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Music Education

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"To Sing Your Part Sure"

Music Education

John Dowland. Collection of songs and dances for the lute. Manuscript, ca. 1594-ca. 1600

Being able to read music, to sing a part securely, and to play an instrument were regarded as important goals for the upper classes. Amateurs learned these skills from manuals teaching the rudiments of music, or they studied with professional musicians employed as tutors.


Instruction often began with the gamut, the musical scale comprised of letters and solmization or solfa syllables (similar to our do re mi ) designating the degrees of the scale. Students were advised to "Learne Gam-ut up and down by heart."


John Dowland (1562–1626) was the greatest English composer of his time for the lute, writing solos, songs, and music for five viols and lute. Folger MS V.b.280 is called "The 'Dowland' lutebook" because it contains signatures and other examples of Dowland's handwriting and just might have been in his family until sold to Henry Clay Folger in 1926. The manuscript contains many easy pieces, still used by lute teachers today, as well as some of the finest music for very skilled players. Dowland, the last of three main copyists in the book, entered only three pieces; the final one is incomplete.




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Henry Peacham. The compleat gentleman. London, 1622

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In this popular conduct book, The Compleat Gentleman, Peacham includes a chapter on music education (it falls between chapters on poetry and on painting and drawing). 


Offering very practical advice, Peacham admits, "I desire no more in you then to sing  your part sure and at the first sight, withall, to play the same upon your Violl, or the exercise of the Lute." 


His list of composers worthy of emulation is interesting: William Byrd is included along with Peacham's Italian music instructor Orazio  Vecchi. Italian music was particularly popular at the turn of the seventeenth century.

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