minstrel: Lute Tuning

Jay Freeman Jay.Freeman at sun.com
Fri Nov 4 10:24:34 PST 2005

I am not at all knowledgeable about such matters, and I encourage
anyone who knows better to correct me, but I have the impression
that in one common family of lute tunings, courses 1 through 6
(the six highest-pitch courses) were tuned so that the musical
intervals between them, starting at course 6 and working toward
course 1, were:  fourth, fourth, third, fourth, fourth.  Your
courses 1 through 6 match that pattern (and note that a guitar
in regular tuning can be altered to that pattern merely by
dropping the G string a halftone, to F-sharp).  In the
family of tunings to which I refer, any additional, lower-pitched
courses were tuned to provide a few more bass notes -- typically,
part of a scale below course 6.  On many lutes, these strings
were only played "open".  Thus in a ten-course lute tuned this
way, such a tuning might have been set up so that courses
10 through 7 covered a short bass run up to course 6, like this:

                  C D E F G C F A D G

That tuning allows a lot of bass support; a lute would probably
make a fine instrument for rock and roll, though you would
probably have to put in a pickup of some sort ...  :-)

If one looks at lute music, one has the impression that in a lot
of it, the player spends mosts of his or her time doing guitar-like
stuff on courses 1 through 6, and occasionally whacks one of the
higher-numbered courses for a badly-needed bass note.  I have the
impression that in lutes with only a few of these "extra" courses,
those courses were sometimes re-tuned by the musician, to provide
precisely the bass notes needed for the specific composition about
to be played.

Thus one might do a reasonable job of playing lute music on
a modern 7-string guitar, dropping the G string to F-sharp and
retuning string no. 7 as required.  The music would come out
a minor third lower than for the lute tuning just mentioned.

I believe that those rather odd-looking "harp guitar" things
that one occasionally sees in dusty cabinets in music stores,
could in many cases be used to play lute music.

Notwithstanding all that, I believe there are many other
tunings for lute.

     --  Jay Freeman, who is neither lutenist nor a luthier ... :-)

Daði Mánaskröggr Vébrandsson wrote On 11/04/05 08:28,:
> I recently received a Lute from the Early Music Store as a gift from my
> parents and my household.  It was a very touching gift as I have wanted
> one for a long time.  Little did I know that I had NO IDEA how to tune
> it.   The book that came with it was for an 8 course lute.  The one I
> got was a 7 course lute.   I am not sure which strings to tune to which
> notes.   I am fairly confident that the top (or bottom)... Higher pitch
> anyway, 6 courses tune the same.   But on the internet I have read
> different tunings and I want to know which I should use for most early
> music?  Right now I have settled on the following tuning:
> D  G   C   F   A   D   G
> D  F   G   C   F   A    G  - This is the 8 course tuning in the book
> that I received.
> Thanks for any advice you might have,
> *Daði Mánaskröggr Vébrandsson*
> *
> *MKA: Daniel Ramey*
> *
> *All for one, and one for all.*
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