How does ancient tablature compare to modern musical notation and modern tablature?

I’ll show two images of a specific piece so can compare the scores. In a previous post, I explained how to read the ancient tablature.
This piece shows another challenge in arranging this music. If you look at bars 9 to 10 in the original tablature, there is no indication on how this is actually played. In the modern music (bars 10 to 11), I have separated out the upper melodic part (which is usually played with the fingers) from the lower supporting harmonic part (which is usually played with the thumb) which makes it easier to interpret and play the piece.
I also put in a first and second ending on the repeat. This gives the piece a definitive ending that the modern ear will more easily recognize.
This piece utilizes what is known as a Picardy third or cadence. The music is in D minor but the end of each phrase ends on a D major chord, which gives it an emotional uplift.
The modern score does not include any dynamic markings (even the tempo marking is modern and not in the original score) and players at that time would have played this using their own interpretation or ornaments (e.g. trills) based on the conventions in the 16th century.
Have fun and see if you can spot other challenges between the two scores (yes, there is one other major difference).
Illustration of a Renaissance Score (Almande)
Illustration of a Modern Score (Almande)

How do you read ancient tablature?

It’s not that difficult. I’ve shown a sample score as well as an illustration of a Renaissance guitar (you can do the same comparison for lutes and lute tablature).
The letters in tab correspond to the frets (a is an open string, b is the first fret, etc., with the letter j skipped by convention, and I’ve seen up to the letter k for the 9th fret and l for the 10th fret) and the horizonal lines correspond to the strings. The length of the notes is the vertical line above the strings — the single tail represents an quarter note, two tails are an eighth note, three tails are a sixteenth note, etc, and dot in the tail increases the note length by a half (e.g. a dotted eighth note). Keep playing the rhythm until it changes. The dot under the note says to play the note with your index finger.
Tablature is quite compact and “dense” and does not require a key signature. You can show a lot with a little.
Simple isn’t it. Please try it.
It does have some issues in that the upper and lower voices are difficult to separate, especially if they have different rhythms. It’s also hard to indicate phrasing and there are no dynamic markings.
Modern tablature is similar using numbers instead of letters for the frets, with zero indicating an open string (easier and quicker for the mind to grasp).
Illustration of a Renaissance Score (Branle)
Illustration of a Renaissance Guitar

Ukulele versus Renaissance Guitar

How is the soprano, concert or tenor ukulele the same, yet different than a Renaissance guitar?
Below is a photo showing two of my instruments. The top one is a custom built replica Renaissance guitar. The lower one is a tenor ukulele made by Twisted Wood.
From my books of arrangements for ukulele …
The first documented instance of a guitar is in 1488. By the 1500’s, the Renaissance guitar was strung with 4 courses with the highest pitched single string tuned A, double E strings, double C strings and the lowest course was a split octave with a lower G and an upper G.
The modern ukulele is a direct descendent of this, although with single strings rather than courses. If the ukulele is tuned with the upper G in the fourth string, it has re-entrant tuning (the familiar “my dog has fleas” that many of us learned). A ukulele with the lower G has linear tuning.
No wonder ancient music sounds so wonderful on a ukulele.
Renaissance Guitar and Ukulele

Lots of Renaissance Favorites

I’m going to start arranging works by Adrian Le Roy (ca 1520-1598). He was a musician and publisher and his published folios are readily available online (see the table of contents image from his first book).
I’ve found many transcriptions and arrangements of his music. All of them take Le Roy’s tablature and transcribe it back to guitar notation but with modern standard guitar tuning. The Renaissance guitar at the time was tuned the same as the modern ukulele (i.e. like a guitar with a capo on the 5th fret) and with double courses of strings, some tuned in octaves (I’ll post a more detailed description and pictures in a later post).
So, I am taking Le Roy’s tablature back to musical notation for modern ukulele with linear tuning (either soprano, concert or tenor ukulele) or Renaissance guitar.
I am also working on arrangements of music by Guillaume Morlaye (mid-16th century) and others for the ukulele (there are 9 original books in total in 2 series).
LeRoy (1551) Image - Cover
NOTE: The following books were published in 2020 (had lots of time due to COVID lockdowns):
  • Le Roy Favorites on the Ukulele: Book 1 (May 21)
  • Morlaye Favorites on the Ukulele: Book 1 (June 22)
  • Brayssing Favorites on the Ukulele (July 30)
  • Gorlier Favorites on the Ukulele (August 23)
  • Arcadelt Favorites on the Ukulele (September 16)
  • Le Roy Favorites on the Ukulele: Book 2 (October 6)
  • Morlaye Favorites on the Ukulele: Book 2 (October 22)