Learn piano online, the importance of chromatic scales needed to play Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ explained - an easy Baroque piece suitable for beginner piano students.
Although not the first, ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ was one of the earliest compositions I learnt to play - odd how our paths have crossed again after all these years. I have Martin Rutherford to thank for that.
He is the conductor of the Actors Studio Chorus and Orchestra guilty of the mesmerizing performance of Baroque classics on the 16th September. More than a hundred people in a packed concert hall bore witness to this crime. Shocked by what they saw, at the end of it they stood up to give a standing ovation.
‘Well Tempered Clavier’ was composed near the end of the Baroque period by Bach – who is needless to say, one of the most prominent composers from that period.
A period when bold men were challenging what was then considered conventional norms. Isaac Newton began to unravel the mysteries of gravity, King Louis the 14th of France broke ground on the construction of the Versailles and musicians such as Bach, Vivaldi and Handel began composing music meant to be played by a keyboard, great ancestor of the piano - the harpsichord.
Mentioned in the title of Bach’s ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ the word clavier is a general reference associated with a keyboard instrument.
It is a song with an even pace and once you have played through the first few phrases becomes a familiar repetitive piece - fairly easy to play and very suitable for beginners.
With a time signature of 4 beats in a bar, the pace of the music is not very fast. The only difficulty a beginner will face is, Bach composed the melody to change notes in rapid succession by stuffing strings of semiquavers in a bar.
Being able to recognize the fingering patterns involved is necessary to tackle the avalanche of semiquavers rushing towards you. Practicing chromatic scales religiously is an efficient way to enforce the learning of finger patterns.
Even though in ‘Well Tempered Clavier’, it is the right hand that flexes its fingers doing most of the manoeuvres, work both hands when practising the chromatic scales. Other Baroque compositions by Vivaldi and Handel may not be so kind to the left hand. Furthermore a pianist should have matching strength, agility and flexibility in both hands.
To keep up with the steady stream of semiquavers coming your way, agile and flexible fingers alone are not enough. Wrists and arms that are equally up to the task are also called upon.
Wrists need to be flexible to maintain the constant moving tempo demanded by Bach in ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ while the arms have to be trained to never be strained, always relaxed to avoid jerking during play.
Reaching this trifecta - fingers, wrists and arms in a state never strained - consumes time, effort and dedication. But a properly worked out schedule can help you get up to speed faster in being able to play ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ decently enough.
Be time specific in your practice. Allocate fifteen minutes on arpeggios, ten minutes on chromatic scales or twenty minutes on scales for example.
Practice scales by alternating the majors and minors. It is especially beneficial because Bach, towards the end of the seventeenth century felt more freedom in the world he was living it and expressed it in his composition. He wrote the sequel to ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ in every single major and minor keys. All of them, there are twenty four.
Exercising the fingers, wrists and arms with chromatic scales develop agility and flexibility - the payoff being having fingers with sufficient muscle strength to lift high and well enough to produce clear articulation.