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Easy classical - fingerstyle guitar lesson, 'Midnight' by John Dowland in tab, notation and audio

Updated on July 14, 2015

This is a simple Renaissance Period lute piece by the Elizabethan composer, John Dowland, which I've arranged as an easy-to-play classical/ fingerstyle guitar piece. Renaissance lute music sounds good not only on nylon string (classical) guitars but also on steel string acoustics, unlike guitar music of the classical period that followed. Steel strings don't handle the subtle tonal expressions of classical guitar music as well as nylon strings, but for the dignified 'olde-worlde' vibe of courtly, Elizabethan/ Renaissance lute music, they're perfect.

MIDNIGHT by John Dowland

Midnight - an arrangement of "Mr Dowland's Midnight" by John Dowland.
Midnight - an arrangement of "Mr Dowland's Midnight" by John Dowland.

Beginners' playing guide

  • The piece is arranged in the key of A minor, but the recording was made at a slightly higher pitch to give a more 'lute-like' sound. After you've learned it as written, try putting a capo across any fret to hear if it improves the sound. It will then be in a higher key, but you can continue to think of it and read it as still being in A minor.
  • Don't be confused by the numbers in the notation staff being sometimes different from those in the tab. The tab numbers mean FRETS, the numbers in the notation are FINGERING suggestions. They're not part of standard notation but are commonly included by editors of guitar music as helpful suggestions. There's no need to follow them if you can find a fingering that suits you better.
  • For notation readers, the lack of treble clefs at the start of each staff system (apart from the first) is because it was done on an older version of Guitar Pro that, for some reason places it only at the start.

Spreading the chords

Listen to how some of the chords are spread rather than the strings all being plucked at exactly the same time. That's a common technique when playing Renaissance music as it contributes to the 'olde worlde' courtly effect. It's like a strum, but done by releasing each finger rapidly in turn to play its designated string. It takes a bit of practice if you're not used to it.

It's not essential as it's an effect, and you can do it on any chords you like, not necessarily the ones that I've chosen to do it with. Just don't overdo it.

More Elizabethan/ Renaissance Lute music for Guitar

Here are some pieces you can try from roughly the same period. They are all in the same format as this one.

Lady Laiton's Almain - also by John Dowland but quite a bit more challenging.

Kemp's Jig - an anonymous piece that's lively and uplifting.

Wilson's Wilde - also anonymous but easier than than other two


The music in this Hub is by John Dowland (1563-1626) and is in the public domain.

The text, score and audio are by chasmac


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