Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.
"Lady Laiton's Almain" is an Elizabethan, Renaissance-period lute composition by John Dowland that, like a lot of his lute pieces, has found its way into the classical guitar repertoire. It's around intermediate level of difficulty, and, unusually for him, it's quite a cheerful piece.
The video contains the score, which you should view in full screen mode with HD playback quality if possible to ensure it displays clearly. The soundtrack is an audio rendition of the MIDI file generated by Finale (the notation software used to create the score) so that you can hear what it's supposed to sound like if your sight-reading skills aren't quite at that level.
The notation below the video is a static version of the same score. You can also download a free PDF copy of it via the link below the score.
John Dowland: "Lady Laiton's Almain"
Download the PDF File
Click to view and download Lady Laiton's Almain PDF as a free file for offline viewing and printing.
Study Notes for Learners
An almain (also called alman, or allemande) is a 16th-century courtly dance that is believed to have originated in Germany. Music being written for them outlasted the Renaissance period and survived well into the Baroque period. J.S. Bach, the most famous Baroque composer of all, composed quite a few of them.
The fretting-hand fingering is shown as a suggestion, although in some places you don't really have a choice. Use the most practical picking-hand fingering, too, and if you're unfamiliar with standard classical technique, it might interest you to know that classical guitar students are taught to avoid using the same picking-hand finger twice in succession. Constantly alternating two or three of your picking-hand fingers when you have to play successive notes on the same string is a technique designed to promote greater efficiency of finger movement. Exceptions to the rule are made for the thumb playing bass notes or fingers playing chords .
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These are marked above the standard notation staff in Roman numerals wherever barre chord shapes are needed. Tab readers should make a note of them, too, because they let you know which fretting-hand fingers to use for notes on that fret or higher.
As you can hear in the audio track, rolling or spreading some of the chords can make for a more lute-like effect. Don't do it on every chord, though. Another lute-like effect can be achieved by playing it with a capo on the 3rd fret. Renaissance-period 'lute to guitar' transcriptions, unlike most guitar pieces of the later classical period, also sound good on the steel strings of an acoustic guitar.
E G# B
Tonic (Home chord)
B D# F#
Dominant, (leading home)
A C# E
C# E G#
F# A C#
A# C# E
Secondary leading tone
Key and Chords
While it's not necessary to know the chord structure of "Lady Laiton's Almain" in order to be able to play it, knowing something about how the piece is put together is certainly worthwhile. It enables you to play with greater confidence and conviction. It can even help you to bluff your way through a playing mistake or brief lapse of memory.
The key of "Lady Laiton's Almain" is E major, and the chords used, including those formed by the combination of melody and bass lines, are shown in the chart.
Basically, it alternates between the tonic or 'home' chord, E major and the dominant chord, B major. Mostly it moves between them quite directly, but it also sometimes takes a more interesting route via C sharp minor and F sharp minor.
Based on the first scale note of the almain's key of E major, the tonic chord is E major. It's the home chord that the music always returns to, and it provides an end to the almain with the appropriate feeling of finality that only the tonic chord is capable of.
The dominant chord is the chord built on the 5th scale degree of the key, which makes it B major in this case. It leads back home to the tonic chord naturally and forcefully.
The subdominant chord in the key of E major is A major. It's the chord built on the 4th scale degree of the key. One of the subdominant's commonest functions in music is to act as as a pre-dominant chord. That is, it leads naturally to the dominant chord, as is the case in Lady Laiton's Almain.
The submediant chord (C# minor) is built on the 6th scale degree of the key. As it does here, it often acts as a tonic substitute, similar in sound to the tonic chord as it has two notes in common with it (E and G# in this key of E major). But it's different enough to sound unsettled and interesting when used in the right context.
The supertonic chord (F# minor) is built on the 2nd scale degree of the key of E major. Its function, like the subdominant, is to lead to the dominant chord.
Secondary Leading Tone Diminished
The secondary leading tone (or note) chord is the diminished chord built on the 7th scale degree of a different major key. In this piece it occurs on the last beat of bar 3 (ignoring the pick-up bar) as notes C#, A# and E. The note A# is foreign to the key of E major but belongs to the key of B major as its leading note chord. That's why it's called a secondary leading note diminished chord. So it's an inverted A# diminished chord leading strongly to its parent key chord of B major, which also happens to be the dominant chord B major in the real key of E major. It adds a little 'spice' to the chord progression.
John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English, Elizabethan-era lutenist and composer who published a lot of lute music that transcribes very nicely for guitar, and there are many classical or fingerstyle guitar transcriptions of Dowland's lute music available. They were originally written as tributes to, or commissions from, various English aristocrats and royalty including Queen Elizabeth I (Queen Elizabeth's Galliard). He never worked at the court of Queen Elizabeth, though, due in part to religious differences, but worked at the court of the King of Denmark
"Oxford Companion to Music" by Oxford University Press for information on John Dowland and the history of almains.
© 2014 chasmac