As a teenager, Hopkinson Smith played classical guitar, but then he discovered the world of early music and began teaching himself to play the lute. He graduated with honors from Harvard in 1972 with a degree in musicology, which has served him well in his research on works written for early plucked instruments, such as the vihuela, theorbo, lute, and early guitars. He studied lute with Emilio Pujol in Catalonia and Eugen Dombois in Switzerland, and then worked with viola da gambist Jordi Savall to found the ensemble Hespèrion XX in the mid-1970s. He went on to spend ten years with the group, growing creatively as a chamber musician and finding it a good balance to his solo work. Since the mid-1980s, Smith has concentrated on his research and performance of solo works for his instruments, ranging from Renaissance dances and fantasias to Baroque composers Kapsberger, the Gaultier, Mouton, Sanz, and Weiss, to name just a few. His discography includes over 20 recordings of these works on the Astrée label. He has also recorded his own transcriptions of Bach's solo violin works in addition to Bach's lute works. Smith gives master classes throughout North and South America and Europe, but is on the faculty of the Schola Cantorum in Basel, Switzerland, where he makes his home. Smith's playing is frequently noted by reviewers for its tastefulness and expertise, while also being warm and always consciously expressive no matter what type of piece he is playing.