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I Suck at Bach #2749454
07/05/18 07:58 AM
07/05/18 07:58 AM
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RmntcPianoLvr Offline OP
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Hi All,

From the title of this post, you probably already know what the gist of this post will be about, but I'll give some context anyways.

So recently I have just finished Chopin's Scherzo 2 after a month and a half of constant practice, and decided that it was finally time to take a break and come back to it some other time. So I decided I would take it easy for the next month or so and learn some smaller and easier pieces. A couple of days ago, I started the Rachmaninoff Prelude Op. 32 No. 5 in G Major, and so far progress on it is going well; I've gotten half the piece memorized, and only the second half the last page needs significant technical practice at this point. All in all, it's going really well for me.

Now recently, I've been getting more and more into Bach's music, so I thought now would be a good time to try out some Bach again (I hadn't played any in months at this point, because I was too busy riding the Romantic bandwagon, which I decided to jump off of this year). The Invention in E-flat Major (Number 5) sounded nice, so I decided to try it out. Unlike the Rachmaninoff prelude, however, I actually struggled quite a bit with it. It may be because it requires different techniques and styles, not sure, but I've been practicing it for a day or 2 now and I've only gotten the first page up to half speed hands together, and not memorized. So it's clear that I need some work on the Baroque style of playing.

In terms of Bach, how would you recommend I progress forward with his music? The plan I have for myself right now is to learn about half the inventions, then move on to the sinfonias and learn a handful of them, and then start on the WTC and learn a significant number of pieces from there and then finally moving on to whatever else I feel like playing. Any suggestions would be helpful, whether it be technique, interpretation/analysis, or other "routes" you would recommend (though I know that everyone is different and some people just prefer doing whatever sounds good to them, which I'm personally not too big a fan of). Thanks in advanced!

Last edited by RmntcPianoLvr; 07/05/18 07:59 AM.
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Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749466
07/05/18 08:19 AM
07/05/18 08:19 AM
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From what you've written, it's my opinion that the problems you are having with playing a Bach 2 Part Invention are mental and musical, not technical. I think it's the polyphony that is difficult for you.

If you were studying with me, I'd have you take a few steps back and have you play some of the Bartok Mikrokosmos Book 1 (transposing to all keys, of course). I'd have you sing one hand while playing the other (not so easy), and then I might have you play some of the Kunz Canons, again transposing, again singing & playing.

At that point, it would be time to start a 2 part Invention, and it's been my experience, that your perceptions would have changed and grown to the point where you could keep two distinct "voices" going at the same time.

Some of the 3 part inventions should follow, and then finally, it's time for the simpler fugues.

One pianist's opinion.


Andrew Kraus, Pianist
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Rockville, MD USA
www.AndrewKraus.com
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1929 Steinert 6'10" (Close copy of New York S&S "B")
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749471
07/05/18 08:50 AM
07/05/18 08:50 AM
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Bach's music is so different from Romantic or Classical pieces that it requires quite a bit of practice for most people before it becomes easier. So it's not so surprising that your ability to learn Romantic music is more advanced.

Memorizing Bach is also more difficult for many people compared to music from other periods. I once attended a performance of some of the WTC where conservatory students each played just one P&F. Compared to a recital not including works by Bach, they had a lot more memory problems. It's possible that some of the students had a learned a particular P&F specifically for this concert, but it was still shocking to see how much difficulty students at a major conservatory experienced.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 07/05/18 08:57 AM.
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: pianoloverus] #2749472
07/05/18 08:53 AM
07/05/18 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Seeker
From what you've written, it's my opinion that the problems you are having with playing a Bach 2 Part Invention are mental and musical, not technical. I think it's the polyphony that is difficult for you.

If you were studying with me, I'd have you take a few steps back and have you play some of the Bartok Mikrokosmos Book 1 (transposing to all keys, of course). I'd have you sing one hand while playing the other (not so easy), and then I might have you play some of the Kunz Canons, again transposing, again singing & playing.

At that point, it would be time to start a 2 part Invention, and it's been my experience, that your perceptions would have changed and grown to the point where you could keep two distinct "voices" going at the same time.

Some of the 3 part inventions should follow, and then finally, it's time for the simpler fugues.

One pianist's opinion.


Well what I've been doing for the inventions is play one hand melody while humming the other hand to try to get into the habit of that 2 voice mode. I think it's working so far, but I'll take a look at those Bartok pieces you mentioned. Also I should have specified earlier that I've already learned his Inventions in C Major, D Minor, F Major, G Major, and A Minor (I can still play them to some extent), but I haven't actually learned any new Bach in a while.

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Bach's music is so different from Romantic or Classical pieces that it requires specific practice before it becomes easier. So it's not so surprising that your ability to learn Romantic music is more advanced.

Memorizing Bach is also more difficult for many people compared to music from other periods. I once attended a performance of some of the WTC where conservatory students each played just one P&F. They had a lot more memory problems than in a recital of non Bach music.


Well better late than never!

Last edited by RmntcPianoLvr; 07/05/18 08:55 AM.
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749483
07/05/18 09:41 AM
07/05/18 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by RmntcPianoLvr

Well what I've been doing for the inventions is play one hand melody while humming the other hand to try to get into the habit of that 2 voice mode. I think it's working so far, but I'll take a look at those Bartok pieces you mentioned. Also I should have specified earlier that I've already learned his Inventions in C Major, D Minor, F Major, G Major, and A Minor (I can still play them to some extent), but I haven't actually learned any new Bach in a while.

Why not work up the pieces you already know? Get them into pretty good shape that will help adjust your brain for learning new (to you) Bach. Some of the WTC is fairly easy and then some is really quite challenging. Why not start with one of the easier preludes and fugues from Book 1 (C minor?)? It'll give a bit different perspective from the two part inventions.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749485
07/05/18 09:47 AM
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For me, one of the difficulties of Bach is the way it is notated. You cannot just sight read it on the fly most of the time because you have to figure out which way the notes are distributed between the hands. There need to be more “user friendly,” practical versions in print where the hand distributions are clear.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: boo1234] #2749493
07/05/18 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Originally Posted by RmntcPianoLvr

Well what I've been doing for the inventions is play one hand melody while humming the other hand to try to get into the habit of that 2 voice mode. I think it's working so far, but I'll take a look at those Bartok pieces you mentioned. Also I should have specified earlier that I've already learned his Inventions in C Major, D Minor, F Major, G Major, and A Minor (I can still play them to some extent), but I haven't actually learned any new Bach in a while.

Why not work up the pieces you already know? Get them into pretty good shape that will help adjust your brain for learning new (to you) Bach. Some of the WTC is fairly easy and then some is really quite challenging. Why not start with one of the easier preludes and fugues from Book 1 (C minor?)? It'll give a bit different perspective from the two part inventions.


Because I already have worked those pieces up. When I finish learning a few more inventions, I will go back and run through everything I learned once more before moving on to the Sinfonias. And I think the WTC can wait for now, I want to go one step at a time. Sorry if what I said earlier was confusing, by "some extent" I mean that I can still play them pretty well, just not Glenn Gould level perfect if you know what I mean. But thanks for your suggestions, maybe I'll take up a prelude from the WTC after I finish some more inventions.

Originally Posted by boo1234
For me, one of the difficulties of Bach is the way it is notated. You cannot just sight read it on the fly most of the time because you have to figure out which way the notes are distributed between the hands. There need to be more “user friendly,” practical versions in print where the hand distributions are clear.


I have the Alfred version, where William Palmer gives lots of notes and articulation suggestions as to how to play the inventions. I don't agree with all of them, but it is certainly much better than just the notes by themselves!

Last edited by RmntcPianoLvr; 07/05/18 10:28 AM.
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749502
07/05/18 10:48 AM
07/05/18 10:48 AM
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My first piano teacher used to tell me "be scared and respectful the three german B : Bach, Beethoven, Brahms".
Busoni said "Bach is the basement" and Chopin, before his own performances used to play Bach.
quoting Schumann "let Bach be your daily bread". Here in italy we say "upon Bach there is God. And then Bach again."

I don't play excusively baroque music infact my last concert was abot etude tableaux op 39 scriabin 4 sonata and jeaux d'aux ravel, but i play every sunday Bach in a luteran church, from wtc to english suites three part inventions etc.
To me He's like a religion.Once you're deep into him, you'll find that there is no other composer with such a sense of proportion.Then you will find by yourself your personal way to play him, but you have to realize it is not a matter of technique, or fingering or anything like that.
Bach's music is for human brain like reset and powering for a computer: nothing better to start and end your musical day.
Just the effort to give different colors to the different voices of, for example, first fugue of wtc first book, will give you astonishing improvemt in your technique and mental control.(for those who think that we play mainly with our mind".
Practice him with devotion, this is my best advice to you.Good work.

PS: of course this is just my personal opinion.


where there is a will, there is a path
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749503
07/05/18 10:50 AM
07/05/18 10:50 AM
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Toronto, Canada
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I play a lot of church music with a group of people. The music of Bach is like a church hymn with 4-part harmonies. Our group would divide the music into 1st & 2nd violin, viola & cello. When you are playing a hymn, the most important is the top (melody) line and this is usually the only line the congregation will sing along. When you are playing a 4-part hymn on piano, you can usually play a simpler version with L-hand chords and just a 1-line melody.

The music of Bach has at least a 2-part harmony as in a 2-part Invention. In a fugue for organ you can get up to 5 parts including the lower bass you play with your foot. Can't simplify the music. And the parts are not always evenly divided between both hands. Sometimes the part in the middle can get tricky like a viola part going from low notes to very high notes. You have a part that is mostly played with the L and then notes cross over to the R.

Normally I'd break a piece into L & R parts and practice each individually before putting the 2 together. I'd even break a piece into small bits from 2 - 4 measures. Work on the R part and then insert the L. If I get into issues, I'd take the L off and just play the right, then the L separately and try putting the 2 together again. If you see more than 2 parts, you may need to work on each part individually and know each of them before putting them together. Start with very slow practice and gradually get the tempo up.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749570
07/05/18 04:09 PM
07/05/18 04:09 PM
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...forgot another thing that can be useful if you have access to an electronic keyboard, e.g., the Yamaha P-120 that I use for gigging. Set a tempo with a metronome at which you can play one of the voices - RECORD that voice into your keyboard. PLAYBACK that voice, and play the other voice with the other hand. This can help train your ear to listen to both voices.

You could do that with a flash recorder, e.g., Tascam DR-100, like mine, if you don't have access to a recording keyboard.
=========================================

I wonder if you also have difficulty playing 2 vs 3 rhythmic patterns, 4 vs 6, etc? In my experience the cognitive process involved in that sort of playing is similar to playing a 2 part invention in that bifurcating our attention between the hands and parts is necessary to do it.

Last edited by Seeker; 07/05/18 04:13 PM. Reason: Added another thought

Andrew Kraus, Pianist
Educated Amateur Tuner/Technician
Rockville, MD USA
www.AndrewKraus.com
www.YouTube.com/RockvillePianoGuy
Twitter at @IAmAPianist

1929 Steinert 6'10" (Close copy of New York S&S "B")
Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2749613
07/05/18 09:21 PM
07/05/18 09:21 PM
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I would recommend other than inventions, look at French suites, partitas, English suites before doing well tempered clavier. Also I do find it is useful to take a look at some videos of people like Schiff who talked about Bach and did masterclasses with people playing Bach.

I consider myself not a good Bach player as well, but as Bach is fundamental training for all classical pianists, we all have to go through a fair bit of Bach training. I find listening to his other works like cantata, St. Mathew's passion etc... gives you a better understanding of the baroque polyphony style. This is why people above recommend you to sing it out, so you can work out the melodic lines and phrase it more naturally while also playing the other.

I also think reading about Bach (for example: http://www.qub.ac.uk/~tomita/WTC2Psalm/index.html or http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicalofferings) gives you a better understanding of the work in relation to their context and background and what people think about the work. You may not always agree with them, but it can offer some additional insights about the work he did.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: allegro_concerto] #2749643
07/06/18 12:54 AM
07/06/18 12:54 AM
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Originally Posted by allegro_concerto

[...]I also think reading about Bach (for example: http://www.qb.ac.uk/~tomita/WTC2Psalm/index.html or http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicalofferings) gives you a better understanding of the work in relation to their context and background and what people think about the work. You may not always agree with them, but it can offer some additional insights about the work he did.


An excellent insight into Bach, his life and the personal circumstances and historical context surrounding many of his compositions is John Eliot Gardiner's book, Music in the Castle of Heaven, Penguin Books, London, 2013. It may not totally satisfy the pianists/keyboardists among us as Gardiner looks at Bach's works from his (Gardiner's) standpoint as a conductor which means that most of the focus is on Bach's orchestral and choral works rather than on his keyboard works.

Nevertheless, it is a very good, very detailed account of Bach's life, and it is worth the attention of anyone wanting to better understand Bach the musician and Bach the person.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: allegro_concerto] #2749722
07/06/18 09:47 AM
07/06/18 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by allegro_concerto
I

I also think reading about Bach (for example: http://www.qub.ac.uk/~tomita/WTC2Psalm/index.html or http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicalofferings) gives you a better understanding of the work in relation to their context and background and what people think about the work. You may not always agree with them, but it can offer some additional insights about the work he did.


Good read.


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Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: BruceD] #2749750
07/06/18 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by allegro_concerto

[...]I also think reading about Bach (for example: http://www.qb.ac.uk/~tomita/WTC2Psalm/index.html or http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicalofferings) gives you a better understanding of the work in relation to their context and background and what people think about the work. You may not always agree with them, but it can offer some additional insights about the work he did.


An excellent insight into Bach, his life and the personal circumstances and historical context surrounding many of his compositions is John Eliot Gardiner's book, Music in the Castle of Heaven, Penguin Books, London, 2013. It may not totally satisfy the pianists/keyboardists among us as Gardiner looks at Bach's works from his (Gardiner's) standpoint as a conductor which means that most of the focus is on Bach's orchestral and choral works rather than on his keyboard works.

Nevertheless, it is a very good, very detailed account of Bach's life, and it is worth the attention of anyone wanting to better understand Bach the musician and Bach the person.

Regards,
That book got rave reviews, and the pictures alone make it worth buying. I bought it but found it too difficult so I gave it to a friend who conducted church music for 65 years.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: allegro_concerto] #2750228
07/08/18 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by allegro_concerto
I would recommend other than inventions, look at French suites, partitas, English suites before doing well tempered clavier. Also I do find it is useful to take a look at some videos of people like Schiff who talked about Bach and did masterclasses with people playing Bach.

I consider myself not a good Bach player as well, but as Bach is fundamental training for all classical pianists, we all have to go through a fair bit of Bach training. I find listening to his other works like cantata, St. Mathew's passion etc... gives you a better understanding of the baroque polyphony style. This is why people above recommend you to sing it out, so you can work out the melodic lines and phrase it more naturally while also playing the other.

I also think reading about Bach (for example: http://www.qub.ac.uk/~tomita/WTC2Psalm/index.html or http://digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=musicalofferings) gives you a better understanding of the work in relation to their context and background and what people think about the work. You may not always agree with them, but it can offer some additional insights about the work he did.


From what the other comments said, I will definitely read that, so thanks for the link! Also, I had actually learned the Prelude in Bach's English Suite 2 in A Minor at one point, but I haven't played that one in a while. Maybe I'll learn the whole English suite after I get some more inventions and sinfonias down, and then move on to WTC, how does that sound?

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2750229
07/08/18 12:23 PM
07/08/18 12:23 PM
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Originally Posted by RmntcPianoLvr
[...]Also, I had actually learned the Prelude in Bach's English Suite 2 in A Minor at one point, but I haven't played that one in a while. Maybe I'll learn the whole English suite after I get some more inventions and sinfonias down, and then move on to WTC, how does that sound?


Depending upon both your experience and your comfort level learning and playing Bach, I think that the French Suites might be a better experience than the English Suites. Many of the English Suite movements are longer and certainly more difficult than those in the French Suites.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: pianoloverus] #2750231
07/08/18 12:35 PM
07/08/18 12:35 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus

I once attended a performance of some of the WTC where conservatory students each played just one P&F. Compared to a recital not including works by Bach, they had a lot more memory problems. It's possible that some of the students had a learned a particular P&F specifically for this concert, but it was still shocking to see how much difficulty students at a major conservatory experienced.


I haven't read this whole thread, but (in case not mentioned) there is a "spook" factor to Bach in conservatories. If one person has a memory slip performing early in the school year, everybody else is likely to until somebody breaks the curse. Strange phenomenum! blush


WhoDwaldi
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Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: BruceD] #2750248
07/08/18 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by RmntcPianoLvr
[...]Also, I had actually learned the Prelude in Bach's English Suite 2 in A Minor at one point, but I haven't played that one in a while. Maybe I'll learn the whole English suite after I get some more inventions and sinfonias down, and then move on to WTC, how does that sound?


Depending upon both your experience and your comfort level learning and playing Bach, I think that the French Suites might be a better experience than the English Suites. Many of the English Suite movements are longer and certainly more difficult than those in the French Suites.

Regards,


Yes I had just noticed that a few hours ago when I decided to go on Henle's site and see what ratings they were, and the English suites seem to be around level 6/7, while the French suites tend to be around 5/6. Which French suite is your personal favorite? I'm not really too familiar with them.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2750311
07/08/18 11:39 PM
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French Suite No. 5 is the most famous one... I have played all of 5 and 6 myself when I was younger, they are quite lovely and charming pieces to play.

Re: I Suck at Bach [Re: RmntcPianoLvr] #2750639
07/10/18 04:42 PM
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As a child, Bach was forced upon me: inventions, Klavierbüchlein, WTC, the works. It made me hate Bach, his portrait on one of my bookcovers didn't help...As an adolescent my father took me for 5 years to the St.Matthew Passion, it grew on me...As a student at conservatory there was no escape, all 48 and most of the partita's were standard litt. Now, as a 'mature' person (this is not serious) I regard Bach as the basis of all music that was written after his days, even before, we all now what Schumann and Chopin, and Beethoven and Mozart, and Mendelssohn and Wagner thought about him...Once I was asked to perform the Goldberg Variations, it was the fee that made me do it, shame on me!, but the homecoming feeling suddenly was there and never left, it is never easy to learn or perform Bach, but in the end nothing beats it, he makes us feel humble and happy (if we succeed).


Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, but not anymore!
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