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Piano Lesson: What I learned from an adult student about Bach Invention 4 in D minor (VIDEOS)

invention 4 p 1

Today was an ear-opener, though I admit to having had a set of preconceived ideas about this Bach composition. (in two-part counterpoint)

Just from having studied it myself, parceling out each separate voice in a step-wise, layered approach, I could impart what I learned as a self-delivered lecture.

But the ingredient, of adding a student to the mix in a shared learning environment, brought a birth of new ideas that might otherwise have remained below the surface.

I’ve often heard students thump the downbeat, or the first impulse of any new measure. The same might be said of playing a complete 8 note scale. Pupils often attack the top note, or squeeze it unnaturally. The turnaround, on descent gets choked.

In today’s lesson, my student and I realized rather quickly that the opening SCALE of the D minor Invention was NOT COMPLETE. The top note, or “tonic” never arrived. In fact Bach was so cunning as to drop from the highest Bb (scale degree 6) to C# (scale degree 7) (In this Invention, he never ascends 8 consecutive notes up in a standard scale sequence) what he does is UNEXPECTED.

What did this asymmetry create? My student and I had to confer.. (NOT all was covered in the embedded video extract)

We discovered back and forth, that the hanging Bb dropping DOWN to the 7th scale note C# (the leading tone) was an emotional moment not to be passed over.

In fact it was so INTRINSIC to BACH’s SUBJECT or MAIN IDEA. It created a certain tension– yet the player should not attack the descending note, but rather LIFT it UP, phrasing over the measure without an obtrusive accent.

The duality of the subject with its stream of scale-wise 16ths paired with detached 8ths, was more to investigate.

In fact a harmonic component was not only imbued in the scale segment, but more conspicuously in the broken-chord pattern 8th notes–second portion of the subject. These 8ths spelled out distinct harmonies that begged for resolution at desired points in the music. The Diminished chord, measure 4, as example, needed to be shaped down to resolving note D in measure 5.

In this video, which gets into the meat of our lesson, the whole area of melodic contouring and harmonic rhythm reach into the very essence of effectively practicing the Invention in the early, foundational, learning stage.

Our work certainly, opened my eyes and ears to what appeared in the score, though listening to my student, even over SKYPE (on her digital keyboard) brought awakenings that made my teaching more articulate with an enduring value for both of us.

In Tempo (feel ONE beat per measure)


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