Guárdame las vacas by Luys de Narváez

Classical guitar This piece was arranged in the sixteenth century for the vihuela, an ancestor of the guitar, and published in Los seys libros del Delphín (1538). It consists of a set of variations on a Spanish folk theme. I used a copy of Narváez's original book from the Biblioteca Nacional de España as the source for my transcription.

There is some debate over whether the full composition consists of four or seven variations. The title of the work, Quatro diferencias sobre Guárdame las vacas,[1] indicates it consists of four variations (which I have transcribed). Confusion arises because the immediately following work in the original manuscript, Otras tres diferencias hechas por otra parte, is not listed on the title page or index. Instead, the title page refers to siete diferencias de guarda me las vacas.[2] After the first four variations, the index refers to La primera diferencia de guarda me las vacas por otra parte. For a full discussion of the issue see “Luis Narváez, Guárdame las vacas, and the otra parte”, Nelson Amos, GFA Soundboard, Vol. 27, No. 1(Summer 2000), pp. 21-25.

The vihuela is tuned the same as the guitar except the third string is tuned to F♯ instead of G. Often you will see vihuela transcriptions for the classical guitar instruct the player to tune the third string to F♯. My transcription allows you to play the song in the guitar's normal tuning. If you have trouble with the left-hand fingering for the scale run in measure 22, you'll have to come up with an alternate fingering. If you can play Message in a Bottle, you shouldn't have a problem with the fingering.

In the process of retranscribing and renotating the piece using LilyPond, I made some changes to fingering. The most notable change is in measure 28, which I used to play with a fourth-position barre. The new version matches more closely the original vihuela tablature by playing the measure in first position. As you can tell from the revision history below, I've made other changes over time, eventually reverting two instances where I had added extra notes to form chords to make a note sound fuller. Other than the guitar-specific fingerings (including left-hand legato), the music (the notes themselves) should now match exactly the original tablature. As usual, fingerings are only suggestions; you may ignore them and choose your own.

Actively Maintained LilyPond Output
Sheet Music

Revision History

Reverted note additions to measures 30 and 33, leaving only notes occuring in original tablature.

Changed some fingering in measures 30, 32, and 33 to match original tablature.


Changed beaming to match metrical changes. Previously, the beaming was all for 3/2.


Renotated using LilyPond, making some notational improvements along the way. Although still a transcription and arrangement for the guitar and not a literal vihuela tablature transcription, this version should be more readable and somewhat truer to the original vihuela tablature. I've retained the previous version generated with Sibelius for those who want tablature or wish to compare Sibelius and LilyPond output.


Changed right-hand fingering. The original right-hand fingering was rather unnatural. The new fingering uses the thumb more and is more playable.

Unmaintained Sibelius Output
Sheet MusicSheet Music w/o Tablature

[1] The spelling is from the 16th-century source. Today, quatro is spelled cuatro

[2] Again, this is 16th-century spelling.