Our guitar trio is working up a transcription of a proto-madrigal from around 1490 written by a Frenchman named Pierre Certon. It’s got ridiculously tricky phrasing and rhythm. The other two guys nailed their parts and love to rip through the piece at an excessive tempo. I, on the other hand, holding down the bass part, am just baffled by this piece. I cannot get the hang of it.
So I finally realized what I needed to do. I’ve been a singer all my life, not a guitarist. So what is the secret to the phrasing of a madrigal? Lyrics, of course.
I looked it up, and the Choral Public Domain Library came to my rescue.
The piece is called “Je ne fus jamais si aise”. I found a modern, nicely-typeset version of the original three-part madrigal with the lyrics. I asked my wife, the French teacher, for some help pronouncing the early Renaissance French.
Now I sing the lyrics of the bass part while I’m plucking it out on the guitar. My brain reacts to lyrics, phrases, and sentences, cast as melodic figures, and translates that into what my fingers should be doing on the guitar. Problem solved.
Et la la la la la la la…