More Than Six
or Playing the Notes Other Guitars Cannot Reach, by James R. Smith

1. Intro | 2. Guitar Types | 3. Strings | 4. Learning | 5. Repertoire | 6. Conclusion | This article was originally published in Classical Guitar Magazine

5. Repertoire

It may come as a surprise to guitarists to learn that Coste wrote for the seven string, Legnani for the eight string, and Carulli for the ten string, but what else is there? Of course, all works with a bass-D tuning (and the very few with bass-C tuning) can be counted. Beyond this, there is Ohana's distinguished work for the re-entrant-tuned ten-string, cf. ref. 2, so eloquently championed by Jonathan Leathwood. Janet Marlow's website gives examples of contemporary compositions, not only in her tuning system, but includes an indicative list compiled by Victor van Niekerk of compositions in Yepes tuning and a few in baroque tuning. There are some publications of lute pieces which accurately mark the bass notes with an 8 or (8) to indicate their real pitch, rather than the transposed up an octave ones which six-string guitarists use, thereby losing sonority. Into this class of publication fall versions of the Bach Lute and Weiss suites, and a few others, some examples are given in the references 3 to 8.

Outside of these pieces, as examination of the concert programmes of the few guitarists who play ten string, alt or arch guitars shows, it is a case of D.I.Y.. There are, however, some very fine sources for adaption, in brief, the lute repertoire, much harpsichord music, re-workings of the popular Spanish composers, and more or less anything that takes your fancy from venerable folk tunes through Carolan to the evergreens of Gershwin, Porter, Kern and Rogers, and much jazz. In the case of the light music of the 'twenties and 'thirties, say, a ten-string will deal with the vocal range well and add a sonority that just cannot be achieved with a six-string. One tuned in E will cope with pieces in C and sharp keys, but for two, three and four flats, a terz guitar is preferable. To use a terz guitar on flat keys, drop the key signature a minor third (three semi-tones), and write the notes up a sixth on the dropped octave treble clef used for writing guitar music. This done, the terz guitar will have a key signature in a friendly key, for example, two flats (Bb, Gm) becomes one sharp (G or Em), but will sound in the original key. A circular slide-rule, Keyrex, is available for dealing with transpositional keys for all members of the guitar family, cf. ref 14.

For music of the twentieth century, say, I find that a 65cm scale 10-string tuned (with appropriate strings) in G, while having the characteristic brightness of a terz, has a tonality appropriate to this kind of music. Such instruments ­ as expected from their sizes ­ have good basses. On the other hand, the shorter scale, small-bodied terz ten-string 'hath an antic aire' very suited to old music. However, neither it nor the alt, nor arch guitars, are lutes. With their double-stringing and lighter construction, lutes have a unique characteristic and those seeking this sound must try the lute. Many guitarists are apprehensive on two scores, reading tablature and losing their nails. The first is a non-starter for failing to try these beautiful instruments. Since the general elementary principles of tablature are fairly widely known, and in any case, an excellent account by Diana Poulton, cf. ref. 12, is readily available, a simple method of coming to terms with it, is to take one of the well-presented publications of the Lute Society of easy renaissance pieces and make a transcription into standard guitar notation. This is actually straightforward since with F# tuning of third string, the string intervals of a guitar and a renaissance lute are identical. Thus, the fret indications of the tablature work on a guitar, but give rise to a key and pitch a minor third lower than that which a lute would produce. Having done a few of these, one finds one is able to play tablature ­ rather slowly ­ directly onto the guitar/lute. Further practice is all that is required. With regard to the sensitive subject of nails, John Taylor, cf. ref. 13, has definitively argued on the basis of the physics of vibrating strings for the use of nails in tone production on the guitar. While many lutenists do not use their nails, the comments of Lex Eisenhardt in his article on the vihuela (Classical Guitar, June 2002) may be helpful in reflecting on this subject.

NEXT | 1. Intro | 2. Guitar Types | 3. Strings | 4. Learning | 5. Repertoire | 6. Conclusion

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