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How the heck do you memorize Bach?
#3031834 10/04/20 03:47 AM
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Seriously, how? I wanted to learn some easier invention but when I saw the sheet and tried to play it, I realized I´d lose my sanity quickly.
I am not talking about technical difficulties or interpretation but about the seeminlgy unrelated notes. A loot of notes. To me, every Bach looks like a bunch of random notes, scattered on the staves. It´s not for example like some easier Chopin´s waltz, where you learn the chords and the melody which has a clear structure and you can easily sing it (or hum it for us who can´t sing to save our lives).
I am already a poor memorizer, I keep the sheet in front of me all the time and sometimes I struggle to keep reading at faster tempi. Now, I don´t think it´s realistic to sight read or even read Bach at tempo since the voices are usually equally distributed among the hands and it´s quick and you can´t afford to lose your place in the sheet music even for a split of a second.

Can you please tell me the secret? How do I learn Bach?

Last edited by Tom97; 10/04/20 03:49 AM.
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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031837 10/04/20 04:14 AM
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Learning an Invention may be aided by learning its structure. For example an Invention may start with a melodic figure (subject) in the right hand and likely that subject is going to be the foundation of the piece, and will be used again and again throughout the Invention. Sometimes its going to be a straight out copy, perhaps in the left hand (perhaps in a different key), and at others it may be inversions of the subject, or even just parts of the original subject. Bach really plays around with such stuff, but this is immensely satisfying when you work it out. So I would start by taking an Invention and looking for recurring patterns.

Personally I found learning each hand separately to be the best way forward.

I also had an initial shock value when I first stepped up to Inventions, but learning to read/play at speed is no different to any other piece. Its just lots of practice.


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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031838 10/04/20 04:21 AM
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perhaps have a look at this



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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031839 10/04/20 04:23 AM
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Thats interesting because it relates to another discussion about the usefullness of understanding the structure of the music. Of course the notes are not random. There are compositional principles behind. Those are very different than the one used in some of the chordal pieces. There is no simple and easy way. Until you have more knowledge of how this works, You have to try to identify patterns and themes on each hand and then it takes time to assemble the two hands. In parallel you should take some courses to better understand how the music is written, so that the notes start to make sense to you. There are a number of tutorials online. If you have a teacher, he or she could spend some time with you to explain the piece.

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031840 10/04/20 04:26 AM
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There are theese things called sequencies, when you have a series o notes for example c d e d, and then you have the same pattern at anoher pith, say a 3rd above, e f g f, and then g a b a.

Bach uses that A LOT. Sometimes ascending, sometimes descending, sometimes with some slight variation in some of the patterns. If you learn to detect theese patterns and isolate them it helps a lot

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031862 10/04/20 06:30 AM
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I personally never memorise music so if it's difficult just use the sheet music. Bach inventions especially the three part need exact fingerings which makes it very hard to memorise. It would take a long time and I'm sure after a while will be forgotten. I would just play with the score and get through more baroque music Once you have played through polyphonic music it gets much easier. I think needs precision which is why even the easiest bach invention is probably grade 5 standard to the sinfonias which go to around grade 8

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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3031866 10/04/20 06:35 AM
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1. The RH and LH parts are not random notes. They are melodies so one can use aural memory to help memorize them.

2. It's very important to learn how to play with the sheet music and not have a problem looking back and forth between the music and the keyboard. i.e. not being able to find your place in the score. This takes practice, so if you avoid doing this it's hard to get better at it. If you have trouble doing this while playing the piece at full speed, I suggest practicing this while playing at slower than full speed. Or try doing this while playing only the part for one hand.

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
pianoloverus #3031910 10/04/20 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
1. The RH and LH parts are not random notes. They are melodies so one can use aural memory to help memorize them.

Yes, I like that.

There are different strategies I understand that people use to memorize. Whatever strategy you choose though, it has to be simple. You can't have an overload of information processing when you are getting up to tempo. It has to be simple. So, like here you have two melody lines to memorize. But, you won't actually need to memorize them completely and independently. Before you memorize of course, you should have the music up to tempo and note perfect, so by now you will be very familiar with it. You can feel how the melody lines intersect and as you proceed through the music it is sort of like, Just in Time Delivery, each step of the way is like a queue for what comes next. I have said before to focus on how it looks (physically on the register), feels (the fingering you are going to use has a feel to it) and how it sounds (our two melody lines in this case). It may sound like over simplicity (no cadences, chords, tonics to think about), but you won't have time for much more.

This is what I do and it works for me. The process is the same for any type of music, but particularly with Bach you'll have a lot to think about as it is.

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
pianoloverus #3032067 10/04/20 04:53 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
.

2. It's very important to learn how to play with the sheet music and not have a problem looking back and forth between the music and the keyboard. i.e. not being able to find your place in the score. This takes practice, so if you avoid doing this it's hard to get better at it. If you have trouble doing this while playing the piece at full speed, I suggest practicing this while playing at slower than full speed. Or try doing this while playing only the part for one hand.

I found this an important habit to use, and I think the Inventions really started me off doing this more and more.


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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3032085 10/04/20 06:13 PM
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I memorized the c minor prelude and fugue from WTC 1 and the c minor fantasia, and performed them in front of an audience. That was tough. But you do it a little at a time. The notes are not unrelated at all - far from it. There is a detailed structure to everything. Recognize the patterns, the chords, the sequences - know what is going on. You also need to decide on a fingering early on, and stick to it. Nothing is worse than constantly changing your fingering. Memorize the movement of the hands as well as the structure and use mnemonic prompts to help you remember.

This is all assuming that you really need to memorize it. I had to for the school I was enrolled in. If you don't have to memorize it, learn to play it first from the page - then later commit it to memory if you want to.

Sam

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
earlofmar #3032237 10/05/20 06:05 AM
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Originally Posted by earlofmar
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
.

2. It's very important to learn how to play with the sheet music and not have a problem looking back and forth between the music and the keyboard. i.e. not being able to find your place in the score. This takes practice, so if you avoid doing this it's hard to get better at it. If you have trouble doing this while playing the piece at full speed, I suggest practicing this while playing at slower than full speed. Or try doing this while playing only the part for one hand.

I found this an important habit to use, and I think the Inventions really started me off doing this more and more.


Yes, being dependent on memorizing and not being able to play anything I dont memorize seems like a terrible idea.
Cory Hall in one of his videos gave brilliant advice on how to read music-one shouldnt move her neck when switching from the score back to the keybord, it should only be movement with your eyes. It looks like it helps quite a bit... I need to work on developing this good habit for sure

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3032269 10/05/20 08:34 AM
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I don't like to think of any method for memorizing applies only to Bach. The last 2 pieces I learned were not by him but I can play them from memory. Bach tend to write pieces with 2 or more voices so some people think you need to learn different parts individually and then put them together. This is 1 way of learning but not the only way.

1. Ear training: I belong to a music group and would practice music with other people. When I'm at home, I would play the same pieces I'm learning against recordings. There are online recordings you'd listen to a few times. Once you have a piece in your head, you can play against a recording.

2. Muscle memory: Once I learned a piece by reading, the next step is to repeat the finger sequences many times. All I'm concerned with is fingerings. My ear would tell me if the notes sounded correct or not.

3. Looking for repeated patterns: every piece has repeated patterns. Once you know how sections are repeated like the same notes moving up or down the scale. WTC prelude is a common student piece. You hold the first 2 notes and play 6 others on top all the way through.

The last Bach piece I learned was a 4-part fugue. It's too tedious to learn each part separately and put them together. I relied mostly on muscle memory and hearing to get the right notes. It's a slower piece so I don't have trouble playing against an online version to check for accuracy. A while back I played the first movement of the Italian Concerto in F at a Christmas gathering. Playing a 4m piece from memory wasn't a big issue. There are a lot of repetitions in the piece so once you learn a few notes in the beginning of a section, the rest is more or less repeats of the same pattern using different notes.

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3032362 10/05/20 02:45 PM
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Tom it maybe just that bach 2 part inventions are too difficult. if bach inventions are too difficult then maybe start with easier bach or baroque pieces. You could play bach little preludes for example. I was playing henle level 6-7 pieces with my teacher and am post grade 8 standard now but when I started baroque it was necessary to start at a much lower level. Despite experience and I'm sure I played baroque as a child for grade 6 it was tricky but once learnt it opens up a lot the music. It is why it can help to learn music from the different time periods. this polyphonic baroque music and is not so common in other periods so you might miss skills if you don't play anything from this period. Of course you could find later music in this style mendelssohn preludes and fugues opus 35 is epic and everyone by law should play this smile

Last edited by Moo :); 10/05/20 02:51 PM.
Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3032434 10/05/20 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom97
Seriously, how? I wanted to learn some easier invention but when I saw the sheet and tried to play it, I realized I´d lose my sanity quickly.
I am not talking about technical difficulties or interpretation but about the seeminlgy unrelated notes. A loot of notes. To me, every Bach looks like a bunch of random notes, scattered on the staves. It´s not for example like some easier Chopin´s waltz, where you learn the chords and the melody which has a clear structure and you can easily sing it (or hum it for us who can´t sing to save our lives).
You're EXACTLY right. Bach is writing polyphonic (more than one voice singing the melody). He is not writing a melody with accompanying chords. It's useful to think of whatever "chords" there are as the (primarily) the product of voices singing together.

As to learning, the colored highlighting of a Bach 2 part invention posted by earlofmar could be instructive for you. What I do when I learn music like this is to play a phrase (usually 2 or 4 bars) in the leading hand (the one that starts the voices first). I get that into my head, eyes, ears and hands. Then I do the same with the other hand. Then comes the fun part - playing them together which I recommend doing at 50% speed of the comfortable hands separately speed. If your brain works like mine, you'll eventually be bifurcating your focus so that you can run the two hands SEPARATELY in your head while playing them together. This takes time to develop. In the beginning you'll more likely switch your focus from one hand to the other. You might try playing the leading hand louder until the trailing hand comes in at which point play the trailing hand louder.

Eventually, your brain learns the trick, and you can do it. It's kind of like riding a bicycle, something I can do, or ice skating or skiing, which I can't do.

Hope this is helpful to you.


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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3033458 10/08/20 03:19 PM
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You need to learn the baroque period of music writing. My teacher studied Bach in his masters. Bach was a virtuoso of his time and music grammar was very strict, especially as you transition from one scale into another. So what appears random and convoluted...to a Bach student, it makes sense! Above my play grade, but Bach has improved my sight reading to no end, and confidence. I never memorize any pieces as I am still learning music theory, let alone the ones governing the baroque period. Persevere, the sinofinas are beautiful.


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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3033482 10/08/20 04:07 PM
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2-part Inventions are pieces Bach wrote for his students. They are difficult but at a lower level technically than other Bach pieces. You're basically playing 1 part (1 note at a time) with the L and the other part with the R. You get to other Bach pieces you find all sorts of overlapping notes. Once you hold a note down, you only have 4 fingers available to play the other overlapping notes. And some pieces you'd change finger for the note you're holding to keep the sequence going.

Whether I learn a piece by Bach or any other composer, I'd find a way to memorize notes & finger sequences (including muscle memory). In the beginning I'm more concerned with learning the notes and the sequence they come in. I don't try to learn each part separately. I'd draw rectangles next to each other on paper to represent each beat and write the letter of the notes on them so I can the order the notes are played.

I don't treat learning a Bach piece any different than any other piece. Once I found a good way to learn a piece, I can use the same approach to learn other pieces. I think of different pieces as having fewer or more notes to learn. Can't say Bach pieces are more difficult to learn than those by other composers. Bach's music involve overlapping parts while other composers wrote pieces that require the hands to jump around quickly like Liszt's piano arrangement of the Paganini piece "La Campanella".

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3034473 10/11/20 12:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom97
Can you please tell me the secret? How do I learn Bach?

This is what my teacher advised -and it has worked well for me.

Sing. Angela Hewitt, a great performer of Bach, said in a masterclass recently that she practices Bach for 6 hours a day and she is singing 6 hours a day.

Play each voice separately and sing it. For 2-part inventions, identifying voices is straight-forward. Left hand is one voice and Right hand is another voice. So, if you play each hand separately and sing it, figure out where the melody starts and ends. Figure out where the breaks are for breathing. Only after the melody for each voice is in your head where you can sing it all the way and you can play it all the way through hands alone, work on combining both hands together.

Osho

Last edited by Osho; 10/11/20 12:21 PM.

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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Osho #3034594 10/11/20 06:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Osho
she is singing 6 hours a day.

Is this true? Not an exaggeration?

As a person who has studied voice, I can tell you this is a horrible thing to do!!


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Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
AZNpiano #3034613 10/11/20 07:33 PM
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Originally Posted by Osho
she is singing 6 hours a day.

Is this true? Not an exaggeration?

As a person who has studied voice, I can tell you this is a horrible thing to do!!

Most people would be hoarse after 6 hours of singing. The vocal cords would form nodules.

The only way I can "sing" in polyphony is to do it in my head.

Re: How the heck do you memorize Bach?
Tom97 #3034630 10/11/20 08:27 PM
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i think that Angela Hewitt isn't "singing", in the sense that a singer would use that word.

. . "Humming" might be a better word.

There are recordings of Glen Gould playing Bach, in which his humming is clearly audible. So AH isn't the only pianist who does it.


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