Tunings – A Survey

The lute’s different tunings have already been the subject of several publications. The following have been widely noticed:
- Radke (Radke, Hans:
Beiträge zur Erforschung der Lautentabulaturen des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts, in: Die Musikforschung 16 [1963], S. 34-51),
- Rave (Rave, Wallace John:
Some Manuscripts of French Lute Music 1630-1700: An Introductory Study, Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1972, UMI [1972]), and
- Schulze-Kurz (Schulze-Kurz, Ekkehard:
Die Laute und ihre Stimmungen in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts, Wilsingen: Tre Fontane 1990)
In addition there is the thesis by François-Pierre Goy, which is here made available to a wider public. Goy, as others, uses an individual numeral system of to differentiate between tunings (for example Goy 2a).
All of the listings of lute tunings which have been in use are incomplete, and are not without problems of their own. Furthermore there are the tunings of the Lyra viol, the Mandore, and even some of the Baroque guitar which also to consider seems advisable, as it was not the lute alone on which different tunings were tested.

It is for this reason that we try do present a survey of all known tunings for lute, Lyra viol, Mandore, Angélique, theorbo, Baroque guitar, and other plucked strings. To make this possible, we employ a universal system of describing tunings, which is based on tuning instructions contemporary with our sources, and also covers the basses (see further below).
The tunings data bank and a variety of lists are to be found further below. We appreciate any information concerning possible additions and corrections. While the data bank is still work in progress, some of the sections have already been finished: Accords Nouveaux for lute, Mandore, guitar, and viol/Lyra viol. We intend to further elaborate the section on lute tunings. Please feel invited to participate!

For the convenience of everyone who is accustomed to the systems of the authors mentioned above, we cite these in abbreviated forms in the following manner:
G n = Goy number, refering to the numbering in François-Pierre Goy’s thesis.
Rk n = Radke number, following the numbering in Hans Radke,
Beiträge zur Erforschung der Lautentabulaturen des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts, in: Die Musikforschung 16 (1963), pp. 34–51, esp. pp. 41–42.
Rv n = Rave number, following the numbering in Wallace John Rave,
Some Manuscripts of French Lute Music 1630–1700: An Introductory Study, PhD thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1972, UMI c
SK n = Schulze-Kurz number, following the numbering in Ekkehard Schulze-Kurz,
Die Laute und ihre Stimmungen in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts, PhD thesis Tübingen 1989, Wilsingen 1990 (Arbeiten zur Musik- und Kulturgeschichte 1).
Furthermore we relate to these authors in the following ways:
Goy 6e choeur / Radke 6e choeur / Rave 6e choeur / Schulze 6e choeur: Pitch of the sixth course, or note to which the sixth course might have been tuned, following the respective author.
Tonalités Goy: Keys of the music identified by François-Pierre Goy based on the pitch of the sixth course assumed by him.

A preliminary remark on the description of tunings:

1. The representation of tunings by letters – for example fdeff [cdfh] – relates to the French tablature used for the music of the lute, Baroque guitar, Mandore, and Lyra viol. The first sequence of letters stands for the intervals of the fingered courses, the second in square brackets stands for those of the bass courses, each given in relation to the sixth fingered course, or in the case of the Chitarra (this includes the lute form, the Chitarra Italiana) the fifth one.
The tablature letters stand for the following:
an a stands for the open, unfingered course, or (if it is part of a letter sequence representing a tuning) for the unison;
b = fingering in the first fret, or a halftone interval between two courses;
c = the second fret, or a wholetone interval between courses;
d = the third fret,or a minor third;
e = the fourth fret, or a major third;
f = the fifth fret, or a fourth;
g = the sixth fret, or a diminished fifth (the tritone);
h = the seventh fret, or a fifth;
i = the eight fret, or a minor sixth;
k = the ninth fret, or a major sixth;
l = the tenth fret, or a minor seventh;
m = the eleventh fret, or a major seventh;
n = the twelfth fret, or an octave.

The intervals of each tuning are indicated starting with the relation of the second course to the first course, that is: the first letters shows, in which fret one would have to finger the second course to arrive a the unison with the first course.

CAPITAL LETTERS stand for courses, which are tuned an octave lower than one would expect if one’s point of reference were the standard tuning of the Renaissance lute. This is the case with the re-entrant tuning of for example the theorbo. Letters which are underlined stand for courses which are tuned an octave higher, for example in tunings of the Baroque guitar.
The system does not cover octave strings of e.g. bass courses.

Notation of the bass courses
In music for instruments with multiple bass courses (which most often stand in a diatonic tuning adapted to the respective key of the music to be played), not all of these basses may be used, making it difficult to determine their tuning with certainty. Formerly we have in such cases tried to form a hypothesis about the tuning of the non-used courses, and so complete the sequence of the bass courses. During our work it has however shown that this is not useful.
Therefore basses which are not used in the music are now represented by a short line: -.
edeff [cdfh] war früher edeff [cbcc]

We have not yet been able to correct every example given according to this new guideline, but try to do this as soon as possible.
For the sixth course, the relative pitch of a standard tuning is assumed, when is is clear that a non-standard tuning has to be understood as a modification of the standard rather than an independent tuning. In cases, where it is the sixth course alone which deviates from a standard tuning, it is marked with an asterisk. This concerns the following tunings, which are derived form the NAO:
defde* [… Ton des Trompettes or Ton des Archanges,
dfede* [… Ton Mercure, and
dfedg* […

The case of Mandora
The sixth course of the Mandora was tuned to different pitches. Often it stood a fourth below the fifth course, like the sixth string of the present-day guitar, but it could also be tuned just a wholetone lower than the fifth. In order to take this into consideration and to make it easier to understand the tuning of such instruments with more than six courses, the fifth course is taken as the reference point, and the basses put in square brackets include the sixth.

Examples of tunings indicated with the system described:
Viel ton, six courses: ffeff. Depending on the size of the instrument, this could be: g1 d1 a f c G.
Vieil ton, seven courses: ffeff [f]. Depending on the size of the instrument, this could be: a1 e1 b g d A [E].
Vieil ton, eleven courses (German seventeenth-century instruments for example): ffeff [cdfhk]. This could be g1 d1 a f c G [F E D C B flat], again depending on the size.
Eleven-course Baroque lute in NAO (D-minor tuning): dfedf [cefhk]. The Chanterelle has a nominal pitch of f1, but here also the instrument size is decisive, and there is indeed music for Baroque lutes tuned to different pitches. The nominal tuning would be: f1 d1 a f d A [G F E D C].
19-course Tiorba: Ffeff [cefhklnp-i-db]. With an instrument in a, this would be: a e b g d A [G F E D C BB AA GG - C sharp - F sharp G sharp], which corresponds with courses used in the Toccata 8va from Kapsberger’s Libro terzo di Chitarrone, Rome 1626. As explained above, the short lines represent courses which are not used in the music, here the fifteenth and seventeenth one.
Baroque guitar: feff (most often tuned in e: e1 b g d a [not A]).
6-course Mandora: feffc – most often tuned in e: e1 b g d A G.
8-course Mandora: feff [cef] – also most often tuned in e: e1 b g d a [G F E].

2. Lutes have most often been equipped with a single string for the first course, but in Northern Italy during the years from ca 1580 to ca 1620, a double Chanterelle was also used, a phenomenon which has not been investigated thoroughly.
From ca 1625 to ca 1680 the second course could be single or double, depending on the instrument. The following can be taken as a rule of thumb:
- 10-course instruments were usually strung 1x1 + 9x2 = 19 strings,
- 11-course instruments usually 2x1 + 9x2 = 20 strings,
- 12-course double-headed lutes usually 1x1 + 7x2 / 1x2/ 1x2/ 1x2/ 1x2 = 23 strings.
It is often not easy to recognize which instrument was used to play a given piece of music. Music which requires ten courses with the basses forming an unbroken diatonic sequence might also have been played on 11- or 12-course lutes. If on the other hand the music requires eleven or twelve courses, an appropriately strung instrument should have been available, but the question for whom it was available may remain without a definite answer: the composer, the person who owned the source from which the music was copied, or the one which wrote the tablature in question?
Another question remaining open is, if the first courses of guitar instruments were single or double. The number of pegs and the bridge normally make a double Chanterelle possible.

3. If there is a historical term for a tuning, this is cited in brackets, following the description of the tuning in the manner explained above.

A preliminary remark on keys:

The tuning instructions for the Accords Nouveaux usually consist of information about the relative tuning of the courses, not of information about absolute pitch. Therefore keys are given in square brackets. To make direct comparisons possible, the tuning of the sixth course is assumed in A, even where information about pitch points to another note.
In the Accord dedfe [dfhi] – a variant of Accord dedff [cegh] – the sixth course was tuned to B flat, in the Accord dedfg [bdei], which also is a variant of this, it is tuned to A flat. The relative tuning of the basses can vary in all these Accords.
The Accord defde [dfhi] became with time a widely spread variant of the Nouvel Accord Ordinaire (the D-minor tuning = dfedf [cegh]; the tuning of the basses can here vary too) and is therefore given as defde* [cegh].
The Accord ccbmd [cefhk] forms a special case. Here, it makes sense to take the tuning of the basses as a reference point.

The description of a tuning can be followed by a letter, which then stands for a contents layer in the source.

Descriptions of fields in the Tunings Data Bank:

In principle, each tuning for each instrument receives its own dataset. When tunings were used for several different instruments, they are entered in several of the fields Luth, Viole, Guitare, and Mandore.

1. Systematic section:
Tab > 5 ch[choeurs]: A tuning for an instrument with more than five courses. The six main courses are described in the manner explained above, beginning with the highest sounding one, followed by the basses, put into square brackets, given that these are basses tuned to a descending diationic scale and that they are rarely fingered, if at all. In the case that the bass register of a tuning has not been investigated, it is only represented by an open square bracket (compare Lt courses).
Tab 1er-5e: A tuning for an instrument with five main course and without basses, for example the Baroque guitar, and the five-course Mandore.
Tab 1er-4e: A tuning for an instrument with four main courses and without basses, for example the four-course Mandore.

Luth / Viole / Guitare / Mandore: Each tuning is here entered into the section of the instrument on which it was used. If a tuning for a six-course instrument is also used on a five-course instrument (or a tuning for a five-course on a four-course instrument), the tuning is given with a line for the note not present on the smaller instrument.

Lt Chöre: The method to describe tunings employed by François-Pierre Goy in his thesis has the advantage that the basses are recorded with all the details of their tunings and number, which makes it possible to identify the instrument in question. The new system used here showing the diatonic basses in square brackets differs from this. This means that all of the sources which are not covered in Goy’s thesis have to be adapted to the new system. Not all sources which Goy’s thesis does not cover have yet been studied thoroughly enough to make it possible to determine the tuning of the basses in all of them. Therefore sometimes there is a „22“ written into the field Lt Chöre in order to show that a source has not been investigated concerning the tuning and the number of bass courses.

Typ Viole / Typ Mandore: Here the instrument type is described precisely.

Somme: The diapason of the courses 1 to 6, given in semitones.

Ambitus: The diapason of the tuning, given in semitones and with the following specifications (abbreviations are based on the German terminology):
ü = augmented
g = major
k = minor
v = diminished

6=F/G flat /G…: Tuning with the sixth course tuned to the note given.

2. Lute section:
The identification of tunings and other information in this section employs the numbering systems explained further above in this text.

3. Remaining fields:
Nom luth / Nom viole / Nom guitare / Nom mandore: Contemporary name of a tuning, accompanied by bibliographical references if possible.
Sources luth / sources viole / sources guitare / sources mandore: Listing of the sources (with an attempt at completeness) for a tuning. In the case that a sigil starts with numerals please refer to the data bank PAN. Occasionally, when a source is not covered by François-Pierre Goy’s thesis or in this website, one finds an abbreviation which points to the thesis of Ekkehard Schulze-Kurz (SK n, see above in this text for details of the publication refered to).

Downloads of different database queries:

ALL TUNINGS (1 tuning per page, ordered by the different methods of describing tunings)

Abridged version of All Tunings

TUNINGS LUTE (1 tuning per page, ordered by the different methods of describing tunings: after Goy, after Radke, after Rave, after Schulze-Kurz)

TUNINGS VIOL (1 tuning per page, ordered by the different methods of describing tunings for the Lyra Viol: after Traficante, after the Comprehensive List, after Description of Tunings)

TUNINGS GUITAR (1 tuning per page, ordered by the different methods of describing tunings)
An overview of tunings for the guitar after Description of Tunings.

TUNINGS MANDORE (1 tuning per page, ordered by the different methods of describing tunings)
An overview of tunings for the Mandore after Description of Tunings.

The lute tunings of the Accords Nouveaux, following the definitions in François-Pierre Goy’s thesis, are commented upon in detail on the page „Accords Description“.

A summary of this can be downloaded here:

A list showing which tuning can be found in which source, and how many pieces in this tuning occur in the source can be downloaded here (the list – as of 26 December 2008, based on the data bank of 2 December 2008 – runs over several pages which must be put together):