In today’s PianoTV tutorial, we’re going to look at Minuet in G Minor, Anh. 115, from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. We’ve done it’s happier major twin on this channel before, so check it out if you missed it.
We’re going to talk about the backstory of this Minuet in G Minor tutorial, listen while following along to the music, and then use it as an example to talk about fingering rules, and how to figure out your own finger patterns if there aren’t any written in the music.
Let’s hop to it!
Minuet in G Minor: Backstory
First of all – backstory.
The Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach was created by Bach for his wife, Anna Magdalena. It’s basically a collection of tunes meant to instruct her on the keyboard, written by himself and others.
This minuet pair – Minuet in G major (Anh. 114) and Minuet in G minor (Anh. 115) were written by Christian Petzold, He was a well-known German composer and organist in his day, but not much of his music has survived to our current day and age.
These pieces were composed in the early 1700s and are meant to go together as a pair, like PB & J. It’s fun because, if you learn both short pieces and put them together, suddenly it seems much more impressive – especially if you play them da capo – starting with the G major minuet, then going to the G minor minuet, and then repeating the G major minuet again.
Let’s listen through this Minuet in G Minor and then get into the nitty-gritty details.
Minuet in G Minor: Basic Details
First of all, let’s get some super basic details out of the way.
We have two flats stationed in the key signature: Bb and an Eb. I’d make you figure out what key that is, but we already know because of the title: it’s the key of G minor. We can confirm that by looking at the harmony at the beginning and end of the piece.
Next, what about the tempo and character of the piece? Well we know from a previous discussion that minuets are moderate in tempo, simple in rhythm, and have a light, airy feel. A minuet is a dance with small steps, so there’s nothing bold or dramatic here.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s head to the focus of the video – figuring out the finger patterns!
Piano Fingering rule #1
Rule #1 of fingering (in no particular order):
Try to avoid putting your short fingers (1 and 5, or thumb and pinkie) on black keys.
Save your outside fingers for white keys, and let your longer inner fingers tackle the black keys. This is like what you’d do with scales, and is one of the reasons we practice scales in the first place.
At the beginning of the piece, you’ll notice the downward trajectory of the notes, so your first impulse might be to start with your finger 5. However, that awkwardly positions your pinkie on a black key, so instead it’s better to use finger 4.
Exceptions to this would be in pieces with many black keys, but in pieces with just a few black keys, it’s a good rule to follow.
Another part of the piece where you see longer fingers reaching for black keys is the start of the second part (bar 17). You move from D to Bb with fingers 4-2, and then your thumb crosses under to the C. Many people might be tempted to start the phrase with finger 3 and reach the thumb to the Bb, but this is a really awkward hand shape.
rule #2 of piano fingering
Rule #2 of fingering:
Use fingers 5-1 to stretch octaves whenever possible.
You’re going to be the least likely to make a mistake if you can stretch your thumb to your pinkie when you play an octave. It’s not always possible, but try to do it whenever you can, even if it means altering your hand position to do so.
There are two octave jumps in the first line – one is in the right hand. We’re going to have to reposition our hand so that our pinkie ends up on this top G, and that’ll be our third rule in a minute.
Let’s look at the left hand. You might think it’s a good idea to start with your thumb on G, but then what happens is we end up with our fourth finger on D, which means we’ll have to do an octave stretch of fingers 4-1. It’s not ideal, so I like to avoid that if we can. All we have to do to get a natural 5-1 stretch here is to start on finger number 2 instead.
Rule #3 of piano fingering
Rule #3 of fingering:
Use repeated, un-legato notes as an opportunity to rearrange your hand position.
By starting on finger 4, we end up with a 3-1 stretch across a 5th (A to D), which is okay. What is less okay is leaving that thumb on both G’s, because we want to position our pinkie on that top G so we can do a comfortable octave. But playing a 4th with fingers 1-5 feels squished and unnatural.
What we can do instead is cleverly switch fingers on the same key. We land with our thumb on D, but then on the second D we switch to finger 2. Now we can play a fourth with a natural shape – 2-5, the natural finger distance of a fourth.
Repeated notes are a great place to do these hand position changes because you’re already anchored on a note, so even though your hand moves, you’re going to be less likely to make a mistake.
Piano Fingering rule #4
Fingering Rule #4:
Keep your fingering as similar as possible when you’re doing similar parts.
The 9th measure is basically the same pattern that starts on the 1st measure, with some added frills and ornaments. So as long as it works with our trills (which it does), we want to use the exact same finger pattern.
Doing this is going to help us memorize the finger patterns. If we were just using random fingers all the time, it would be much more challenging to commit to memory (even if we’re playing with the sheet), and you’ll be more prone to make mistakes.
Piano Fingering rule #5
Fingering Rule #5:
When in doubt, consult the professionals.
You don’t have to have all of the fingering answers. You might be able to figure out logical fingerings that work for your hands in most cases, but there are sometimes tricky spots that cause us to scratch our heads.
For me, this was the 27th measure. There’s this funny little 8th note zigzag pattern, and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out a logical pattern for it. I had a couple ideas that worked well enough, but I knew there was probably a better way.
So I consulted my books, and found an edited version using this finger pattern:
It made so much sense as soon as I tried it, but I wasn’t coming up with that on my own. So if you’re ever stuck, see if you can find fingerings online (doable with Classical music), or hand-recordings of performances so you can see what the performer does.
Piano Fingering rule 6
Rule #6, and something I’ve already been doing:
Write down the finger numbers.
I take a pencil in my music and add finger numbers where necessary. This is so crucial for memory. I might figure out a great finger pattern, but if I don’t write it down, there’s a good chance I’ll forget it in the next practice session.
When you use the same finger patterns every time you practice, you’re building that pattern into your muscle memory. Don’t be afraid to write in your books!
Minuet in G Minor and the Rules of Fingering
So to reiterate our rules of fingering:
- Try to avoid putting your short fingers (1 and 5, or thumb and pinkie) on black keys.
- Use fingers 5-1 to stretch octaves whenever possible.
- Use repeated, un-legato notes as an opportunity to rearrange your hand position.
- Keep your fingering as similar as possible when you’re doing similar parts.
- When in doubt, consult the professionals.
- Write down the finger numbers.
There are many, many other little fingering tricks that I’m sure exist, but these are some important ones I found demonstrated in this minuet.
Overall, you’re aiming for the most natural, simple fingering you can get away with. We want to avoid weird leaps and hand crosses wherever possible – the goal is ease, so you can get a fluid sound. Anything that interrupts your phrases, causes “hiccups”, or makes your elbow fly up is probably in need of correction.
If you’re wanting to learn how to play Minuet in G Minor after watching through this tutorial, go check out the free sheet music over at imslp.org.
I hope you enjoyed this Grade 3 level tutorial! For more about what I mean when I say grade 3, check out this explanatory video.
Catch you next time!