1.     Introduction

1.1. Terms and Definitions

        In this paper, I will refer to the right hand as the hand that plucks the strings, and the left hand as the hand that holds the strings on the fingerboard by the frets. For the ease of the lute playing readers and according to modern custom, I will refer to the thumb of the right hand as p, index as i, middle as m, and the ring finger as a

  I have kept the original spelling and punctuations of facsimiles when quoting from their original publications. Quotes from modern editions of  facsimiles are taken from the edition, thus can be either original or modernized. 


1.2. Glossary

Bridge … n. a piece of wood that holds the strings on the soundboard.

Chitarrone … Italian term to describe early theorbo, meaning “a big cittern”.

Course … n. The pairs of strings on instruments of the lute family producing the same note on each string, usually in unison, but occasionally in octaves. The two or three strings producing one note in the modern piano are actually "courses", but they are never so called, the word being obsolete in that sense. (A set of strings meant to be plucked by one finger at a time. It may consist of single or double strings.)

Double-strung … adj. consists two strings in a course.

Single-strung … adj. consists one string a in a course.

Slur … n. a technique for playing absolutely legato runs, by left-hand fingers hammering and tearing away at the strings on the fingerboard, creating absolutely legato runs.

1.3. Motivation


  After its revival in the 20th centruy, much has been discovered about the lute and its technique. One issue that is recently place on the agenda of lutenists is the plucking technique applied on lutes. It is commonly understood today that there are two techniques to pluck the lute: Thumb-in and Thumb-out. I never had much interest in this question until I got an injury in my left arm about five years ago. In order to recover, I started to explore everything that seemed available for me, trying different therapies, tutors, and different teachers. It all taught me many things, but nothing gave me a definite answer to my problem: what was I doing wrong? Great lute players that I met all had different ways of playing (which were, by the way, all excellent and worked perfectly for them) and it confused me. I felt that there was only one thing left to me to do, which was to find out how the lutenists played historically. I started reading every lute treatise that I could find, starting from 1500’s to Late Baroque. After some reading, I was even more confused. I noticed that there were so many ways of playing the lute explained by treatises that are utilized rarely today, if at all. I became fascinated with the potential sounds and effects that these forgotten techniques could produce, especially those concerned with plucking. Through the process of my investigation, one of the questions I posed on Facebook pages of the American Lute Society1 and English Lute Society2 brought an unexpected result. The question posed was regarding lute paintings and the technique used there. While lute players and luthiers not only tried to find direct answer to my question, the issue sparked a debate among them. The discussion shifted from the original topic to; should one trust a technique depicted in paintings, should one stick to either of the techniques or alternate, and is there such thing as one correct way of playing or not? I was surprised to realize how greatly this issue of plucking technique interested many lute players. In addition, most lute players classified pucking in two ways: Thumb-in, or the more commonly used Thumb-out. I found it odd - by that time I had come to believe that there are more than just two ways to pluck. Moreover, as I will explain later, Thumb-out was historically more favored than Thumb-in; the fashion of the lute players today seems to contradict that of the Baroque era. 


 This led me to the research question: "Can Thumb-out, a historical lute technique in common use following the late Renaissance period, become favored by lutenists today?


 My research is greatly inspired by two things: first is the lutenist, Mr. Taro Takeuchi, who plays and extraordinary lute with strings touching the frets and buzzing all the time, which is extremely rare today. I had the chance to hear him perform in 2015, when he also introduced me to many of the sources that aided me in my study. Second is the lecture by Martin Eastwell that was given in 2012, which was also published in the English Lute Society journal.3 Eastwell'l lecture affirms my understanding of the tendency among modern lute players regarding plucking technique and introdued historical factors that are commonly over looked. I will expand on this research, and analyze one of the plucking techniques that are explained in treatises, which I have employed for the past three years, while also showing the benefits of this technique as described in treatises and whithin my own experience. This research seeks to reveal how rich and divers the world of lute plucking could be and help other lute players make informed choices about their technique. 


NEXT - Chapter 2: "Norms": The 21st-century Lute Plucking Technique


1The Lute Society of America. Post by Talitha Cumi Witmer. Facebook, 16 October 2016. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1433556056919671/permalink/1792883090986964/

2The Lute Society. Post by Talitha Cumi Witmer. Facebook, 16 October 2016. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2485751181/permalink/10154592361906182/

3Martin Eastwell, “21st century Technique: A Compromise too far?” Lute News, No.101 (2012), p. 11.