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Piano Technique: Be a Blockhead when learning Bach

block head

Blocking techniques can help to solidify tricky passages in Bach’s A minor Invention (13), especially if intelligent decisions are made about landscaping broken chords with thumb shifts weaving through them. Examining measures 9 through 13 for example, I devised a blocking routine that helped me gain note security while contouring phrases with a supple wrist. In the practicing phrase I unraveled chord blocks as I followed my thumb’s journey through threads of arpeggiated figures.

Bach Invention 13 block m 9 on

Exploring harmonic rhythm/ modulations, etc. integrated with a “feel” for keyboard topography advances learning on tactile, cognitive and affective levels. Blocking groups of notes, unraveling them, and using rhythms such as the dotted-8th/16th figure advance accuracy and phrase-shaping.

All the aforementioned block/learning strategies have significantly assisted students who are studying this Invention.


Play through in tempo

3 thoughts on “Piano Technique: Be a Blockhead when learning Bach”

  1. Hi, Shirley,

    I have a very different approach to fingerings on this particular piece. While the fingerings shown is basically what I was taught when I was a young student, I began feeling, after acquiring a harpsichord, that fingerings must serve the phrasing.

    I think it is agree that phrases begin not on the beat, but they end on beats. To establish such phrases, I devise fingerings that may not seem obvious at first.

    In the above example, the fingerings appear ergonomic, but the performer must think of phrasing separately. I present you an alternate finger that makes phrasing just about automatic:

    Measure 9, RH:
    5 5 3 5 | 2 3 1 2 | 3 2 | 3 5 |

    Measure 10, RH:
    4 5 3 5 | 2 3 1 2 | 3 2 | 3 5 |

    Measure 11, RH:
    4 5 4 5 | 2 4 1 2 | 1 5 | – 4 2 4 |

    At first, this seems ludicrous. In Measure 10, why would anyone go from 4 to 5, when going down a third?

    The answer is simple. The first note of measures 9 and 10 are at the end of the phrase, and shifting the hand to play the next phrase forces phrasing to occur naturally and automatically.

    The use of thumb was a relatively new idea when the piece was composed. It is actually quite possible to play all the inventions without the thumb, but it requires shifts as described above to accomplish it. But again, it occurred to me that such shifts may well have been intended, and fits the music quite well.


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