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Bach debacle
#2950494 02/23/20 11:54 AM
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Sometimes when I know a piece really well and sit down to perform it, my mind goes off somewhere but the fingers keep playing the piece and I'll find my place easily again once I look at the music. Somehow it doesn't happen that way in Bach. My mind wanders but my fingers go every which way AND I can't readily find my place. It happened to me yesterday when I played the Prelude 934 at a piano meetup. Of course it's a friendly and supportive group and they didn't think too much of it but I'm puzzled as to why the Bach goes bad. My teacher relays a similar experience (granted with a much harder piece) when she was in competition in college. Any ideas or better yet, remedies?


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950515 02/23/20 12:41 PM
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I know exactly how you feel. I’m learning my first true Bach piece (2 part invention #4) and have a similar experience. Once I get off track it’s hard to regroup since there is no obvious hook to get back to the music.

My teacher says this is very typical of Bach. She describes it as “nowhere to hide”. It you make a mistake it is obvious and not so easy to overcome. She also says this is why some performers may be more reluctant to play Bach pieces in public. I can see why haha.

One thing she suggested that might help is picking a lot of different places in the piece to start practicing, instead of from the beginning. That way if you get lost you may be close to a spot where you feel more comfortable regrouping.


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950520 02/23/20 12:47 PM
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It happens with Bach when playing from memory too. Get off just a bit, land on the wrong note, or flub a critical movement, and I am lost. Everything comes to a grinding halt. I have learned spots where I can pick it back up, but the continuity is broken at that point.

Sam

Re: Bach debacle
JJHLH #2950523 02/23/20 12:52 PM
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I liked the suggestion of starting at different places in the piece. I was also taught to pick and number "markers" in a piece in case there was a memory flub during a performance. My teacher would test my knowledge of the markers by calling out a random one to start at. It made me feel more comfortable in case I got lost. I could also see how getting lost would be very easy in Bach pieces.

Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950528 02/23/20 01:10 PM
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You really have to pay attention and concentrate. I tend to play on autopilot at times, and as the pieces become more complex, can no longer do this. You have to know where you are and where you’re going at all times. Then the ‘fatal errors’ will be minimized.


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Re: Bach debacle
JJHLH #2950531 02/23/20 01:11 PM
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Originally Posted by JJHLH
I know exactly how you feel. I’m learning my first true Bach piece (2 part invention #4) and have a similar experience. Once I get off track it’s hard to regroup since there is no obvious hook to get back to the music.

My teacher says this is very typical of Bach. She describes it as “nowhere to hide”. It you make a mistake it is obvious and not so easy to overcome. She also says this is why some performers may be more reluctant to play Bach pieces in public. I can see why haha.

One thing she suggested that might help is picking a lot of different places in the piece to start practicing, instead of from the beginning. That way if you get lost you may be close to a spot where you feel more comfortable regrouping.


I agree, make a single mistake in Bach and it's over. I played three of the inventions in a classical guitar duet, and I came to realize that everything had to be perfect or it fell apart. Perfection with one person playing is hard to achieve, it is even more difficult when there are two people. The job is made somewhat easier because you have fewer notes when playing in a duet, but you absolutely cannot make any mistakes. In one of the inventions, I had over 25 shifts, in just three pages of music. I decided to give up on playing Bach on the guitar and start piano lessons, where I am sure I will also run into a world of difficulties, but I won't have to schedule practice time with a duet partner, at least.

Last edited by LarryK; 02/23/20 01:11 PM.

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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950538 02/23/20 01:27 PM
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Yup...Bach invention is part of my learning stable. What helped:
1. Break the piece into phrases, each day work on a phase until you are confident with LH, RH, BH
2. Quarantine measures and loop
3. Play slow
4. Never spend more than 15 minutes per phrase. Move into other practice.
5. Then slowly build speed and rework quarantine measures.
6. Don’t forget the metronome!

I have learn to stick with the piece a lot longer until I milked all I can, and my limiting factor right now is the speed. Saying that, every 6 months I look back as I see my turnover has improved dramatically. I have turned from ‘I can’t stand learning a Bach invention’ to ‘ooh, which one should I do next?’...more curious now rather than fearful.

Last edited by Pianoperformance; 02/23/20 01:28 PM.

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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950550 02/23/20 01:54 PM
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Learning spots to carry on helps but even then Bach is tough. The finger gymnastics especially in more complex pieces make mistakes difficult to recover from. Use your 3rd finger instead of 2nd and you run out of fingers! For me, no more memorizing. I just found it too stressful.


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Re: Bach debacle
cagal #2950558 02/23/20 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by cagal
Learning spots to carry on helps but even then Bach is tough. The finger gymnastics especially in more complex pieces make mistakes difficult to recover from. Use your 3rd finger instead of 2nd and you run out of fingers! For me, no more memorizing. I just found it too stressful.


I read somewhere that he used a stick in his mouth to play more notes. Is that true? Try that!


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950560 02/23/20 02:15 PM
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Bach Inventions, keyboard suites (including English & French Suites) & partitas are intermediate level pieces. What I'd do when learning a piece is to divide them into sections. I'd work on each section individually. Next practice at the beginning of various measures. Pick a measure and start playing. When I start playing wrong notes in a performance, I can easily skip ahead to the next measure since I know how the next measure starts.

Bach 2-part Inventions are not exactly the easiest pieces to play because you have 2 similar melodies overlapping each other. They were written for Bach's advanced students. Bach wrote pieces that are even more technically challenging.

Over the years I played a few Bach pieces at various levels of difficulty. I don't think you can find an easier piece than the Minuet #3 in G from the Keyboard Suite BWV 822. Like many of the pieces in the Anna M Notebook, the bass line isn't very complicated with some chord arpeggios & scale runs. It's a beginner piece like the popular Minuet in G & Gm by C. Petzold.



While the 2-part Inventions are very challenging already, I'm working on the Counterpoint Fugue #1 BWV 1080. You won't come across a more complicated set of Bach pieces. The piece starts with 1 part and goes up to 4. Besides trying to tackle 4 parts with 2 hands, you have notes of various lengths overlapping each other. And there are notes that continue from 1 measure to the next making counting difficult. The piece is often played with a string or brass ensemble as 4 separate instruments. As always you'd start very slow until you learn all the notes. And you practice starting at various measures.

Here is a sample of the last 2 lines recorded with the keyboard at home with the organ sound:
Fugue #1 (ending sample)

Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950562 02/23/20 02:16 PM
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I think this is a commoner problem of the Baroque style so I do not think it is just in Bach. I do not think all Bach pieces have this problem so it depends on the music. I think generally as there was no dynamics in harpsichord so you have multiple textures (polyphony). The melody often weaves in and out of the right and left hands. There are long flowing textures. It therefore easier to lose the flow and harder to hide.

In comparison some later styles often have a simple tune in the right hand with the accompaniment in the left. You often have only one textures (homophonic) and often a simple chord pattern in the left. It is much easier to not lose your flow with this music. Mistakes can be easier to recover from. Whilst there may be other difficulties in later styles (dynamics / voicing / pedal etc.) I think the polyphonic style of baroque can make it easier to get lost. I have just started trying to learn baroque music again so I am hoping to gain something from playing music from this period.

Last edited by Moo :); 02/23/20 02:22 PM.
Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950616 02/23/20 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by WiseBuff
Somehow it doesn't happen that way in Bach. My mind wanders but my fingers go every which way AND I can't readily find my place.



I can so relate, the hundreds of repetitions I must do seem to only get the piece into muscle memory, and not into a more secure intellectual memory. think I made a mistake in my last Bach piece by learning the technical analysis late in the piece, for the specific purpose of being queried about it in an exam. I am going to try to reverse that process this year.


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950833 02/24/20 05:59 AM
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Thank you all for sharing your stories. Although it's good to know I'm not the only one, it's also frustrating to realize that Bach(or baroque) offers yet another unique challenge. I may try the piece again when the meetup is at my house and see if that eliminates one variable. I realize maintaining total concentration is at the core. I like the idea of marking sections and understanding the technical analysis. Bach, so deceptively simple sounding. Hahaha


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950839 02/24/20 06:24 AM
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Originally Posted by WiseBuff
Thank you all for sharing your stories. Although it's good to know I'm not the only one, it's also frustrating to realize that Bach(or baroque) offers yet another unique challenge. I may try the piece again when the meetup is at my house and see if that eliminates one variable. I realize maintaining total concentration is at the core. I like the idea of marking sections and understanding the technical analysis. Bach, so deceptively simple sounding. Hahaha


In the 2 parts invention but also in most others, at any given point there is usually a leading voice or a main voice; you can concentrate on making this one right, if you make a mistake in the other voices, just keep going steady on the leading one and regroup at the next marker.

Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950841 02/24/20 06:27 AM
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Reading this is quite re-assuring. I suspect I've got a fairly unique and weird perspective on this. I was a serious musician back in my 20's, but not piano or classical....a percussionist in popular/Jazz/experimental formats. Then in my early 30's I stopped being a musician.

Around 4/5 years ago (Im now 50) I started teaching myself piano....no teacher, with the express goal of learning some of my favourite Bach Piano works (I've been a listener/junkie of Bach since my early 20's) I didn't take a teacher because I didn't have much money and I felt I already knew what it means to practice an instrument. So off I jumped....learning Bach. (very odd way to learn an instrument so take what I say about Bach with a grain of salt!)

BUT....as I said, I feel re-assured reading this forum as I've also found maximum patience, repetition and anchor points in learning any Bach to be critical.

As for your 'mind going off somewhere', I would add something else that I haven't seen mentioned and maybe some will say is a bit esoteric, but you need to stay present with the unfolding music. In other words, you need to show up!!

In fact I'm convinced that it is this aspect of the music that makes us love Bach so much. It's as if Bach was saying, 'Listen, if you really want to play this music, sure get it under your fingers, but if you don't show up, it dies!'

Maybe what that means, in an attempt to put this admittedly esoteric idea in more concrete/practical terms, is that each voice, in fact each phrase needs to have a musical argument. In other words, you need to have a take on what you're going for with each phrase at any given moment. And if you know a piece so well that you can confidently say that you have a musical take at any given moment in the piece, then you're going to want to show up to execute it! If that makes sense.

I have so many other thoughts on Bach...on the wonder and sheer benefits of learning it. I definitely don't have a problem with finding the motivation or excitement to learn the next Bach piece! (nerd emoji)


Last edited by HC110; 02/24/20 06:32 AM.

So I say:

I have adopted this and made it my own: [clap clap]
Cut back the weakness, reinforce what is strong. [repeat]

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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950898 02/24/20 09:33 AM
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HC110 good insights. I, too, love Bach and want to bring it into my music and can feel that it brings new skill into my playing. Sometimes though, performing is a different experience. New piano, audience, expectations...etc. Thanks for your comments.


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950906 02/24/20 10:04 AM
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I relate so hard to this post! I find I can't let my concentration waver for an instant when playing most Bach pieces. The more "counterpoint-y" the piece, the more this is an issue, as my brain has to focus on more than one line. And it turns out my concentration muscle is quite weak.
Of course concentration matters no matter what I am playing, but with Bach there is "nowhere to hide" as JJHLH said above.

For me this is a big part of why Bach is so important, engaging and rewarding to work on.. And also frustrating smile

Last edited by barbaram; 02/24/20 10:05 AM.

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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2950945 02/24/20 11:32 AM
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Bach debacle = deBachle. laugh (can't believe no one caught that)

In all seriousness, I do think that this is a particular problem with Baroque music and Bach. While there is some great advice on how to practice Bach in this thread, I do think that something must be said for having experience in playing that kind of piece (invention, prelude, fugue, etc.). Each type of composition presents unique difficulties for the brain to figure out. With each new type you learn, it is creating new pathways in the brain that just take time to gel, and you may have to move on to 2 or 3 more before you notice things getting easier. So there's a lot of grace needed when learning a new type.

Also, because of how interwoven/contrapuntal Baroque music is, even a slight slip in concentration can be disastrous in a performance. I think the best thing to prepare is just put yourself in as many distracting situations and performances with that one piece as you can with the sole purpose of keeping your mind focused and not letting go of what you are doing right now and whats coming up in the new few seconds and let go of wrong notes in the past.

Since you already had one performance of this prelude, I recommend performing it again soon. I find the more times I perform a particular piece, the more comfortable it becomes, even if that performance didn't go so well. It's hard to change the mindset, but those bad performances are just learning experiences to help you perform this better in the future. smile


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Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2951038 02/24/20 03:06 PM
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I think the fugue style is the worst for this. Horrible.

Re: Bach debacle
WiseBuff #2951039 02/24/20 03:07 PM
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Can someone please explain what is a prelude, what is fugue and what is an invention. i believe the prelude goes before a fugue but dont know more than this. Thank you.

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