Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bach Chorales in Piano Instruction

I have found that many young pianists struggle to play four-voice harmonizations. Because of the many benefits that come from studying them, I require college students enrolled in class piano to play both traditional hymns and Bach chorales. Here are a few of the benefits that comes from this area of study:
  • Awareness of voice leading. Few composers understood counterpoint and voice leading better than Bach. By playing the chorales, pianists take the principles they have learned in theory and apply them at the keyboard.
  • Re-enforcement of harmonic progressions. Chorales clearly establish traditional dominant-tonic relationships as well as others that will aid the student as they develop their own skills to harmonize melody lines.
  • Develops aural skills. Chorale playing requires the pianist to be aware of multiple lines at the same time, ensuring that each voice is shaped independently. This attention to various voices increases the student's aural skills.
  • Emphasizes the importance of thoughtful fingering patterns. Bach's compositions require careful planning in order to musically navigate the multi-voiced passages. Students find themselves exploring alternate fingerings, finger substitutions, as well as dividing inner voices between the hands as they play these technically demanding works.
  • Prepare students for choral accompanying assignments. It seems that one of the most demanding duties of any musician working in an educational setting is providing piano support for voices during choral rehearsals. Many times, the vocal parts can be more technically challenging for the pianist than the actual accompaniment. Bach chorales and their emphasis on voice leading allow the student pianist to develop skills that will be beneficial in similar scenarios.