I stumbled upon a transcription for guitar from a Lute piece. The original piece is written in G minor but the transcription is in A minor. From the transcriber's notes the bass line's octave was modified and even some notes removed since the guitar cannot reach those low registries.

Of course nobody can know what the transcriber was thinking about when he made the decision to change the piece's key but I would like to know if there could be some technical reasons, particular features of both instruments or something else that would motivate such a change.

Thank you.

  • What is the lute piece? Knowing the tuning of the lute used when writing it may help.
    – Aric
    Aug 16, 2017 at 9:45
  • @AricFowler - Ciacona by Sylvius Leopold Weiss. I have no idea what the tuning of the lute might be. Aug 16, 2017 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


Guitar abhors a key with flats. g minor is the relative key with a Bb and Eb in its key signature. You have an open B string and open E string, not Bb and Eb.

a minor on the other hands has no flats and just a G#, you also have an open A string, this key is a much more guitaristic key.

As a general rule of thumb, you want your keys to be either E, A or D when playing guitar. Yes you can tune your guitar a half step down to get flats for open strings and yes you can use a capo, but generally, it is easier just to transpose the piece (Especially when it is an easy one like a Major second up) and stay in standard tuning.

  • @NielMeyer - Isn't the "Guitar abhors a key with flats" statement a little too harsh? I can understand it abhors flats on its open strings notes, but I find a bit extreme that it is the case for all things flat. Aug 16, 2017 at 16:04

Usually the motivation for transcribing is either because the instrument can't do the entire range of the piece without transcribing, or the singer can't do the entire range (if it's a song).

Sometimes, for certain instruments, a transcribed version may be easier to play as well. Trying to do the fingering in the original key may be horrid.


Lutes come in a wide set of tunings. The rather polyphonic way of playing them makes for fingering patterns that are particular to a given tuning. A baroque lute tends to be based on D minor, with a modern guitar focused on E minor. As a result, transposing pieces that tend to "fit well" on a D minor lute up one note (or six notes down) when moving to the guitar can often help maintain them playable.

G minor relates to a D minor tuning like A minor does to an E minor tuning. Note that this is just a rough handwaving equivalence since lute courses tend to be more, have unfretted bass and resonance courses, and tend to have somewhat different intervals. So lute fingering patterns and guitar fingering patterns are at best moderately comparable. Still affinity to an instrument's "preferred" modes and scales tends to help.

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