minstrel: guitar lute & others

Lisa and Ken Theriot Lnktheriot at satx.rr.com
Mon Jul 14 10:44:48 PDT 2008

Mechtild wrote:

[Rock "musicians" may only be able to "strum" a guitar,]

Never heard Eric Clapton, have you?

[but classical, flamenco, and many other styles of guitar playing]

Flamenco seems like the natural successor of the medieval rasgado style,
which was never exclusively strummed.  Modern classical technique was
primarily founded on the work of Fernando Sor, first published in 1830.
The predominant folk picking style is called Travis picking after Merle
Travis (1917-1983) who was its first virtuoso.  Blues picking styles are
even later. 

I never said you can't, or even shouldn't, pluck guitar strings, merely
that strumming versus plucking was the chief difference between lute
music and guitar music in period.  Heck, there was a huge revolution
from medieval lute playing to renaissance lute playing when they
discovered that if they dropped their pick (plectrum) and used their
fingers they could play more than one note at a time!  Every time some
creative person sits down to an instrument and goes, "Oooooh, look what
I can do!" the art changes; unfortunately, if your goal is to recreate
medieval style, you're stuck with the art as it was for whatever period
you're recreating.  My post was chiefly in response to Hugh's complaint
that while he liked playing his guitar, he was considering doing
something "more period" and postulating that doing what he's doing now,
but on a lute, was somehow "more period," which it's not. 

Want to see what a creative person can do with a guitar?  Check this:


[are far removed from the beginners' strumming.]

It's not a matter of skill level, it's a matter of method.  There are
strumming techniques which are far more difficult than basic arpeggios.

[There are excellent recorded performances of music written for lute
played on the guitar.]

Yes, hand Julian Bream a stick with strings stretched across it and he
can play anything he wants.  I play a lovely Chopin piano piece on my
guitar.  But I can't play it and claim to be recreating the piece as
Chopin intended it, because he wrote it on the piano.

[I played and sang folk music for decades, and I didn't strum my

And I often don't strum mine; however, I have no illusions that I am
playing in a period style (I don't strum in a period style either; I
played for too many years before even knowing what period technique was,
and I have never considered it worth the time required to defeat the
muscle memory.  I simply don't take my guitar to Enchanted Ground.)

Lutr wrote:

[Yes, lutes were strummed in period.  It wasn't common,]

That's why I said "in general", which I added after reviewing my post
and thinking that someone was going to say, "But..."  I'm sure you agree
that tuning a lute and playing it like a guitar is a bad idea.

Here's my favorite guitar/lute quote, from composer Luis de Briceño in

"There are many, my lady, who make fun of the guitar and its sound, but
if they would consider carefully they would find that the guitar is the
most suitable instrument for our time one could imagine, for nowadays
one looks for savings of purse and trouble.  The guitar is a veritable
theatre of savings.  And furthermore it is convenient and appropriate to
singing, playing, ballet-dancing, jumping, running, folk-dancing and
shoe-dancing.  I can serenade with it, singing and expressing with its
help a thousand amorous passions...  It has none of the inconveniences
to which the lute is subject; neither smoke nor heat nor cold nor
dampness can incommode it.  It is always fresh as a rose.  If it gets
out of tune easily, it is just as easy to tune it again...  In my and
many other people's opinion, the guitar has a great advantage over the
lute, which requires many attentions to be properly maintained:  it has
to be a good instrument, well played, well strung, and listened to
carefully, in silence.  But the guitar, my lady, whether well played or
badly played, well strung or badly strung, is pleasant to hear and
listen to; being so easy to learn, it attracts the busiest of talented
people and makes them put aside loftier occupations so that they may
hold a guitar in their hands.  They desert the lute, mandora, harp,
violin, sinfonia, lyre, theorbo, cittern, and clavichord, all for the
guitar.  Many things could be said in favor of these instruments, but
here one consideration is paramount: two thousand people now entertain
themselves and express their thoughts and troubles through the guitar.
And as further proof of the value of my guitar ask yourself whether
kings, princes and gentlemen lay aside the guitar for the lute as they
now leave the lute for the guitar?"


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