Who's afraid of Bach? 👀

Some people love to play Bach and consider learning his pieces a life-long process; others are afraid to touch his music! 🙀

Not so much because they're afraid of being "incorrect" but because the music can be so deep. Personally, I have learned the Chaconne more than 10 years ago but never felt that it was ready to be performed live. Especially when I heard what Ricardo Gallen did with the whole Suite: Apparently, the concert was lit only with a couple of candles, and after each movement, he blew out a candle. Right before the Chaconne, the last candle was extinguished and he played this monumental work in complete darkness. I mean ... how much cooler can it get?

  • Should beginners play Bach?
  • Should one be schooled in Baroque performance practice to take it on?
  • What about transcriptions for the guitar: are there better or worse ones, and why?
  • Should they stay close to the original instrumentation or be adapted to the guitar's unique qualities?
  • Should we do our own transcriptions? 

This topic was suggested by a fellow tonebase community member and we thought this would be an interesting starting point for the DISCUSSION OF THE WEEK! If you have a topic that you want to be featured, simply write me a DM here in the Community 🧙‍♂️

I remember talking to Emma about the unwritten rules that exist in performing music by Bach. The main takeaway was that it's of course nice to be fluent in the language of baroque interpretation. But Bach certainly would be happy to know that his music will be performed until the end of days 🌟

PS: I've added some secondary sources on historical performance practice. To be honest, I have them on my computer and look at them VERY rarely, so don't be afraid to save them and don't learn the intricacies by next week 🤡

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  • Most of Bach's music is rather challenging to play on the guitar, so we guitarists tend to wait to play it until our technique is fairly well-developed. My guess, however, is that Bach wrote some music for keyboard, violin, cello, etc., that is relatively easy on those instruments and which is given to students during the early stages of learning the instrument. Could someone with some experience on another instrument confirm or deny this?

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Eric Phillips I'd like to invite Brett Gilbert to this conversation since he's probably more informed about accessible Bach pieces than me! But generally I would agree, many of Bachs keyboard works were written specifically with a methodical background (and his son Carl Phillipp Emmanuel Bach wrote an instructional book which I attached to this post).

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      • Brett Gilbertnull
      • Piano and classical guitar
      • Brett_Gilbert
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Thanks Martin !  Sorry I've been focused on piano🎹 side this month (and hand still recovering😒), but I'll be back at guitar hopefully next month (maybe the challenge will be easier 😉)

      My first "real" piano pieces as a child were indeed from the Anna Magdalena notebook.  I was pretty obsessed with Bach from a young age!  From there I moved on to the "intermediate" works such as the Inventions.  That's a pretty standard progression for pianists.  Not sure there is an equivalent path for Bach on guitar.

      When I started learning guitar my first thought was "when can I play Bach!".  Late last year I started to seriously study the 1st cello suite but still think I jumped ahead too fast and got in over my head.  Perhaps I should have looked for transcriptions of simpler pieces.  When I resume my guitar playing I have to decide whether to pick-up on the cello suite or go back to "basics" a bit longer.  Probably I'll have to backtrack a bit after 3 months away from the guitar. 

      I just noticed I have a "Bach Performer" label.  Woo hoo, thanks!🎉

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    • Brett Gilbert I find that amazing that you were obsessed with Bach from a young age. I really wish I had been exposed to this music in my formative years. I was too busy listening to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.

      And, yes, I too seem to have the label "Bach Performer" next to my name! I didn't notice it until I read your post above. Can I use that on a resume?

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    • Jack Stewart
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    • Jack_Stewart
    • 2 yrs ago
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    I believe there are several, if not many, pieces by Bach that are appropriate for 1st year guitarists. Much of the Anna Magdalena book works well as transcriptions. 

    There are definitely grades of transcriptions. I think a transcription should, ideally, be historically informed, at least to some extent. But Bach altered compositions when he transcribed them for other instruments so I don't think making appropriate adjustments to accommodate the guitars strengths or 'shortcomings' are wrong.

    Ultimately a 'good' transcription is one that I will play and that assessment will vary as I become more informed and proficient.

    I have not done many transcriptions but it is a great learning experience. So, yes we should do transcriptions, as a learning tool if for no other reason.

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Jack Stewart Fantastic answer, Jack, thank you! That's a very important point that Bach altered the compositions himself when he was adjusting those to a different instruments.

      Jan Depreter has a beautiful recording of transcriptions of Anna-Magdalena's book: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Sbi9HEWHu4e9UDJyTgBrh?si=B6lhy7u7RQ-FqBBze9uLlA

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      • Brett Gilbertnull
      • Piano and classical guitar
      • Brett_Gilbert
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Do either of you have recommendations for guitar transcriptions of Anna-Magdalena notebook?  They are simple enough where I assume they can be almost identical to the keyboard versions so probably pretty straight-forward.

      I spent some time researching the transcriptions for 1st cello suite late last year but I think I'm not quite ready for it technically.  Still, I found it interesting to compare different "arrangements" of the cello suites (where a few notes of polyphony are added) but in the end actually preferred Richard Wright's transcription which is close to the original Cello score.   I especially like his fingerings which use Campanella effectively, although I'm sure there are varied opinions about how "appropriate" that effect is for Bach.

      Like 1
    • Brett Gilbert I have a few pieces from Anna Magdalena in a small book called Best of Bach (transcribed by Joseph Castle, published by Mel Bay Productions). I played one Anna Magdalena piece from that book (a minuet) and posted it in the week one thread.

      I also know that Blaise Laflamme has a book with just the Anna Magdalena Notebook for guitar. It is also published by Mel Bay, but transcribed by Jerry Tertocha.

      I looked up both books and Amazon, and there are more recent editions than the two pictured below.

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      • Brett Gilbertnull
      • Piano and classical guitar
      • Brett_Gilbert
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Thanks Eric Phillips , I will seek those out when I resume my guitar playing.  There is so much activity in both piano and guitar for this month's challenge it's too much for me to follow both forums let alone participate in both!

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Brett Gilbert Damn tonebase, offering so much stuff for our members! 😂

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  • I have played some from him. I love him and am afraid of him too :)

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
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      Giao Pham That's a very appropriate approach,I guess, haha! 🧙‍♂️ What pieces by Bach did you play?

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    • Martin I tried Allemande, Ave Maria (/Gounod), Prelude in D minor, and eyeing with fear :) on some parts of Chaconne.

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Giao Pham That's AWESOME!!! If you want to approach the Chaconne more carefully, you can always read into the Sarabande! It shares (among the rhythmic accentuation on the second beat) a lot of the characteristics without the complete madness of 14min running over your fret board!

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      • Brooke
      • Brooke
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Martin I take the Chaconne like its 3 or 5 separate pieces and am happy to try to just get through 1 or 2 sections.  There is so much to learn and be enriched by, even in parts.  It still informs your other playing.   Take what you can, use what you can!

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    • Martin Thank you MUCH, Martin.

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    • Brooke
    • Brooke
    • 2 yrs ago
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    • Should they stay close to the original instrumentation or be adapted to the guitar's unique qualities?

    I find myself challenged to be creative beyond what is already written.  Its pretty incredible as is.  However, ornamentation does allow for some personal taste.  I am not a purist in terms of trying to match every aspect of a written score.  If I struggle with a passage, I will look for ways around the problem and even (gasp) leave out notes.     There's an expression..... "eh, close enough, for rock and roll!"

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Brooke There is absolute no shame in that, I've been guilty of doing the same, there's nothing to win when a performance becomes a struggle! 

      Ornamentations are a beautiful way of personalize a performance, that's true! On the guitar I feel that sometimes it's very hard to improvize them since you really need to change a fingering for a certain style, but sometimes it works and I bring in a spicy trill!

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    • Palmer
    • Palmer
    • 2 yrs ago
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    I think beginners should definitely play Bach. And not be afraid of it and mythologize it. Even if it's a long range project, a Bach piece can teach you so many things. And as you progress, you can get into it in a deeper way.

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Palmer Oh, "mythologize" is a wonderful description of what happens when someone is facing Bach! You're absolutely right, nobody gains anything from NOT touching Bach's music! How did Bach's music help you progress?

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      • Palmer
      • Palmer
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Martin Because Bach didn't write on the guitar, I found the greatest progress in playing shapes, phrases and harmonies that weren't guitaristic. I think Baroque music in general is great for giving one a very different experience in both the left and right hands.

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    • Celeste
    • Celeste
    • 2 yrs ago
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    So here's another question for people: since Bach didn't write for guitar, who do you listen to when learning Bach? I play some of the 1st Cello Suite BWV1007(I'm considering a new edition for all but the Prelude) and the Prelude to BWV998 (Prelude, Fugue and Allegro). I found myself more drawn to listening to cellists for the1007 in spite of the fact that it's not a sound we can imitate. And for BWV998 I was surprised to find that some of the performances I've liked best in terms of phrasing and interpretation were on harpsichord (which I suppose shouldn't be surprising given that it was written for keyboard). Of course still play these pieces on guitar, and love to listen to them on guitar, but just enjoy the subtle differences of interpretation on the original instruments.

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    • Peternull
    • Peter.5
    • 2 yrs ago
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    I can play the Sarabande, Gavottes and learning the allemande Fromm 995 now. Tempo needs some work but I have that going now. I have watched Jason Vieux play them and the was helpful. The Chaconne,,,, 1007 prelude too.

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      • martinTeam
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      • martin.3
      • 2 yrs ago
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      Peter Awesome! Let us know in the updates thread, too!

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