Ex. 3 is a simple A major scale (A–B–C#–D–E–F#–G#) covering two octaves. It’s a bit trickier than Ex. 2, because you don’t use the same thumb-first fingering pattern on each string.
For example, after playing the three notes on the 4th string (index, thumb, index) you must cross your thumb below your index finger to strike the first note on the 3rd string (Image 3). But it’s actually pretty easy, provided there’s enough space between your thumb pad and index fingertip.
Ex. 4 is more of a finger-twister, with deliberately challenging string crossings. This one will probably feel weird at first. Start out slow, aiming for the most legato (connected) sound possible. Soon enough you’ll be hauling ass.
Tucking the Thumb
It’s also possible to play all these exercises by crossing your thumb behind the first and middle fingers, as seen in Image 4.
As often as not, Renaissance portraits depict players with their thumbs tucked behind their fingers this way. Example: this canvas by an anonymous 16th-century painter known to art scholars as the Master of the Female Half-Lengths (Image 5). I don’t play this way myself, but give it a try. You might even find it more comfortable than the thumb-forward method.
If you’re strictly a pick player, you might find this technique irrelevant. But speaking as a 95-percent fingerstyle guy, it helps me play melodic lines faster and more forcefully. Do you think it may be a useful addition to your technical toolbox? Let me know!
The Original Tablature
Are you the sort of player who finds it easier to learn music from tablature than from traditional notation? If so, you may be more old-school than you realize.
Lute music was traditionally written not in notation, but in tab. It’s strikingly similar to modern tablature, but with letters rather than numbers indicating the target frets (Image 6). The letter a indicates an open string. The letters b, c, and d denote the first, second, and third frets, and so on. The flags above the letters indicate rhythm.
You can totally learn Renaissance pieces directly from 400-year-old manuscripts, but you need to retune one string to mimic lute tuning. To do so, clamp a capo on the third fret and lower the third string a half-step. Or you can just skip the capo, drop the 3rd string to F#, and play the music a bit lower than at its original pitch. For more examples, just google “Renaissance lute tablature.”
Remember: If anyone ever accuses you of lacking the discipline to learn music reading “the old-fashioned way,” you can say, “What? Four hundred years isn’t old-fashioned enough?”