In today’s video we’re going to do a Bach Chorale tutorial, a grade 1 piano piece from his collection the Anna Magdalena Notebook – the collection he wrote for his wife to learn keyboard.
We are going to dissect this piece a little, play through it and talk about the practice points, and the sheet music is linked below.
Chorale: The Backstory
Question: what is a chorale?
Answer: They’re vocal compositions in SATB (Soprano/alto/tenor/bass) form, or 4-part form, and Bach wrote a whole bunch of them – we’re talking hundreds. Some of his most celebrated chorales are from his cantatas. One of Bach’s jobs was to perform a cantata at church every Sunday, and a lot of times he would compose a new one for the weekly service. And we’re not talking one song – we’re talking an entire multi-movement work. Our friend Bach, the powerhouse of musical composition.
Chorale in C, BWV 514
The name of this chorale is Schaff’s mit mir, Gott – which is German, and I roughly translated it to, “You are with me, God”. To any of my German viewers and readers, a more correct translation would be much appreciated!
Before going through this Bach chorale tutorial, I urge you to download the sheet music and follow along while listening to the vocal Chorale version, so you can hear it the way it was originally composed. Bach then adapted this 4-part vocal chorale of his into a grade 1 level piano piece for his Notebook for Anna Magdalena.
Bach Chorale Tutorial: Analysis
Let’s take a look at the music and analyze it a little. There are repeat lines, dividing the piece into two sections – this is a strong indication that this piece is in binary form, or 2-part form. The least you need to know is that there is an A section and a B section separated by repeat lines, and while they contrast a little, they’re very similar parts.
I deliberately marked this sheet music very sparsely. There are no dynamic indications, but that doesn’t mean to play without dynamics. That means to think about where to put them, and to choose your own volume adventure.
If we look at the key signature – no sharps or flats – and see that the opening notes are Cs, it’s pretty apparent that this chorale is in the key of C major.
Bach chorale tutorial: learning points
To get the most out of this piece, you want to play it like you’d sing it. Keep it flowing and melodic, with natural rises and falls of volume that you might get if you sing it. Watch that you’re not playing the melody line on a flat plane – give it some depth and dimension.
I didn’t write this in the score, but at the end of a line or phrase in the sung chorale version, there would be a fermata over the notes, meaning to pause just a little longer than the beat indicated. I like to incorporate this sound into the piano version, to really distinguish the melody lines and give them room to breathe.
How to play the trills
A note on the trills. The squiggly lines you’ll see in the sheet music can mean a number of things, but they always involve some sort of decorative action. In this case, we’re going to go back and forth between a couple notes quickly, because it sounds neat and is more exciting than just pressing an A.
To play the trill, I alternate the upper note, B, with the written note, A, for 3 turns, before pausing and then playing the final note. That is for the trill on the second line – the trill on the fourth line is played exactly the same, but with different notes. Alternate the upper note with the written note for three quick turns, and you’re good to go.
Now it’s your turn! Happy practicing and thanks for watching.