Playing the Lisbon Portuguese Guitarra by Ronald Louis Fernández ©2000, revised 2010
Page 1 of 8 web pages
In these pages I show how to play the Lisbon Style Portuguese Guitar and give musical examples in notation and tablature.
There are two types of modern Portuguese guitarras. The Coimbra guitarra which commonly has a 470mm scale and a teardrop or shield-type head design, and the Lisboa guitarra which usually has a 440mm scale and a snail or scroll-type head design.
In 1997, Paolo Soares published his Portuguese Guitar Method which is a very fine method explaining how to play the Coimbra style guitarra. In contrast, there is no modern method for the Lisbon style guitarra. Hopefully, the short method I present here will stimulate someone more qualified than I to write an extensive method.
Photo of my 1920 Portuguese Guitarra made by Antonio Victor Vieira at 189 Rua Eugenio dos Santos, 191 Lisboa, Portugal. This guitarra is numbered 1970. I personally repaired 6 cracks on this guitarra and french polished it in 2000.
CONTENTS OF THIS METHOD (there are 8 web pages but each page may have several sections)
Section 1. Tuning for Lisbon Style Portuguese Guitarra, String gauges for Lisboa and Coimbra Guitarras (this page below)
Section 2. Making Unhas for Portuguese Guitarra: part 1 and part 2 (videos).
Section 3. Explanation about Cifra and Notation,
Section 4. Left hand and Right hand Fingers, Types of Unhas
Section 5. Right hand techniques (free and rest strokes),
Section 6. Playing position and foot stool
Section 7. Basic exercises showing the fado arpeggio
Section 8. Fado Corrido em Re Menor (D minor). Video on YouTube and the actual music for Fado Menor in Notation and Tablature
Section 9. Fado Corrido em Re Maior (D major). Video on TubeTube and the actual music for Fado Maior in Notation and Tablature,
Section 10. Relationship of Fado poetry, song and music.
Section 11. Basic Chords (to be developed)
Section 12. My own story about the fado
Section 13. Selected Bibliography on Portuguese Guitarra
1. The Lisbon guitarra has 12 strings, which are grouped in pairs so there are 6 courses.
[The Helmholtz notation is included here to rigorously specify the actual octave of the notes. Please note that "a1" in Helmholtz notation is what is commonly referred to as "A 440". That is, the "A" above middle "C" on the piano, or the "A" at the 5th fret of the first string on the Spanish guitar.]
The matter of tuning the guitarra is very simple if you have a chromatic electronic tuner. Just tune on the tuner and check your notes against the chart given above. The only thing you must be careful of is tuning your strings an octave too high because this will probably cause the strings to break.
If you have an "A" 440 Hz tuning fork you can directly establish the pitch for the 3rd, 4th, and 10th strings. Then, you will have to tune the rest of the strings in relation to those strings. To get the pitch for the 1st, 2nd, and 8th string, press the 2nd fret of the 3rd and 4th strings (this is known as the second course of strings or simply the the second course). The 7th string is tuned an octave below the 8th string--it should not be too difficult to find the octave difference between these notes. The 10th string is simply an octave below the 9th string. The 6th and 5th string are tuned to the 5th fret of the 8th string--usually the guitarist simply plays the 5th fret of the 4th course which is composed of the 7th and 8th strings together which are tuned an octave apart. The 11th and 12 strings which are tuned to "d" are an ocatve apart can be tuned to the "d" on the 3rd fret of the 4th course (the 7th and 8th strings).
When speaking of the tuning of the guitarra it is common to mean the tuning of the 6 courses rather than of the 12 individual strings. Conventionally, players simply refer to the tuning as: D, A, B, E, A, B (6th to 1st course). In standard notation only the lowest note in the course is represented:
Here are typical gauges and tuning for the Lisboa and Coimbra Portuguese guitarras. These are the gauges which I personally use as of December 2010. These are the same gauges which I sell.
Lisbon (Lisboa) Tuning) 440mm scale
1st, 2nd and 8th strings-- .009” wire string. Tuned to “b”
3rd, 4th and 10th strings--.010” wire strings. Tuned to “a” (This “a” = 440 Hz)
5th, 6th strings-- .013” wire strings. Tuned to “e”
7th string --.020” wound. Tuned an octave below the 8th string (“b”)
9th string --.024” wound. Tuned an octave below 10th string (“a”)
11th string -- .034” wound. Tuned to D ( like the 4th string on the Acoustic Guitar)
12th string -- .018” wound. Tuned an octave above the 11th string (“d”)
Coimbra Tuning 470mm scale
1st, 2nd and 8th strings-- .011” wire string. Tuned to “a” ( This “a” = 440 Hz)
3rd, 4th and 10th strings--.012” wire strings. Tuned to “g”
5th, 6th strings-- .015” wire strings. Tuned to “d”
7th string --.022” wound. Tuned an octave below the 8th string (“a”)
9th string --.024” wound. Tuned an octave below 10th string (“g”)
11th string -- .036” wound. Tuned to C (like the 5th string, 3rd fret on the acoustic guitar)
12th string -- .019” wound. Tuned an octave above the 11th string (“c”)
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