The Easiest Bach Pieces (and the most difficult)

In today’s episode of PianoTV, I want to discuss the easiest Bach pieces, and the ones to avoid until you’re very skilled. Bach’s music starts from an early intermediate level (around grade 3) and gets progressively more difficult, all the way up to very advanced levels.

If you’ve been wanting to learn Bach but don’t know where to start, this should be helpful to you. This is where I start my students off with Bach as well, so I’ve test-driven these pieces in real life.

I’ll be using the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) for when I refer to “grades” – ABRSM is similar, it just doesn’t go as high. I’ll also make a few comments on the Henle rating system, since some of you find that helpful.

Easiest Bach: Categories

The easiest way to do this is to divide his pieces into categories. They are as follows:

-Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach
-Little Preludes and fughettas
-Inventions
-Sinfonias
-The Well-Tempered Clavier
-Toccataas
-Suites (English, French, Partitas)
-The Goldberg Variations
-The Art of Fugue

Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach

This is Bach’s easiest collection of pieces, written for his wife Anna Magdalena Bach. They’re a collection of short dances, including minuets, musettes, polonaises and more. They range in difficulty from around a grade 3-7 level (level 1-4 Henle).

If you’re just starting out, Bach might be slightly out of reach – I’d recommend learning the basics before starting his easiest pieces, since they’re not meant for absolute beginners.

That said, here are the easiest Bach pieces from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach:

Minuet in G major, BWV Anh. 114 (Not written by Bach; by Petzold)
Minuet in G minor, BWV Anh. 115 (Not written by Bach; by Petzold)
Musette in D major, BWV anh. 126 (attr)
Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 119

Even though 3/4 of these pieces weren’t officially written by Bach himself, they’re still great early Bach studies. They’re in a similar style to his “true” writing, and are famous pieces as well (we’ve done Minuet in G major and Minuet in G minor on this channel).

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Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach
Piano Solo. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Ernst-Gunter Heinemann. Piano (Harpsichord), 2-hands. Henle Music Folios. Urtext edition-paper bound. Baroque. Collection (softcover). With introductory text, performance notes, fingerings and realized figured bass. 65 pages. G. Henle #HN349. Published by G. Henle (HL.51480349).

Easiest Bach: Little Preludes

Bach’s Little Preludes overlap the Notebook for Anna Magdalena somewhat, but they start a little harder.

The Little Preludes are usually bound together with Bach’s Fughettas, which are significantly more challenging than the preludes.

There are a few Little Preludes in the RCM syllabus around a grade 5-8 level (Henle level 1-3). These preludes were meant to serve as lessons on the piano, and can still serve a similar purpose to us some 300 years later.

The easiest little preludes are:

Little Prelude in C major, BWV 939 (Henle 1/2, RCM grade 5)
Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 934 (Henle 2, RCM grade 6)
Little Prelude, BWV 924 (Henle 2)
Little Prelude, BWV 927 (Henle 2/3)
Little Prelude, BWV 933 (Henle 2/3)
Little Prelude, BWV 935 (Henle 2/3)
Little Prelude, BWV 940 (Henle 2/3)
Little Prelude in D minor, BWV 926 (Henle 3, ABRSM grade 5, RCM grade 6)
Little Prelude in E minor, BWV 941 (Henle level 3, RCM grade 6)

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Bach – Eighteen Little Preludes
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Keith Snell. Neil A. Kjos Master Composer Library. Sheet music. Published by Neil A. Kjos Music Company (KJ.GP383).

Easiest Bach: Inventions

Bach’s inventions are solid early-advanced level pieces. They’re written in two parts, which means each hand is playing a melody. These inventions are a great preparation for the more difficult Bach pieces that involve more than two voices (his fugues are in 3-4 parts).

All of the inventions are a grade 7 or 8 level on the piano (Henle 3-4). The easiest ones include:

Invention no 1 in C major, BWV 772 (RCM Grade 7, Henle level 3)
Invention no 4 in D Minor, BWV 775 (RCM Grade 7, Henle level 3)
Invention no 6 in E major, BWV 777 (Henle level 3)

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Bach — Inventions & Sinfonias (2 & 3 Part Inventions)
By Valery Lloyd-Watts. By Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Willard A. Palmer. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork CD Edition. Baroque; Masterwork. Book & CD. 116 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.22521).

Easiest Bach: Sinfonias

Once you’ve worked through Bach’s 15 inventions, it’s time to move on to the next challenge – his 15 sinfonias. The sinfonias are works written in 3 parts (as opposed to his 2-part inventions), and are the final step before approaching his famous Well-Tempered Clavier, which we’ll discuss next.

The sinfonias, like the inventions, have a narrow range of difficulty. They’re marked as a grade 9 RCM, and Henle level 4-5. The easiest of the sinfonias to start first are:

Sinfonia no 11 in G minor, BWV 797 (Henle level 3/4)
Sinfonia no 1 in C major, BWV 787 (Henle level 4)

These are the easiest two, but the other 13 sinfonias are not far off in difficulty – I think it’s best to read through them all in a set.

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Bach — Inventions & Sinfonias (2 & 3 Part Inventions)
By Valery Lloyd-Watts. By Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Willard A. Palmer. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork CD Edition. Baroque; Masterwork. Book & CD. 116 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.22521).

The Well-Tempered Clavier

The Well-Tempered Clavier is a great keyboard collection of Preludes and Fugues, which Bach paired together. There’s a prelude and fugue pair for each of the 24 keys on the piano (major and minor).

Reaching this point is a pinnacle in piano playing, and many famous composers enjoyed this collection – including Chopin, who loved to travel with it for study and practice.

Most of the collection is around a Henle level 5/6 (RCM grade 10/ARCT). Some of the preludes individually are much easier (the first Prelude in C major, for example), but these are usually learned in pairs (as a prelude/fugue), which bumps up the overall difficulty.

Some of the easiest prelude/fugue pairs would be:

Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847 (grade 9)
Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 846 (grade 10)
Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 851 (grade 10)
Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855 (grade 10)
Prelude and Fugue in F# major, BWV 858 (grade 10)

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The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
48 Praludien und Fugen in allen Dur- und Molltonarten. Band 1. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Alfred Durr. This edition: urtext edition. Paperback. Baroque. Collection. With thematic index and introductory text. BWV 846-869. 125 pages. Published by Baerenreiter Verlag (BA.BA5191).
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The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II
48 Praludien und Fugen in allen Dur- und Molltonarten. Band 2. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Alfred Durr. This edition: urtext edition. Paperback. Baroque. Collection. With thematic index, performance notes and introductory text. BWV 870-893. 163 pages. Published by Baerenreiter Verlag (BA.BA5192).

Toccatas

Once we hit Bach’s Toccatas, we’re into the “very difficult” territory. These are ARCT-level pieces through the RCM, and range in difficulty in the ABRSM from DipABRSM to FRSM. The Henle system puts the toccatas between levels 5/6 to 7 (the highest rating is level 9).

If you are an advanced student who wants to attempt a very fast toccata, one of these two would be a good choice:

Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 (Henle 5/6, DipABRSM, ARCT)
Toccata in G major, BWV 916 (Henle 5/6, ARCT)

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J.S. Bach: Toccatas BWV 910-916
Toccaten. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Rudolf Steglich. Henle Music Folios. Edition without fingering. Classical. Softcover. 95 pages. G. Henle #HN1126. Published by G. Henle (HL.51481126).

Dance Suites

The fun thing about Bach’s dance suites is that, since they’re all short-ish dance movements, some of them are quite simple, and others are extremely difficult. There’s a wide range of levels involved in these collections.

English Suites BWV 806-811

As a whole, the six English suites are around a Henle level 6-7. These suites were made to perform start to finish – each suite is a collection of several dance movements. However, certain individual movements are quite simple, such as:

Musette (English Suite no 3 in G minor), BWV 808 (RCM grade 4)

Overall, the English Suites are more challenging than the French suites, which have simpler individual movements.

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Bach — Six English Suites, BWV 806–811
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Dr. Hans Bischoff. Book; Masterworks; Piano Solo; Solo. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Baroque; Masterwork. 132 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.44326).

French Suites

This set of dance tunes are a great early-advanced bit of Bach. Much easier in general than the English Suites, the French Suites really offer a snapshot in time to the Baroque era. Here are some easier individual movements:

Menuet in E Major (French Suite no 6 in E major), BWV 817 (RCM grade 5)
Sarabande, French Suite no 1 in D minor, BWV 812 (RCM grade 6)
Allemande, French Suite no 4 in E flat major, BWV 815 (RCM grade 7, ABRSM grade 6)
Gavotte, French Suite no 5 in G major, BWV 816 (RCM grade 7)

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Bach — French Suites
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Judith K. Linder Schneider. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Form: Suite. Baroque; Masterwork. Book. 144 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.700C).

Six partitas

Henle describes these dance suites as the “ultimate” ones – especially compared to the English and French suites. These are more challenging, at around a Henle level 6-7 (ABRSM grade 7 to FRSM, RCM ARCT).

None of these are easy, but the most approachable of the six is the first one:

Partita no 1 in B flat major, BWV 825 (Henle level 5/6)

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Six partitas BWV 825-830
Piano Solo. Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Rudolph Steglich. Piano (Harpsichord), 2-hands. Henle Music Folios. Urtext edition-paper bound. Baroque. Collection (softcover). With introductory text, performance notes and fingerings. 120 pages. G. Henle #HN28. Published by G. Henle (HL.51480028).

The Goldberg variations

We’ve talked about the awesome Goldberg Variations on this channel before, and they’re among the most challenging piano repertoire ever, Bach or not. It’s rated at a Henle level 9, which is the highest level.

The reason I wanted to include this on the list is so you not only have an idea of the easiest Bach pieces, but also the ones that take true mastery to accomplish.

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Bach Goldberg Variations Piano
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Masterworks; Piano Solo; Solo. Dover Edition. Baroque. Collection. With introductory text. BWV 988. 47 pages. Published by Dover Publications (AP.6-452824).

The Art of Fugue

The Art of Fugue is Bach at his deadliest. It’s ranked as Henle 9, the highest level there is, and goes far beyond the highest RCM/ARCT levels. But it’s good to know that this degree of Bach exists, for the true masters out there.

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Bach’s The Art of Fugue and A Companion to The Art of Fugue
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Donald Francis Tovey. Book; Masterworks; Reference Textbooks; Textbook – General. Dover Edition. Baroque; Masterwork. Published by Dover Publications (AP.6-49764X).

Conclusion

This covers about 95% of Bach’s piano music. I didn’t include his sonatas, Cappricios and other single works because they A) aren’t remotely easy, and B) aren’t part of a collection.

Hopefully this gives you a trajectory of how to progress through Bach’s music. A start-to-finish study of Bach takes years, but his music is incredibly rewarding to work through, and will help you to achieve impeccable piano technique.

Check out some of the other Bach videos here

A Brief History of Bach
The (awesome) music of Bach: 5 Favorites
Top 5 Bach Pieces in TV & Movies
Bach’s Epic Goldberg Variations – an Analysis

xo,
Allysia