Learn John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan

Learn John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan

In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to learn John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan. This beautiful and challenging piece of music is a great way to improve your technique and musicianship. We will be extending what you learn here in a further lesson on improvisation & learning the harmony. Listen to the full version below.

John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan

The first step is to learn the basic melody and harmony, see below. This is the foundation of the piece, so it’s important to get it right. There are a few different ways to learn the melody, but I recommend listening to a recording and trying to pick it out by ear. Once you have the melody down, you can start to learn the harmony. The harmony is a bit more complex, but it’s not too difficult to learn. We will be diving into the harmony in greater detail in a further lesson. For now, enjoy this free chord chart, with the progression on it, and a backing track – with click. Which will help you practice this piece and get the time steady.

There is a walk through of the harmony, and compositional ideas in this opening theme in this video below.

Dowland’s Time (Historical Context)

Lacrymae Pavan was first published in 1604, during a time of great political and religious turmoil in England. The piece is often interpreted as a reflection of the sadness and uncertainty that many people were feeling at the time. However, it can also be seen as a celebration of the human capacity for resilience and hope.

John Dowland the Rockstar

Dowland’s music was hugely popular during his lifetime, and he is considered one of the most important composers of the English Renaissance. His work has been performed and recorded by countless musicians over the centuries and continues to be enjoyed by audiences today.

John Dowland (1563-1626) was an English Renaissance composer, lutenist, and singer who is best known for his melancholy and introspective songs and lute music.

Early Life and Education: Dowland was born in London in 1563 and was the eldest son of a prosperous merchant. He attended the King’s School in Canterbury and then studied at Christ Church, Oxford, where he received a Bachelor of Music degree in 1588.

Career: After leaving Oxford, Dowland travelled to France and Italy, where he studied music and performed for various aristocratic patrons. In 1594, he was appointed as a lutenist to Christian IV of Denmark, a position he held for three years. He then returned to England and became a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I, where he served as a lutenist and singer.

In 1597, Dowland published his first collection of songs, titled “The First Booke of Songes or Ayres,” which was a critical and commercial success. He went on to publish several more collections of songs and lute music, including the “Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares” collection in 1604, which featured his famous “tear drop” motif. Which is the melody to the opening of the Lachrymae Pavan

Despite his success as a composer and performer, Dowland struggled with financial difficulties throughout his life. He was also a Catholic in a predominantly Protestant England, which may have limited his opportunities for advancement.

Later Life and Legacy: Dowland continued to perform and compose music until his death in 1626. He is remembered as one of the greatest lutenists of the Renaissance, and his music had a lasting impact on the development of the English Baroque style. His songs in particular are admired for their beautiful melodies and poetic lyrics, and continue to be performed and recorded by musicians today.

Ornamentation in Lachrymae Pavan

Once you have the basic version of the piece down, you can start to add ornamentation and embellishments. This will help to make your playing more expressive and interesting. There are a few different ways to add ornamentation, and Dowland has added loads of his own into these variations.

Tear Drop Motif (the lachrymae in Lachrymae Pavan)

The “tear drop” motif, also known as the descending tetrachord or falling fourths, is a musical gesture that was commonly used during the Renaissance as a symbol of mourning and lamentation. This musical figure consists of a descending pattern of four notes, typically moving from a higher pitch to a lower pitch by intervals of a perfect fourth. The descending tetrachord is often associated with the textural depiction of tears, which is why it is often called the “tear drop” motif.

In Dowland’s “Lachrimae” pieces, the descending tetrachord is used as a recurring theme throughout the collection. Each of the seven pieces is based on a different variation of the motif, and the variations become increasingly complex and virtuosic as the collection progresses.

The “tear drop” motif was a popular device in Renaissance music and can be found in many works by composers of the period. For example, the motif is used in the opening of the choral motet “Lamentations of Jeremiah” by Thomas Tallis, as well as in the famous madrigal “Flow My Tears” by Dowland himself. The motif is also used in the Passions of J.S. Bach, particularly in the aria “Erbarme dich” from the St. Matthew Passion.

Overall, the “tear drop” motif is a powerful musical symbol of grief and sorrow, and its use in Dowland’s “Lachrimae” pieces is a testament to the composer’s ability to evoke emotion through music.

More Teardrop music

John Dowland wrote a set of seven instrumental pieces called “Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares” which were published in 1604. The central theme of these pieces is the “tear drop” motif, which was a common musical symbol of mourning during the Renaissance. The set of seven pieces are titled:

  1. Lachrimae Antiquae (“Old Tears”)
  2. Lachrimae Antiquae Novae (“New Old Tears”)
  3. Lachrimae Gementes (“Sighing Tears”)
  4. Lachrimae Tristes (“Sad Tears”)
  5. Lachrimae Coactae (“Forced Tears”)
  6. Lachrimae Amantis (“Tears of a Lover”)
  7. Lachrimae Verae (“True Tears”)

Even More Teardrop music

There are several other pieces by John Dowland that use the “tear drop” motif, in addition to the “Lachrimae” collection and the “Galliard to Lachrimae.” Here are a few examples:

  1. “Flow My Tears” – This famous song by Dowland uses the “tear drop” motif in the opening vocal line, which descends by a series of falling fourths as the singer laments lost love. The motif is also heard in the instrumental accompaniment.
  2. “Semper Dowland Semper Dolens” – This pavane by Dowland is another example of his use of the “tear drop” motif. The motif appears prominently in the opening bars and is used throughout the piece as a symbol of mourning and sorrow.
  3. “Mr. Dowland’s Midnight” – This piece by Dowland features a descending passage in the bass line that is reminiscent of the “tear drop” motif. While the descending pattern is not as pronounced as in some of his other works, it still conveys a sense of melancholy and introspection.
  4. “Forlorn Hope Fancy” – This fantasia by Dowland uses the “tear drop” motif in the opening bars, which feature a descending bass line accompanied by a rising melody. The motif is used throughout the piece, both in the bass line and in the melodic material.

Overall, the “tear drop” motif was a common device in Dowland’s music and was used to evoke feelings of sadness, mourning, and melancholy.

Lachrymae Pavan Coda

P.S. If you’re ever feeling down, just remember that even the greatest composers of all time wrote sad songs. So don’t be afraid to let your emotions out through your music. Just make sure to end on a positive note, like Dowland did with Lachrymae Pavan. (Tierce de Picardie joke there 😉


Classical guitarist who strives to share a little #6stringinspiration.

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