Nov 022018

David Barrett translates the laud’s exotic secrets to acoustic steel-string guitar

Although You’re not likely to find one at your local music store, the laud (Spanish for lute) is a not-too-distant relative of the guitar that almost all six-stringers will find easy to approach and navigate. Classic-rock disciples may already be familiar with its distinctive, exotic sound, via Steve Howe’s playing in the “Your Move” section of Yes’s iconic track “I’ve Seen All Good People.”

David Barrett performing on the laud

Like a 12-string guitar, the laud is a six-course instrument, although unlike a 12-string, the string pairs are all unisons, and it is most often tuned to an open-E derivative. When Canadian prog-rocker David Barrett first scored a second-hand laud in the mid ’90s, it quickly became a mainstay of his recording and compositional approach. Because of the laud’s similarity to guitar, its secrets can easily be applied to any six- or 12-string. During his recent Consciousness Through Music Pathfinder Retreat in Sotuta de Peón, Mexico, we asked Barrett to translate his laud language for a traditional steel-string acoustic, and here is the fruit from our sit-down interview.

Barrett explains, “I usually tune my laud to an open E chord [low to high, E B E G# B E]. People can sometimes be intimidated by open tunings, but the truth is that simple lines and two-note chord voicings work best, as they exploit the resonance and shimmer of the open strings. I’ll often play a melody on the low strings that’s contrasted against the open drone of the higher strings, or vice versa.” A perfect example of this is Ex. 1, the main theme to “Sonar,” a track produced by Rush’s Alex Lifeson that appears on Barrett’s 2013 release, David Barrett Trio. (Note: When Barrett performs live with his trio in an electric setting, he usually reinterprets the laud parts on the 12-string neck of an Epiphone G-1275 double-neck.)

Another laud-incorporating rocker from the same album is the Alan Parsons–produced track “Belmonte,” the main theme of which is shown in Ex. 2. Says Barrett, “I started with a simple two-bar motif on the third string, but instead of just repeating it, I contrasted it with rising chromatic bass notes on the fifth string.” This straightforward harmonic movement is all that’s needed to spell out the song’s distinct E, Eb6, E6, Am(add9)/E chord sequence.

Later, in the same piece, Barrett shifts to a B tonality with the high-voiced two- and three-note chord grips illustrated in Ex. 3. Dig how the Badd11 and Bmaj7add11 shapes in the first bar are sequenced down a whole step (two frets) for the C#m7/B voicings in the second bar. I’ve notated this example as a bar of 8/8 followed by three bars of 6/8, but you can also feel the beat in quarter notes and think of the first two bars as one larger bar of 7/4 and the next two as one bar of 6/4, which is how Barrett counts it out.

Our final two examples are derived from the David Barrett Trio’s self-titled album’s closing track, “Great Eastern Sun.” Barrett explains, “For this track, I raised the third string a half-step, to A, giving me a tuning of [low to high] E B E A B E, which is essentially just DADGAD tuning a whole step higher. What I like about this tuning is its harmonic ambiguity, allowing me to shift back and forth between major and minor tonalities.” Ex. 4 lays out the track’s main theme, a lilting low-string melody juxtaposed against harmonically ambiguous suspended chords.

For the contrasting theme, Barrett grabs the two-note root-fifth grip shown in Ex. 5a and works it down the neck against open second- and fourth-string drones, articulating the spiraling melody shown in Ex. 5b. Although the C and G naturals in the first bar seem to suggest a move to the parallel minor key, Barrett ultimately lands on the dreamy-sounding Emaj7 chord in bars 7 and 8.

While much of Barrett’s recorded output relies on electric guitars in standard tuning, he enthusiastically states why he continues to explore exotic instruments and tunings. “When I pick up the laud — or any stringed instrument — and it’s in nonstandard tuning, it’s like picking up a new instrument for the first time. I find that I’m thinking more intuitively and am much more likely to discover unusual chords and harmonically compelling dissonances than if I were playing in standard tuning.”


For video of this lesson, go to

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Source: Guitar Player