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Weaving Theory and Harmonic Rhythm into a piano lesson

The flow of harmony in and out of pieces should be a big part of a piano lesson. Yet it’s one thing to isolate chords in student a hand-out, but quite another to bring phrases to life with an infusion of harmonic rhythm awareness in the process of playing.

chords, Major and minor on every scale degree-2-2

In this video sample, a student who was previously oriented to the chords within C Major on every scale degree, phrased the opening of Mozart Sonata in C, K. 545 by blocking out the Left Hand and “feeling” the pull of dominant and sub-dominant chords. Their resolution respectively to TONIC, illuminated phrasing and line shaping.

These second video examples featured an overview of A minor chords within the natural and Harmonic form scales, and their relationship to each other as applied to J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor. Legato pedaling was an integrated dimension of the learning experience, though the student was not able to play during this class. Yet she still wanted to acquire a framing perspective of her piece to assist her practicing.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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A favorite Piano Prelude to play and teach

Randall and Nancy Faber came through with flying colors by including J.C. Bach’s Prelude in A minor in their Developing Artist Series Album, Early Intermediate Level. It’s definitely a winner with ear-catching appeal!


In a heart-melting opener to a more cognitive analysis of the composition, I play a series of sonorities that provide a lovely framing of “broken” chord sequences that characterize the Prelude’s melodic thread enriched by lush harmonies and modulations.

This particular composition, sounding Baroque but written in the Classical era, gives a student the opportunity to shape a musical line through a series of broken chords. As a preliminary, the player can block the sonorities to follow its harmonic scheme and rhythm. The Harmonic minor, for example, shimmers in the opening measures with a progression from E to F to G# to A. (the fifth degree of this scale meanders through to the tonic)

Beyond an analytic understanding of chord progressions, necessary phrase-shaping requires attentive listening, a supple wrist, relaxed arms, and consciousness about harmonic rhythm and resolutions.


In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar partial revisit of the opening A section. (Modulations are a more complex dimension of this piece that can be woven into a study of chords, progressions, and in this instance, Dominant/Tonic relationships.)

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are an important interpretive dimension.


One of my adult students who’s preparing to learn J.C. Bach’s hauntingly beautiful Prelude is studying the A Harmonic Scale and building chords on each degree. In an early tutorial I explored this underlying “chordal” dimension.”

To Back up—

In a Piano Lesson by Skype, I introduced the rudiments of A minor (Harmonic), building chords on each scale degree. In this early baby step approach, the student has also been assigned A minor chord INVERSIONS, which will be extended to inversions of the Sub-dominant (D minor) and Dominant (E Major). She was also made aware of the VII chord (diminished) and its unique tonal character.

Inversions of chords are part and parcel of the first section (A) of J.C. Bach’s Prelude–they afford smooth voice leading, while in part B, the broken chord thread contains leaps that would be best understood in the context of MODULATIONS and their meaning.

An A minor arpeggio playing was added to the prep mix, so the student would understand how a chord could unravel into a “broken chord” sequence though J.C. Bach’s composition does not require thumb under fingers shifts in its progressions.

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From El Cerrito with Love: a piano space with shimmering resonance blends the music of J.C. Bach with flowers and more (Video)

Johann Christian Bach’s Prelude in A minor swims around an exalted space in the East Bay. It can’t get any better, except for flowers and a musical feline that enhance the musical tapestry.

Bach’s composition is a stream of broken chords shared between the hands. Practicing the sonorities as a prelude to playing the composition as written is a first step in the learning process.

It helps shape phrases and taper cadences.

Once unraveled, the harp-like figures are a testament to beauty at its most divine level.

Johann Christian Bach:

“Johann Christian Bach (September 5, 1735 – January 1, 1782) was a composer of the Classical era, the eleventh and youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the London Bach’ or ‘the English Bach’, due to his time spent living in the British capital, where he came to be known as John Bach. He is noted for influencing the concerto style of Mozart.

“Johann Christian Bach was born to Johann Sebastian and Anna Magdalena Bach in Leipzig, Germany. His distinguished father was already 50 at the time of his birth, which would perhaps contribute to the sharp differences between his music and that of his father. Even so, his father first instructed him in music and that instruction continued until his death. After his father’s death, when Johann Christian was 15, he worked with his second-oldest half brother Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, who was twenty-one years his senior and considered at the time to be the most musically gifted of Bach’s sons.

“He enjoyed a promising career, first as a composer then as a performer playing alongside Carl Friedrich Abel, the notable player of the viola da gamba. He composed cantatas, chamber music, keyboard and orchestral works, operas and symphonies.
From Wiki

“Johann Christian’s highly melodic style differentiates his works from those of his family. He composed in the Galante style incorporating balanced phrases, emphasis on melody and accompaniment, without too much contrapuntal complexity. The Galante movement opposed the intricate lines of Baroque music, and instead placed importance on fluid melodies in periodic phrases. It preceded the classical style, which fused the Galante aesthetics with a renewed interest in counterpoint.”


Individualizing Piano Study