Yesterday, I was greeted by the following riveting e mail:
“I’m so excited that I’m beginning to understand scale degrees.
“Can’t wait to be back at the piano to practice. Return late tonight.”
The adult student, into her 4th year of formal study with me, had decided to buckle down and integrate her theory knowledge with hands-on explorations of the music Masters. And at a pinnacle juncture of her learning process, she experienced the rush of “scale degrees” alongside our weekly phrase-loving exchanges.
It wasn’t long before I understood her new-found spurt of excitement. The crinkled hand-out that had formerly been a tag-along tucked away in a neat blue music folder, enjoyed a renaissance of interest because of its relevance to J.C. Bach’s A minor Prelude.
Here’s my playing sample, recorded at the El Cerrito teaching location where I bask in a divine acoustical space with a cathedral-high ceiling.
In this rendering, I play a series of sonorities that conspicuously thread through this composition. In the second reading, I unravel the chords in a harp-like sequence.
The composer’s ethereal Prelude in A minor is made of broken chords, best absorbed in a step-wise learning process that begins by blocking a chord on each note of the “A” Harmonic minor form scale. (My student had already been exposed to the same in C Major. She labeled chords by Roman numerals and identified them as “Major,” “minor” or diminished)
Yet, the chord symbols I had written into the J.C. Bach score, displayed “inversions” of sonorities with fancy annotated numbers. These required an illustration in real time of how they progressed separately, in the KEY universe of A minor, built on every Scale Degree in ROOT POSITION and then put though an assortment of positions.
Here, by example, is a videotaped chord primer for all my students.
Following this rudimentary exploration, the student experimented with various positions of chords as they might appear in her new, enticing Bach score. (PART 1) The composer’s manipulations of chords, incidentally, allowed him to flesh out a particular melodic line that seeped through the UPPER Note of these sonorities.
Such a newborn awareness of chord positions and melodic contour sent my student into ecstasy!
Example of Chord Inversions:
i chord–Minor A C E, Invert to C E A, then E A C (these carried their own assigned labels)
ii chord-Diminshed, B, D, F Invert to D F B, then F B D
III+ Chord-Augmented C E G# (and put through the inversion paces
iv chord-Minor D F A Invert to F A D then A D F
We went through each chord as it occurred on every degree of the A minor scale, experiencing timbre differences.
“A” minor scale-based chords weave through the Prelude’s first section A.
Yet my pupil had been confused, as mentioned, by chord symbols that showed the sonorities to be inversions from the ROOT position–Like IV 6/4 which meant the chord built on the fourth degree (D) of the harmonic minor form, was in a second position. Instead of D F A, it was A D F. Her epiphany, however tied to the realization that fundamental root position chords could have the same letter name content but in a different order.
Her e-mail to me now resonated with new meaning.
She eagerly raced home to practice her chords, inversions, and apply this knowledge to the realm of the heavenly Prelude. It was an exciting journey that she eagerly anticipated.
PS The B section would be the next exploration that bore harmonic complexity via “secondary dominants.”
RELATED VIDEOS of lessons-in-Progress which flesh out the theoretical dimension of this masterpiece and explore use of the supple wrist in producing the needed singing tone.
Prelude in A Minor by JC Bach