Greetings's “The Plesant Companion”

“The Pleasant Companion” is perhaps the most famous tutor for the French flageolet due to its being used by the diarist and amateur flageolet player, Samuel Pepys, who took lessons from its author, Thomas Greeting.


It is not known when “The Pleasant Companion” was first written, although Samuel Pepys bought a hand-copied version of it in about 1668 which gives an earliest possible date for the printed version.

The printed version was published by John Playford (1623-1686) “near the Temple Church” in the City of London. Playford was perhaps the most successful music publisher of the period, who managed to survive through the wildly different musical tastes of the Commonwealth and Restoration. According to Robert Clavel’s “Catalogue of all the Books printed in England since the Dreadful Fire of London, 1666, to the end of Michaelmas Term, 1672”, its original price was 1s which made it one of the cheaper music books available. He also lists a “Directions for the Flagelet” and a “2d Book of Lessons for the Flagelet” for sale by Greeting. It is not clear whether either of these is an earlier version of the Pleasant Companion or another work.

Although it is the most famous tutor of the period today, it was not the only work published in the period. Clavel lists a two volume “Youth’s Delight on the Flagelet” and a “Directions to learn to play upon that pleasant and spritely Instrument the Flagalet, without the help of a Teacher: The Second Part, never before published” sold by Robert Paulet in Chancery Lane for 1s 6d. Indeed, whilst far fewer tutors were published for the flageolet than the viol or violin; the numbers are about equal to those for the recorder or flute and more than for instruments such as the lute and cittern. The attractive name for the work was also not usual, in addition to the “Youth’s Delight”, the musician could buy a “Delightful Companion” for the Flute or Recorder or a “Fashionable Companion” of songs.

Structure of the Work

The work consists of a short introduction followed by 70 short pieces for the unaccompanied instrument. In addition to its importance as a substantial corpus of music written specifically for the instrument from the 17th Century, the work is notable for its use of tablature throughout which is clearly aimed at allowing the amateur who cannot read music to play more quickly and easily than with traditional methods.

The use of tablature has resulted in a number of quirks: the music needed to be hand-engraved; the frequent ornamentation is written out; and the music is quite hard to study in its original form, without being transcribed back into conventional notation.

The Music

The music mostly consists of short dance and popular tunes. Most are anonymous but many are credited to individual composers, the most popular of whom was John Bannister. Only number 48, “Braules by Mr John Bannister”, is of any length, at 70 bars long (excluding repeats). Apart from the very first two or three tunes, which seem to be deliberately slightly easier, the standard seems reasonably high and comparable to other amateur music of the period.

The final 10 tunes are in a different hand from the remainder of the work; the spelling of flageolet in the header has changed from “flagilet” to “flagelett” and the note heads of the rhythm have changed from the older, square style to modern, rounded ones. It is therefore possible that they were a later addition, although why they were added is not clear.


This transcription has been prepared from the copy of the work held in the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection. Only the first 20 tunes are available: I hope to transcribe the remainder as time permits.

In transcribing the tunes, I have added a realisation in modern notation. Whilst Greeting’s flageolet was an in instrument in G (i.e. covering all six holes produced a G), I have transcribed it as an instrument in D since most later flageolet music was written in this way.

The tablature has been transcribed as originally printed, with the following changes:

  1. a number of printing errors have been corrected;
  2. Greeting’s triple-time has been notated with just a 𝇊 rather than a 𝇊 above a 3|, for technical reasons; and
  3. whereas Greeting shows ornaments by simply adding a slur or dash, I have added the slur or dash and the tablature for the notes of the ornament (both for technical reasons and clarity).

The errors corrected are: “Mayden Faire”, Bar 8, first minim undotted in original; “Nightingale”, Bar 9, fourth note given as a quaver in original; Bar 10, fifth note given as a dotted quaver in original; “Parthenia”, Bar 3, ornamentation unclear for first note; Bar 5, extra barline given in original; “A Theater Tune”, Bar 5, last two notes missing rhythm in original; Bar 8, upbeat is given as a quaver in original; “The Grange”, Bar 4, dotted minim undotted in original; “Corant La Royall”, Bar 6, additional rest required before anacrusis; Bar 9, final dotted crotchet missing in original.

Pleasant Companion:
LONDON, Printed for J. Playford, and are to be Sold at his Shop near the Temple-Church, 1680

Instructions for Playing on the Flagelet

The Flagelet is an Instrument that may very fitly be termed A Pleasant Companion, for it may be carried in the Pocket, and so without any trouble bear one company either by Land or by Water. It hath this advantage over other Instruments, that it is always in Tune, which they are not: And for those whose Geneius leads them to Musick, I know not a more easie and pleasant Instrument: And though it at first may seem difficult to Beginners, yet with the Practice of a few hours, observing these following Directions, and a little assistance of a Skilful Master, the knowledge hereof may be readily attained unto.

Of Holding the Flagelet

A section from the wood-block printed title page of The Pleasant Companion by Thomas Greeting, showing a man holding a flageolet.

There are two wayes of Holding the Flagelet usually taught by the Professors on this Instrument: The first way is to hold it with the left hand next the mouth, the thumb and three fingers thereof on the four first Holes, and the thumb and first finger of the right hand on the two last, holding the End of the Flagelet between the second and third fingers. The second way of holding it (which I conceive is the best) is to hold it with the left hand next the mouth as before, but with this difference, the thumb and two first fingers thereof stopping the three first Holes, and the thumb and first fingers of the right hand stopping the three last Holes; so that as the Flagelet hath four Holes above, and two below so they are stopt above with the four first fingers, and beneath with the two thumbs; and for the better staying it to ones Mouth, the end of it is to be held between the third and little finger, placing the third finger above, and the little finger underneath, as is expressed in the Figure before the Title.

Of the manner of Playing on the Flagelet

All Tunes or Lessons for the Flagelet are prick’d upon six Lines, answering to the six Holes on the Instrument, by certain Characters called Dots: These dots direct what Holes are to be stopt, there being so many, and the same holes to be stopt on the Flagelet each breath, as there are dots placed perpendicularly on the six Lines; as suppose a dot upon the first or uppermost Line, the first hole on the Flagelet (agreeing with that first Line) must be stopt; and if there be two dots one over another, as on the first and second, or first and third Lines, then the first and second, or first and third holes on the Flagelet are to be stopt: For instance, in pricking the Tune called Maiden Fair, for the two first Sounds or Breaths is made a dot upon the first and third Line twice over, and accordingly the first and third hole of the Flagelet must be stopt, and then blow gently twice. The like is to be understood of all the rest; observing, that as many rows of dots as there is from the top to bottom on the six Lines, so many several sounds must there be on the Flagelet. Above the six Lines over the Dots are placed Notes for expressing the Measure or Time, slow or swift; of which Notes and Time, I shall give you as certain Rule to know the Proportion it its due place.

Example of the plain Notes Assending and Desending

Left HandThumb
1st Fing      
2d Fing      
Right Hand1stFing          
2 d Fing              
A simple major scale shown in the flageolet tablature.

Your Flagelet being held as is directed, and your Fingers on the six Holes, your first Stop or Note is 6 Dots, the second 5, the third 4, the fourth 3, the fifth 2, the sixth 2 divided, the seventh 1, the eight a Cypher [○] which is all open. Blow gently, and take your Breath at every Note or Sound. Example of these in their order.

Directions for Playing the Eight Notes Up or Ascending

  1. Blow gently, all six holes being stop, is 6 Dots.
  2. Up with the second finger of the right hand, is 5 Dots.
  3. Off with the thumb of the right hand, is 4 Dots.
  4. Up with the first finger of the right hand, is 3 Dots.
  5. Up with the second finger of the left hand, is 2 Dots.
  6. Up with the first finger of the left hand, and down again with the second finger, is 2 Dots Divided.
  7. Up with the second finger of the left hand, is 1 Dot.
  8. Off with the thumb of the left hand is the Cypher [○] upon the first or uppermost Line, with is all open.

To Play the Eight Notes Down or Descending

  1. Blow gently, all Holes being open, is the Cypher [○] upon the uppermost Line.
  2. Stop with the thumb of the left hand, is 1 Dot.
  3. Stop with the second finger of the left hand, the thumb remaining, is 2 Dots divided.
  4. Stop with the first finger of the left hand, taking up the middle finger, is 2 Dots.
  5. Stop with the second finger of the left hand again, the rest remaining is 3 Dots.
  6. Stop with the first finger of the right hand, the rest remaining, is 4 Dots.
  7. Stop with the first finger of the right hand, is 5 Dots.
  8. Stop with the second finger of the right hand, and now all is stop, which is 6 Dots.

Practice to play these Eight Notes ascending and descending, till you are perfect in them, always observing this Rule, that in Notes descending, and in Notes that Rise or Fall by Skips, you must suddenly increase or diminish your Breath, as the Notes require. The taking off a Finger raiseth, and the stopping down the contrary. Always remember to stop the Holes close, and to hit every Note distinctly with the tip of your Tongue.

Next is set down Examples of the Pinching Notes and Graces; Also a Table of the Notes Flat and Sharp, ascending on the Violin and Flagelet.

A Table of the Notes Flat & Sharp Assending on the Violin and on the Flageolet

The full fingering chart for the flageolet.

On the Pinching Notes on the Flagelet

Example of the Pinching or higher Notes

A scale of the higher, pinched, notes.

The Pinching Notes ascend eight Notes higher than the Plain Notes, and are distinguished from them by a dash drawn through the first or highest Dot, making it a Cross, as in the foregoing Example. To play it on the Flagelet you must do thus: Bend your left thumb, and let it be but half over the first Hole (on which the Pinch is alway made, by Punching your Nail hard over half the Hole) then give it a stronger Breath than the former Notes had, and you shall find the Sound of the Flagelet to be eight Notes higher. All the other Stops are the same with the former.

On the Several Graces on the Flagelet

Example of Shakes & Beats

A table of the shakes and beats.

In the former Example of Graces, the Mark or Character of a Beat and Shake is all one, but in Playing them is this difference: When the Mark is on the same Line even with the Dot, then you are to lift up that finger and shake, and lay it down again before you play nay other; this is called a Beat. But when the Mark stands alone upon any other line underneath the dot, then with the finger belonging to that Line on which it is set you must shake, taking it off again before you play any other Note; and this is called a shake. The third mark is for a slur or slide, that is, when two Notes are tyed together by a crooked dash underneath, then those two Notes must be express’d with one Breath. There is another much like this, which concludes with a Beat, and play’d thus: Hit the first Note with the tip of your TOngue, and continuing your Breath, take up the second and bring on the first beating.

The Names of the Notes

A table showing semibreves, minims, crotchets, quavers and semiquavers.

Of the Time, or Proportions of the Notes

The Mood for the Common Time is thus Marked 𝇍, and is multiplyed by two, as one Semibreve is two Minims, on Minim two Crotchets, one Crotchet two Quavers, &c.

If what is said here concerning the Common Time be not sufficient to Instruct a Beginner, I refer him to Mr. Playford’s Introduction to the Skill of Musick, where he may not only be Instructed in this, and the Triple-Time, but in all the Grounds of Musick, both Vocal and Instrumental.

The Mood for Triple-Time is thus Marked 𝇊3, and is multiplied by 3, (the Note having a prick added to it) as one Minim with a prick is three Crotchets, &c.

A brief selection of music in triple time.

Lastly, this Example is to be observed directing what Key or Note and Tune pick’d for the Violin is proper for the Flagelet; in which observe, that all Lessons belonging on the Violin in A re, F faut, C solfa, and D lasol, have the same Key on the Flagelet; other Keys do vary as is here to be seen.

Examples of transposed keys for flageolet and violin.

By the observation of the former Example of all Notes Flat and Sharp (according to the Scale of Musick, by Notes as well as Dots,) you will soon come to play any Tune prick’d by Notes. To conclude, I have endeavour’d with all Candor and Integrity to render this Book both useful and acceptable to all Lovers of Musick, who I hope will receive it with the like.


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