Mikrokosmos 1: Complete Practice Guide (2/2)

And we’re back for more Bartok!

Today’s video is part 2 of the Mikrokosmos 1 tutorial series – be sure to check out the first part if you missed it.

This collection of tunes is suitable for the relative beginner (not the complete beginner, like the first part of this series) – some of them are quite challenging, but all within the Prep/Grade 1 range.

Here’s a link to the sheet music to Mikrokosmos (link to purchase the book is below). Note that Bartok’s music isn’t public domain in all countries, so always observe the law where you live.

Let’s get into the lesson notes!

22. Imitation and counterpoint

Really watch the phrasing in the second line of this short piece – make sure you lift your fingers to let the phrases breathe, and watch that you aren’t dragging any notes through the quarter rests.

This piece is in a 5-finger position and a moderate tempo, which is a good canvas for practicing imitation and basic counterpoint, two very difficult techniques.

23. Imitation and inversion (1)

You’ll notice something cool when you analyze this piece. Look at the first line: the first RH phrase and second LH phrase are identical, and the first LH phrase is identical with the second RH phrase. If you were to draw a line to connect the repeated parts, it would form an X. The same is true for line 2, with a slight change to end the piece.

If you’re wondering why some of these pieces sound so strange, abstract and sometimes unpleasant, it’s because they’re built in this manner. Imitation ain’t always pretty.

24. Pastorale

Take note of the key signature: 3 sharps means A major. Make sure to play every C, F, and G as a sharp (even when it sounds weird).

This piece doesn’t use imitation, but the parts are still independent enough that you could imagine someone singing the top voice, and another person the bottom voice. Remember, even though some of the notes sound strange (this one for me especially), this is training for splitting your brain (not literally) and being able to move your hands independently.

25. Imitation and inversion (2)

The first two lines are pure imitation – the LH is always two beats ahead of the RH, and they use the same notes, only an octave apart. In the third line, this exact imitation continues but this time the RH takes the two-beat lead. The fourth and final line returns to having the LH in the lead, but the pattern continues.

Note the key signature of one sharp – F#.

Here we’re still in a 5-finger position, which makes learning these imitations much more doable. This is good (VERY preliminary) preparation for Bach and the big guns of Baroque.

26. Repetition (2)

This time, we’re looking at imitation a bar apart, and not using the exact same notes in each hand (the RH starts on D, the LH starts on A).

One challenge of this piece is maintaining the integrity of the phrases. Make sure to let the phrases breathe by lifting your fingers at the ends of phrases, so create a break in the continuity of sound.

27. Syncopation (2)

This is a great, simple study in syncopation. With a tempo of 96 and nothing faster than a quarter note, you have plenty of time to think about how the ties across the bar line alter the rhythm and create “syncopation” (a shift in what we consider regular rhythm). Be sure to master it here, because the going is about to get a whole lot tougher.

28. Canon at the octave

This canon is exactly what it sounds like: an octave apart. This isn’t a strict imitation, so be careful when you’re reading the notes that you’re observing all the little changes.

Give full length to the half rests – don’t be dragging the previous note through them – keep them nice and tidy and empty!

29. Imitation reflected

Now this is an abstract-sounding piece. Why do you suppose it’s called Imitation Reflected?

Answer: It’s an imitation that moves in contrary motion, as opposed to the parallel motion imitations of the previous several pieces. Basically it means that if your RH goes up, your LH goes down. Not at the same time – that would be too easy. But in a delayed manner appropriate to Canons and imitations.

Also note that while the RH is wild with its F# and G#, the LH has no sharps of its own (the main reason this piece sounds so bizarre).

30. Canon at the lower fifth

By now you can probably interpret the meaning of this title. If your first RH note is C, then your LH is going to start on the lower 5th – in this case, G. (Since this piece is in the key of C, you have to think forward through the scale: C is the starting note, and G is the 5th note of that scale, even though if you count it backwards, from C DOWN to G, it’s a 4th).

This piece is surprisingly pretty, given that Mikrokosmos 1 is, in general, rather atonal. Watch the rhythms especially in measure 7+8 (and any time that pattern repeats), because it creates syncopation.

31. Dance in canon form

Here we go, now we’re getting to the good stuff!

This piece is fast, and that’s not the only challenge. You have all kinds of accents (the triangle shapes) to look out for, which means to press the accented note a little louder. It’s all well and good when the accents line up in both hands, but when the LH has an accent and the RH doesn’t, the temptation is to do the same weight in both hands. Learning to do an accent in just one hand is a challenge not to be taken lightly!

Build this piece slowly, phrase by phrase, getting a feel for the rhythm hands separately before attempting it together. This one might take more work than some of the others, but it’s worth it because it sounds really groovy.

32. In Dorian mode

I don’t really like modes – I can’t explain it, it’s just one of those rebellious things. I prefer the standard scales in major and minor keys – modes are strange and aren’t really used anymore (at least not in the music I like to listen to and play). If you really want to know what a Dorian mode is, I highly recommend Wikipedia.

My own irrationalities aside, there are a few cool things in this piece. First, it’s in the time signature 3/2, which translates to 3 (top number) half beats (bottom number) in each bar. There’s some syncopation here too, building on lesson #27. If you’re having trouble feeling the rhythm, just keep in mind that there is a steady quarter note rhythm until the 7th bar – the way the RH and LH lines up means there will be a note played on every beat. On bar 7 and 8, you get a break from that relentless beat.

To me, the biggest challenge here is what I’ve already mentioned – the syncopation. Read your notes and interval distances carefully.

33. Slow dance

Don’t think of this piece as the kind of slow dance you did in grade school – this isn’t a ballad. This still has a pretty strong dance beat permeating throughout, but just at a slightly more moderate tempo (andante means walking speed).

You’ll notice a lot of repetition of notes and patterns in the LH – but the patterns change in small, subtle ways that can be easy to miss, so read your notes carefully (Do I say that every time? Because I should.)

34. In Phrygian mode

Of all the pieces in this collection, this one took me the longest to get the hang of. It might be because modes are my nemesis, but there are a few things going on here – first, don’t be fooled by “calmo” – yes, you don’t want to sound rushed when you play this, but this isn’t a slow or mellow piece.

The best way to learn this piece is to break it down into digestible chunks. I divided mine up like this:
Measure 1 – 8
Measure 9 – 13
Measure 14 – end

By doing this, you’ll start to hear the patterns emerge, even if you don’t immediately see them on the page. Good luck!

35. Chorale

Since chorales are awesome, we get nice, long breaks between phrases to figure out our next step. Because of the ties that cross the bar line (creating syncopation), playing this hands together might be more difficult than it initially appears, but the tempo is manageable and honestly, I find this piece to be a reprieve after the intensity of #34 (and the final one to come).

36. Free canon

Free canon, anyone? Sorry, this title gives me entertaining mental images.

What it actually means is that the piece is written in canon form (go figure), but it’s written less strictly (you could probably figure that out by yourself as well). The LH copies the RH for the most part, but occasionally goes off on its own tangent.

Since this piece contains random and wide interval leaps, imitation and syncopation, it’s definitely one of the most difficult in the book. Luckily it sounds decent!


And that is all, my friends. Hope you enjoyed this tutorial on Bartok’s Mikrokosmos 1, a valuable collection for learning canons and imitations at a beginner level, where there aren’t a lot of materials to do as such.


Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.