Note the deliberate irregularities, freedom and dissonance treatment and accompaniment. Note the embellished passage, the melodic line, the repetition and imitation, the passage now slow, now fast, now complex and intricate: the pleasant little morsel, the sweet treat, the little toy, and a thousand other tidbits that the eminent in art disclose each day. Understand […] the genera and their intervals, the proportions and their numbers […] Observe the beginning, middle and end of the measures, and all the rest that is contained therein, observing arsis and thesis, what voices sound together and the location of each. All of this we, the masters, achieve in organ playing with great difficulty and at the end of many years of study, while there are many who not even in all their lives can attain immediate comprehension of four simultaneous unadorned voices; yet it is through the tablature that students in a very short time of study have succeeded in understanding (not only unadorned but what is even more) embellished passages.10
His 4th chapter in Facultad organica is entirely on very detailed explanation of playing from tablature, the clear indications of 4 voices on 4 lines, bar lines, numerals (los numerous), downbeats, and note values. He continues: “Once you know this and have this book, and the clavichord [el monacordio] which may already have the number written on each key, (unless you can remember) in the verset or work you must seek out the numeral corresponding to the key you wish to put down, and you must hit it with the fingers, and the hand.”11 This description is almost reminiscent of how children today mark their positions on violins or cellos with stickers. He is clearly talking to brand new beginners, and this marks huge strides in keyboard pedagogy. He continues to explain, finger numbers, 1-5 (1, thumb; 5 small finger), ornaments like quiebro and redoble (to be executed right hand with finger 3; left hand with 2), quiebro for the organ (el organo)and redouble on the clavichord (el monacordio), to ornament “at the beginning of the work, whether it is a tiento […]” and “If it is the soprano that enters alone without accompaniment […]” but this will all be discussed in more detail in Chapter 9.
In closing, the pedagogical merits of tablature cannot be denied. Venegas de Henestrosa, in his detailed preface to Libro de cifra nueva para tecla, harpa y vihuela (Alcalá, 1557), extolls the advantages of tablature for the beginning learner and the more experienced. Ife and Trudy observe, while his Libro de cifra was a wonderful pedagogical source for beginners and amateurs, it also served as an important source of music by the major composers of the day (Pere Alberch Vila, Francisco de Soto, Francisco Fernández Palero, and most importantly Antonio de Cabezón), especially the ones whose work we would not be fortunate to have, had they not ended up in Venega’s anthology.12 Even in one of the earliest known basso continuo treatises, Cento Concerti Ecclesiastici a Una, a Due, a Tre, & Quattro voci. Con il Basso continuo per Sonar nell'Organo of Lodovica da Viadana, tablature is painted in a positive light as “easy” and “better.”13 According to many secondary sources on the history of Western music that I consulted, more than one source points out that after the period of keyboard tablature as notation, 1430-1571 (preceded by ars nova, 1309-1351), directly follows the wide practice of basso continuo from 1600 on, as the next musical phenomenon and practice after the time of keyboard tablature.14 Since the Early Music Revival in the mid-20th century, basso continuo and realization of figure bass in an informed improvisatory practice has become the norm in the HIP practice. It has been systematically studied from original sources, and conservatory curricula have trained students to attain historically informed practice of basso continuo. Performance from tablature and original notation could become our next initiative. There are plenty of evidence and original sources addressing this practice that we may consider embracing.