Orlando Sleepeth by John Dowland—Guitar Arrangement in Tablature and Standard Notation With Audio

Updated on August 22, 2018
chasmac profile image

Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.

Orlando Sleepeth By John Dowland for classical or fingerstyle guitar
Orlando Sleepeth By John Dowland for classical or fingerstyle guitar
Playback quality control icon appears after you click play.
Playback quality control icon appears after you click play.

For classical and fingerstyle guitarists who like 'olde-worlde' Elizabethan Period music, this is a guitar transcription of the lute piece, 'Orlando Sleepeth' by the English composer, John Dowland. It's not too difficult, being located within the first position of the guitar and based on simple and familiar chord shapes most of the time.

Listen to the audio track in the video capsule, which also displays the standard notation and guitar tablature score in five sections that change to keep up with the audio track as it plays. View it in full-screen mode at 1080HD playback quality to see it clearly. If you want to get to grips with learning the piece, the same score is also displayed underneath the video. To see it large and clear, use the gallery feature. By placing your cursor over the score, the "see all photos" link appears. Click that and the gallery will open and display the score as a slide show that you can click through to see each line of the score.

Orlando Sleepeth by John Dowland

Study Notes for Learners

This is a fairly simple piece that sounds good on nylon or steel strings. What's unusual with this piece compared to others around the same level of difficulty, is the change of time signature from 44 ('four-four') to 64 ('six-four'). If you're not familiar with the 'six four' time signature, it's actually a so-called compound time signature consisting of two dotted half note beats per bar. So try to feel the bar dividing naturally into beats of two. Keep the bars the same length as in the four-four section to produce an apparent increase of tempo and a more lively rhythmic feel.


The fingering is straightforward and based around familiar '1st position' guitar chord shapes that every guitarist knows. If you're unsure, the notation tells you what the notes are and the tab tells you exactly where to find them.

Chord Tones
D major
D F# A
A major
A C# E
C major
G major
A minor
E major
E G# B

Key and Chords

The key (to all intents and purposes) is D major, but keep in mind that this music pre-dates the full establishment of our modern major-minor key system by almost a century.

Section 1 (bars 1 - 4)

The first section is in D major. The tonic or 'home' chord is D, and the dominant chord (the one whose job it is to lead us home to the tonic) is A major. The section is repeated once as the repeat dots in the score show.

Section 2 (bars 5 - 8)

The tonal centre shifts to C major. C major is treated as a temporary tonic and G major is the new dominant. It's not a complete change of tonal centre though, as the end of that section takes us back to the original dominant, A major, which (after the section is repeated) sets us up nicely for a return to the true tonic in section 3.

Section 3 (bars 9 - 16)

This is the six-four section and includes eight bars. Like the previous sections, the first four bars are in D major, but with no repeat this time and followed by the next four bars in C major, again leading to the original dominant in preparation for the final section in D major.

Section 4 (bars 17 - 20)

Section 4 is simply a repeat of section 1, both in key and in metre.

John Dowland

John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English composer at the Royal Court of the king of Denmark. He composed many pieces for lute, viols and singers and a lot of his lute pieces have been transcribed for guitar. A lot of his music is quite sad and with equally sad titles such as, 'Melancholy Galliard', but it has an authentic olde-worlde charm that makes it popular with classical and fingerstyle guitarists. Music of this period (unlike the later 'classical' period) sounds equally good on classical guitars or steel string acoustic guitars. You can learn more about John Dowland on Wikipedia.

Another Renaissance Period Fingerstyle Arrangement to Try

Kemp's Jig - A dance tune celebrating a marathon dance by actor Will Kemp (a colleague of Shakespeare) from London to Norwich. (lower intermediate level)


The music is by John Dowland (1563 - 1626) and is in the Public Domain.

Cover image, audio track and score produced by chasmac on Photoshop, Goldwave and Finale.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 chasmac


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      • FatBoyThin profile image

        Colin Garrow 

        5 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

        Yup, you're absolutely right - it is the third!

      • chasmac profile imageAUTHOR


        5 years ago from UK

        Thanks FatBoyThin - I love Dowland, but I haven't come across K.Darcie's Spirit before, I'll have to have a look for it. By the way, do you really mean the 4th string to F#? Not the 3rd(G)?

      • FatBoyThin profile image

        Colin Garrow 

        5 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

        Excellent Hub - I learned a piece by Dowland for my Grade V exam many moons ago (K. Darcie's Spirit) and found it was easier to play with the fourth string tuned to F#, though by that time I'd already learned it with standard tuning. Great work, voted up.


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