Sanz: Passacalle sobre la D

In arrangement, Baroque, Chords Guitar, Gaspar Sanz, guitar, transcription, ukulele 142 views

Sanz: Passacalle sobre la D
Another jump in time – to the Baroque period, on 8 November 1764, when Gaspar Sanz engraved this piece published in Instruccion de Musica Sobre La Guitarra Española (Zaragoça, 1675). I should say here that “sobre la D” in the title refers not to the key but to the Abacedario system of naming chord shapes, where shape “D” is a 0112 chord (1st string first), which is Am on the guitar and therefore Dm on the uke.

The low-G arrangements that I present here and in future posts might be regarded as a bit of a perversion of Sanz’ intent, but I don’t think they sound too bad.

I recently bought myself, on the recommendation of Gilles T, an early Christmas present: Rob MacKillop’s excellent 20 Spanish Baroque Pieces (Mel Bay, 2011). I’ll write more about the book on the Publications page soon; suffice to say now that I was particularly entranced by this piece in Mr M’s book, which is arranged in campanella style. It was fascinating to see how following the tabs (whose appearance bears little similarity to the shape of the music) produced such a charming sound when played on a uke with re-entrant tuning. (So, that’s what my little soprano is good for!)

Facsimile of Sanz’s original engraving published at:
The score is very clearly etched, by Sanz himself, but “inverted” i.e. with the bass string at the top and so on.
Mordents are indicated by ⏑ under single notes, trills by T, and vibrato by inclined #-symbols.
For my arrangement I relied on the “right-way-up” transcription published here:

Being an inquisitive type, I wanted to see Sanz’ original for 5-string Baroque guitar, and fortunately found both a transcription* (with bar 51 missing) and a facsimile of the original, as detailed in the caption above. From this, it was but a small step to making my own transcription of the piece, but for the low-G tuning.

As you will see from the image above, in the tablature convention at that time there was no indication of the actual lengths of notes (just when you pluck them), nor of where the voices lie. So, as I do with lute music, I made my best guess. And, since this piece was set in campanella style, it’s probably not sensible to think of separate voices; nevertheless, I’ve had a go.

Now, Sanz tuned his guitar with the lower 2 courses (4 & 5) an octave higher than you might expect, i.e. from string 1 (e’ bb gg d’d’ aa, or  E4 B3B3 G3G3 D4D4 A3A3). This helped to provide the campanella effect. There is a article describing Sanz’ work and tuning here, and a much fuller analysis of Baroque guitar tuning here. [Note added later: I have recently bought James Tyler’s A guide to playing the Baroque guitar, which has become my go-to reference for this music.]

I have noticed that modern arrangements of Sanz’ music for the classical guitar assume modern (± linear) tuning. But, following this rule rigidly on the uke makes a very lumpy, jumpy piece. I have therefore applied the following rules:

  • the note positions on the Baroque guitar 1st – 3rd courses are transferred directly to the uke tabs; 
  • the note positions on the guitar 5th course are raised an octave for the uke transcription;
  • the notes on the 4th course are raised an octave on the uke if this would lead to a smooth scale fragment in the melody;
  • the notes on the 4th are maintained in the lower octave if they make a sensible bass line;
  • anything can be modified to make the piece easier and more enjoyable to play;
  • there is no attempt to reproduce the campanella effect in this piece, as Rob M has already done it.

In effect, this is a compromise between what Sanz intended and what fits on a uke with a low G string.

I was surprised how different the piece sounds in this arrangement compared with Mr M’s campanella form, which is closer to Sanz’ intentions. In fact, it’s much more like the Dowland lute music I have been transcribing.

Another point:  there is none of the “Spanish tinge” (to steal a term from Jelly Roll Morton) that is to be found in some of the other pieces in Sanz’ books.

It’s not a difficult piece, especially of you ignore all the mordents and trills, which I have copied over from the original. I have not shown Sanz’ indication of vibrato, which one nowadays tends to apply to all possible notes anyway; and vibrato sounds horrible on the MIDI player.

My next learning step is to see how Mr M achieved his campanella magic on the uke.

You can find the transcriptions here:

  • pdf (quick preview)
  • pdf (auto download)
  • TablEdit
  • MIDI (as unsubtle as ever)


* I am very grateful to the anonymous transcriber.

Tags: #passacalle #sobre

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