--but uinless these same environmental stimuli are exactly reproduced, there will never be another crop of people quite the same.

This page delves into what we experienced and how we incorporated these experiences into art, music, literature and life . I've paid tribute to my neighborhood, the Wakefiled section of the Bronx. The Discords -- Larry Silvestro and Artie Clemente's first band in the early mid-sixties-- they're here with their matching outfits, Fender, Hagstrom and Gretsch guitars plus those impeccably precise five part harmonies.

Of course, there is an homage to Leo Fender and his magnificent designs, the Telecaster © and the Stratocaster ©. I officially declare C.L. Fender an honorary Bronxite. Thse instruments have literally changed my life and the way we all hear music. Check out this page on my site.

Rory Gallagher , whom I saw play in 1973 and who has influenced me ever since--he has a page here as well. He has gone on now, but the impact he made is still rippling outwards, changing how we interpret the blues.

Untermyer Park in Yonkers and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx are included on this site. We were kids interested in a good ghost story and both these places were terrific for providing a few innocent and fun goosebumps.

...and of course, my book!

Please enjoy this site. Nose around. Anyone can find something here to read and get a chuckle.




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