Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.
Although it's an example of an Elizabethan popular song, "Kemp's Jig" has found a place in the classical guitar student repertoire. This has ensured its survival for over four centuries, although who composed it is now unknown.
Unfortunately, the clue isn't in the name, as Kemp is the name of the person it was dedicated to. At least, that's better than the other way round (knowing the composer but the music having been lost). Many, if not most, popular songs of that period are lost, unlike early classical works, which were written down, reprinted and more carefully preserved.
This piece is popular nowadays because of the authentic 'olde worlde' 16th-century feel that it conjures up in your mind. Think of elegant dances at the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England accompanied by the sound of lutes and early harpsichords (rather than guitars and pianos).
As it's most often found in classical guitar publications, "Kemp's Jig" is normally played on nylon string guitars, as is the case with this recording. However, the music of that period also sounds great (often even better) on steel-string acoustic guitars, so it's worth learning by acoustic guitar fingerstyle players too.
As it's in the key of D major, this arrangement of "Kemp's Jig" provides a useful introduction to playing in the second position.
"Kemp's Jig" Score
Notes on the Score
- The Roman numeral II in bar 1 indicates playing in the second position, i.e., with your first finger controlling the second fret. It doesn't indicate a barré shape with your finger across the second fret. Those are often shown as, for example, CII or BII. In this case, it just means play in the second position. In bar 3, however, a full barré across the second fret with your first finger in order to play the notes F# and A on string 6 and string 3 together is suggested. Otherwise, you can play string 6 with your first finger and string 3 with your second finger, both at the second fret.
- Some of the E notes that would more easily be played on the open 1st string are shown played on string 2 at the 5th fret. This is to do with voicing and phrasing. The tone is more consistent with the other 2nd string notes of that 'figure' (mini phrase). If it's a problem, you can play the E as the 1st string open, but try to play it on the 2nd string if possible.
- Notes shown with upward pointing stems in the notation are melody notes; those with downward pointing stems are either bass notes or inner harmony notes.
"Kemp's Jig" PDF
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About "Kemp's Jig"
One thing that you may notice after hearing "Kemp's Jig" played is the misleading title. It's not a jig in the now commonly understood sense, as in Irish Jigs with their hallmark triplet feel throughout. In fact, it's paying tribute to a solo dance event staged by William Kemp (Kempe), a leading English actor, comedian and friend of William Shakespeare.
That event was an early example of a publicity stunt designed to revive Kemp's waning popularity as an actor. He danced (jigged) all the way from London to Norwich, a distance of around 100 miles over several days. It's not clear if his publicity stunt paid off as there's little known of him or mention of the event after that—apart from this anonymous piece written in tribute and now more famous than the event it pays tribute to.
© 2012 Chas Mac