minstrel: Guitars

Lisa and Ken Theriot lnktheriot at home.com
Fri Dec 21 09:23:52 PST 2001

Tadgh wrote:

[How do you accompany medieval music (as opposed to Renaissance-I play 
early period music-nothing after 1400, really) on a plucked string 

Remember that the guitar was not solely a plucked-string instrument.

[Modern triadic chordal approaches are pretty clearly not early period]

Well, there you go.  Early period is tough.  If you're late, and especially 
if your persona is Spanish or French, you can get by with a lot.  The 1596 
treatise I mentioned (by Joan Carles y Amat) for the four course plus 
chanterelle instrument (tuned AaDdGgBbE) has standard chords (along with 
cute little drawings of how to finger them).  It was written primarily for 
"rasgado" style, i.e., strumming.  I know there were "standards" for 
vihuela earlier in the 16th century (tuned like a lute), also rasgado, but 
that's as far back as I'm aware.  As you say, with so much variation in the 
instruments themselves, the earlier you go, the more likely that each 
player had to learn the particular idiosyncrasies of his own instrument; 
since they would likely have made the strings, too, there was probably huge 

On the other hand, the Cantigas (as well as many other pre-1400 documents) 
refer to strumming; the main difference between the guitarra morisca (a 
lute clone) and the guitarra latina was that the moorish guitar was plucked 
while the latin guitar was primarily strummed.

My husband plays a lot in alternate tunings, which has many advantages: you 
pick up some lovely modality, your chords aren't identifiable as "standard" 
(and indeed, they are not), and no one can ask to borrow your guitar.  You 
might try playing around with something like DADGAD (especially as you 
mentioned you're in D, G, and A a lot), strum along, and see what you 
think.  He's almost got me converted.  Modal D is very versatile, as it can 
accompany D, D maj, Dm, so your vocalist has to go a long way before they 
hit something that doesn't work.  If you want a quick primer in forming 
some basic chords in DADGAD, I've just been working on one....  you can 
write me offlist and I'll get you started.  It sounds like you're already 
half-way there with tuning your bass string down and going for a drone 


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