Oh how instructional sheet standards have slipped! The above beauty is a poster (or broadside) by Renaissance printer Matteo Pagani, held by The Royal Library, Stockholm. The text at the top gives instructions on how to tune the lute and how to check the tuning. The text below provides information about tablature, rhythm-signs and right-hand fingering. Ref: tablatura.com
Musical communication and community music
Being able to play music by ear is a truly liberating gift, but most of us need varying amounts of extra information to play a song or a piece of music. Chord and lyrics sheets, musical notation, tabs and the blessed YouTube are the currencies most used by ukulele players thesedays, depending on our requirements and skills.
Hmmm, skills. That includes reading musical notation doesn't it, and taps into the good old gap between the inclusivity of community music and the relatively exclusive domain of musical education, study, sight reading and AMEB exams. One example: even after years of playing, singing and performing music since childhood, but with sporadic and limited formalised training on various instruments, when first I enquired about joining a ukulele group, I felt the need to provide a list of accomplishments to assure the convenor that I would not be a liability to the group, and anxiously awaited his response. That might mean I need therapy, but I think it's a general area of thought process quite a few of us can relate to.
Community music is really just doing something that has been part of human life since we drilled a couple of holes in a mammoth tusk forty thousand years ago and probably before then. We in the west, however, seem to be very good at excluding ourselves from this activity unless we are: very good at/trained to do it, out of earshot, given permission, or alcohol affected. Even rock and roll and the great popular music explosion of the 60s has morphed from the people's music with its African tribal derivations, to an exclusive club populated by guitar heroes and the young and hip. Walk into your average music store and tell me it isn't so!
Ukulele groups, on the other hand, are giving people previously excluded (by themselves as much as others) permission and encouragement to do what comes naturally if you let it, and enjoy the social advantages of playing music together.
Musical notation has (only) been in use since the first century AD in Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome depending who presents the most compelling evidence. So...learn to read notation if you think it will help, or just look at it and see the rise and fall of notes for an overview. Use tablature confidently knowing that it was good enough for professional Renaissance lute players and many others since the Middle Ages. Chord and lyric sheets are a legacy of the 60s and the popularisation of guitar (a bit like uke now). But most important of all, use your ears and your heart to listen, learn, sing, play and enjoy, because music belongs to every one of us.
Now grab your lute and try this tab from the 1517 manuscript collection prepared by a Venetian named Vidal, of compositions for lute by Vincenzo Capirola (1474 - 1548), an accomplished Renaissance lutenist.