Thomas Robinson's Instructions for the Cittern

Last updated Wednesday, July 19, 2017.
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§ A nevv, easie, and perfect
Introduction to the Citharen,
set foorth both for the learned and
them which are vnlearned.


G OD giue you good morrow Sir, this is the howre and time, the which you appointed me to come and keepe, and truely sir, if it please God that I profit (according to your premise) by your good instructions, you shall not find me vnthankefull.


Welcome good Scholler, and truely I haue great hope in you, for that I see you so willing, and withall I see you haue allready laide hold of one of the best properties which doth belong to a Musitian, which is: to keepe time, likewise if your capacitie, be answerable to your desire I doubt not but that you will quickly proue a good Scholler: come, where is your Citharen and your Booke.


Heere sir they bee both.

[Robinson's 4-course cittern.]



It is well done of you to haue Gotten a very good Citharen, for it is both faire and good, true fretted, and easie to play vpon. Now in the name of God let vs beginne, and first marke, as your Citharen lyeth before you with his 4 course of strings, so likewise the 4 lines or rules in your booke lye accordingly, and represent the same strings as heere you see mentioned. And also, as the frettes or stoppes of your Citharen extend the whole breadth of the necke of it called the finger boord: so euery string hath both the name and vse of the same fret on so well as the other, as if you stoppe in the first frette, (with your forefinger) in the treble, then is is b in the treble. if you stoppe the first frette in the meane, then it is b in the meane, and if you stoppe the first frette in the basse, then it is b in the basse, if you stopped the first frette in the tenor, then it is b in the tenor, and so the rest of the stoppes c d e f &c. but where you see a in any of the strings, that string must not be stopped, but must be stricken open.


Truely this is most plaine and easie, for a child of 4 yeeres of age that knoweth his letters a b c may conceiue this as well as one of 20 yeeres old. But when shall I beginne to learne to play a lesson.


I will tell you when, euen then when you haue gotten all these rules following by heart without booke, and also can tune your instrument your selfe.


why? how if it be this month before I can them by heart? shall I not learne a lesson this month?


No, for to learne before you know what, why, and how: were like a Bee movld in a barrell of honny, for how were it possible for you to play well? with a good grace? comely without making of anticke faces: except you first know a rule, or reason to guide your hand and body.


VVell Sir, if it be your will that I shall first learne those rules, before I shall learne to play a lesson? I am contented to get them by heart, for you are my Master, and you know what is best to bee done for a Scholler, write downe your rules, and god willing I will not touch my Citharen, vntill I can them perfectly by heart.


I commend you, doe as you say, and vpon my life you shall very soone attaine to your desire for the Citharen, for if you should get false fingring at the first, you should be constrained, first to learne to forget, before it were fit for you to remember, which were both a griefe, trouble, and losse of time and charges. Therefore in the name of God marke these rules following.

The first rule.

Note, that first, in stopping of your instrument, that you hold out the wrist of your hand, for so you shall stoppe both the cleaner, and with more ease, be the readier to carry your whole hand too and fro at your pleasure.

The second rule.

Note, that where, or in what stop so euer you are stopped with your forefinger, that there, in the same stoppe you hold your thombe right ouer against it.

The third rule.

Note, that in what stoppe so euer you are stopped, that you plucke away no finger vntill you needes must.

The fourth rule.

Note, that in any full stoppe, that you relish with that finger that is most idlest, and in a single stoppe, with that finger that is the strongest.

The fifth rule.

Note, that you doe not striue with any stoppe, but doe it with ease, for painefull playing, causeth many odde anticke faces.

The sixt rule.

Note, that in running of a point, where you leaue a stoppe, you leaue a finger, and where you leaue no stoppe, you leaue no finger.

As for example.

The seuenth rule.

Note that, that is said to be a point, when two of one time, foure or twice foure, all which goe by two and two, and the second is single, or all be single stoppes, as is aboue mentioned.

The eight rule.

Note also, that the first of a point is to be strucken downward, and the scond vpward, and for that purpose where you shall strike vpwardes, it is noted vnder the letter with a pricke or point, as you see aboue:

The Ninth rule.

Note, that you stoppe cleane, and also strike cleane, in a full stroke plumpe together, not raking or scattering.

The tenth rule.

Note that you leane vpon no finger, but the little finger of your right hand.

The eleuenth rule.

Note also, that you leane lightly vpon the Citharen with your right arme.

The twelfth rule.

Note, that you keepe alwayes your hands cleane, and your nailes short.

These rules had perfectly without booke, you shall then learne to tune your Citharen as followeth. First, set vp your Trebles so hie as you dare venter for breaking, and let them be both of one tune or sound, then set vp your Menes, stopping them in (c) making them in (c) to agree with the Trebles in (a) open all in one sound, then set vp the Base, stopping it in (h) making it agree with the Menes all in one tune; then lastly set vp the outermost stringes called the Tenor, stopping it in (d) making it agree with the Menes in (a) open all in one sound; this done, your Citharen will be in tune ready for you to learne a lesson.

To tune the Citharen


Truely sir, I must the Rules very well, and God willing I will not rest vntill I haue them perfectly by heart, but I pray you what signifie those figures vnderneath the stoppes.


They signifie with what fingers you shall stoppe, as thus: the figure of one thus noted 1. is for the forefinger, the figure of two thus noted 2. is for the second finger, the figure of three thus noted 3. is for the third finger, and the figure of foure thus noted 4. is for the little finger, and looke vnder what letter and of these figures stands at, that letter is to be stopped with that finger which that figure doth represent, and so many letters as stand one right vnder another must be stricken all together, and so the vppermost letter shall haue the vppermost figure, and so the next letter vnder, the next figure vnder, and so the rest. Now followeth the times either long time or short.

This figure here vnder placed, will instruct thee more plainely, concerning the valuation of the said notes, the Characters being expressed by the notes of Musicke thereunto adioyned.



I thanke you sir, all this I see is both good and necessary, and now, when it pleaseth you, set mee some lessons I pray you, for I find my selfe very ready and very happy to meet with so good a Tutor.


Now you find my words true, that without these Rules it had beene impoissble for you to haue profited anything at all, and now I will God willing set you downe some lessons fit for you to learne, and so harder and harder, and that better and better.

Finis Thomas Robinson.

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