Vidal, Capirola lute book, c. 1517

et il deo grosso de la ma[n] destra fa ch[e] sia sotto al secondo, et q[ue]sto azio no[n] se scontri uno deo co[n] laltro, nel bater de le bote, una in su laltra in zo, etc.

Translation by Otto Gombosi in "Compositione di meser Vincenzo Capirola," Neuilly-Sur-Seine, 1955

page 2r

And the thumb of the right hand should be placed under the second finger so that one finger does not meet the other in beating the strokes, one up and one down etc. -- and if you do not operate with the thumb, it is more beautiful if it is seen on the finger board.

(typist: Wayne Cripps)

Here is a translation by Fererico Marincola, in his "LuteBot Quarterly #1"

How to use your (left) hand on the neck of the lute. When you play, keep your fingers close to the fingerboard and do not keep them too far away from the strings. This is very important, try to acquire this habit from the beginning, otherwise it will be very difficult to change it later.

(How to use your right hand). When you have to pluck two notes upwards, one after the other, pluck the first with a finger, the second with another finger and the following one as they are written. Most of the time there will be (a succession of) downwards and upwards strokes. Keep the thumb of the right hand under the second finger [in this case "second finger" probably means "index", counting the thumb as the first finger], otherwise the two fingers, when plucking up and down, will clash with each other.

The left (hand) should use the thumb, as it is more beautiful to see it on the neck (of the instrument).

Letter from Antonio Costadili to Duke Alfonso D'Este

dated 14 March, 1524, Modena, Archivio de Stato, Carteggio Ambasciatori, Roma, Busta 29, 198/II/25, fol. 2r.

Cited in Paul O'Dette, "Some Observations about the Tone of Early Lutenists," Proceedings of the International Lute Symposium Utrecht 1986, ed. by Louis Peter Grijp and Willem Mook, STIMU Foundation for Historical Performance Practice. Utrecht, 1988.

". . . duo ditali d'argento, dentro quali sono due piccole penne. . ."

"The American musicologist Jessie Ann Owens has recently discovered a letter of 1524, in which Francesco is said to have played using 'two silver thimbles inside of which were two small quills' on his right hand!" (p. 87)

(typist: Caroline Usher)

Hans Gerle, "Musica Teusch." Nuremburg, 1532.

Nim den lautten kragen in die lincken hand und sez an der rechten hand den klein finger Und den goldfinger auff die deck nit auff den stern ein wenig dar hindther. .
2 2 2 2 
o d 4 n
So greiff das o. mit dem goltfinger und schlag es mit dem daumen untersich und darnach greiff das d. mit dem zaig finger und schlag es mit dem zaif finger ubersich. Darnach darffstu das 4. nit greiffen schlag es mit dem daumen untersich Darnach greiff auff das n. mit dem goldt-finger und schlag es mit dem zaig finger ubersich dan alweg wann sich ein Leuflein anhebt So musto es mit dem daumen anheben und das ander mit zaig finger Also das ein finger umb den andern geet einer untersich der ander ubersich unnd must sehen das du es wol ko:nnest treffen und behendt auff einander schlagen. (fols. Kiii, Kiii verso)

Translation by Paul O'Dette, in Paul Beier, "Right Hand Position in Renaissance Lute Technique," Journal of the Lute Society of America 12 (1979), 5-24.

Take the neck of the lute in the left hand, and set the little and ring fingers of the right hand on the belly, not on the rose. but a little behind it.

[tablature example: 
2 2 2 2 
o d 4 n]
Stop the o. with the ringfinger and strike it downwards with the thumb. After that, stop the d. with the index finger, striking it upwards with the index finger. The 4. you must not stop, strike it downwards with the thumb. Then stop the n. with the ring finger and strike it upwards with the index finger. Whenever there is a run, you must begin it with the thumb and [strike] the next [note] with the index finger. Thus one finger goes around the other, one downwards, the other upwards. You must make sure you can hit [the strings] accurately and can alternate nimbly with the two fingers.

(typist: Caroline Usher)

Hans Newsidler, "Ein Newgeordent Ku:nstlich Lautenbuch,"

Nuremberg, 1536 Hie volget das erst Fundament der Lautten. Das is ein eineger langer lauff der ist darumb gemacht und gestelt das ein yeder anfahender schu:ler die zwen finger in der rechtne hand den daume und fordern finger lerne umbeinander schlagen der daume hebt an un schlecht abwertz und der fordern finger schlecht ubersich aber es kompt nur in den leuflein wie man hernach sein sehen umd versteen wu:rd und einer die zwen genanten finger fur und fur umb einander schlage den ersten ab den andern ubersich biss der lauff gar auss ist das merck das ist die gro:st kunst am lauten schlagen. (fol. C2 verso)

Translation by Paul O'Dette, in Paul Beier, "Right Hand Position in Renaissance Lute Technique," Journal of the Lute Society of America 12 (1979), 5-24.

Here follows the first exercise for the lute. It is a long run, which has been composed and arranged so that every beginning student will learn to strike with the thumb and index finger of the right hand moving around one another. The thumb begins and strikes downwards, and the index finger strikes upwards. But this occurs only in runs, as one will later see and understand. One strikes with the two aforementioned fingers moving around one another, the first [thumb] downwards. the other [index] upwards until the run is finished. Take note of this for it is the greatest art in lute playing.

(typist: Caroline Usher)

Adrian Le Roy,"A briefe and plaine introduction..."

London 1574, from the cnrs edition, "Les Instructions Pour Le Luth", Paris 1977, f.65'.

guy with a lute Part of the eleventh rule is "the little finger serveth but to keepe the hande firm upon the beallie of the Lute:" In the fowertene fule he says: "thou must strike dounewards, the sixte and the fifte stryng, with the thombe onely, if thou wouldest shutte thy hande, and strike upwards the thirde and fowerth partes or strynges, with the first finger, as if thou wouldest joyne, or shutte it to thy thombe....

(typist: Wayne Cripps)

Ludwig Iselin, "Liber Ludovici Iselin et aricorum,"

1575, Basel University Ms. F.IX.23

So man uff der lauten lernen will / so wirtt erstlich angezeigtt / wie man sich mit der rechten hand unden beij dem sternen halten solle. Erstlich setze den kleinen finger ein wenig under den stern / hindersich neben der Seiten / wen du schlechst / das glich die finger vor dem stern uffgen / und halt den kleinin finger sterck / uff und fest uff der lautten [next work illegible] / wie fil der stimmen fur kommen und [next work illegible] in die tabulatur / woruff ein yeder finger stehen muss / und uff ein mall geschlagen werden / was aber ein ander nach geht / soll auch nach ein ander / mitt dem dumen und zeig finger geschlagen werden / welches man Colloraturen heist. Zum andrenn / so merck auch fleissig / das du die finger all zu schlagen und Collorien gewonest / das dir der zeig finger lustig heran und heraus / und der dumen hinein in die hand gehe / welches nitt allein ein wolstand / sundern auch grossen nutz hinder im hatt / und mitt sich bringt so die behendikeit belangt zu Collorienn. . . . die leifflin oder colloraturen also [2-flag stems] oder also [3-flag stems] miessen gemacht werden / unden uff der lauten mit dem dumen und zeig finger / einer um den andren / und muss ein glichs leifflin angefangen werden / das der leste allwegen mit dem zeig finger uffgeschlagen werde. . . .

Translation by Paul O'Dette, in Paul Beier, "Right Hand Position in Renaissance Lute Technique," Journal of the Lute Society of America 12 (1979), 5-24.

If one wants to learn the lute, it will first be shown how one should hold the right hand, down near the rose. First, set the little finger a little below the rose near the strings, [so that] when you strike, the fingers open up [uffgen] in front of the rose. Hole the little finger firmly on the belly. When many voices are present, the tablature [will show? (not legible in the available copy of the manuscript)] where each finger is to be placed. These notes should be struck together. Whatever is shown one after the other should be played in succession with the thumb and index finger, which is called diminution [Colloraturen]. Also, pay close attention that you accustom the fingers to strike and embellish [collorien (sic!)] by moving the index finger merrily up and back [heran und heraus], and the thumb inwards to the hand. This is not only comfortable, but also makes good sense, and gives the agility needed to play diminutions.

(typist: Caroline Usher)

Thomas Robinson, The Schoole of Musicke

Thomas Robinson, The Schoole of Musicke

A Varietie of Lute Lessons

on hand position

From Stammbuch of Johann Stobaeus (1600?)


The Burwell Lute Tutor (ca. 1660-1672)

The Burwell Lute Tutor





Modern References

The lute page

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