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Author Topic: How to learn about harmony to understand Bachs music.  (Read 299 times)
torandrekongelf
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« on: October 28, 2017, 05:56:01 PM »

Hi there.

I am wondering how I can a good E-Book or youtube video where I can learn how to unstand Bachs works at a higher level. I want to unstand what key the music is modulating into, and how he uses harmonies in his music.

Listening to Gould or Schiff talk about his works in detail wants me to understand the music at the same level.

In Bachs Allemande in French Suite No. 1 which is in D-minor all the C are raised to C-sharps. I want to understand why, and what this is called.

All I can find is how to play with proper cords with a melody. Which is pretty basic and something I know allready.
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j_tour
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2017, 03:18:09 AM »

I see none of the genius masters have replied yet, so, in the spirit of Halloween (the eve of All Saint's Day), I'd recommend looking at something kind of simple and vaguely eerie, like the Am prelude from WTCI.

I don't remember offhand the details of the d-minor French Suite without grabbing the score, but, in general, that C#-->tonic is called the leading tone.  It's one of the characteristics of the authentic cadence, and it's why the harmonic minor scale includes that tone.

I'd love to be proved wrong, but I don't think what I've said is at all controversial.

I don't know about "e-books" or youtube videos, but would it be fair to suggest that a good book of harmony would be in order?  Walter Piston used to have a good one, but I don't know what's used in schools now.

ETA I see you know how to play cadences with inner voice leading and a melody on top.  And that it's obvious to you.  So, since you know, and you think it's simple, I'm not seeing what the question is.

EETA for Bach, I still find Ebenzer Prout's analyses (or perhaps "analyses") of the WTC amusing.  I think anyone would say it's pretty old-fashioned, but I find it amusing.  After all, there isn't all that much theory to understand, IMHO, for these, and IMHO the technical problems are pretty much something everyone has to wrestle with according to his or her taste.  There are centuries of traditions in front of those, after all, but there aren't all that many discrete notes to deal with. 
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klavieronin
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2017, 03:44:28 AM »

That's a pretty hefty topic. I think you'll need more than an e-book or YouTube videos. Also, for baroque composers like Bach, counterpoint is just as important as harmony, if not more important.

I think you'll be able to get this book on a free trial (haven't tried myself though). Although this book might be more advanced than you are looking for;

https://www.scribd.com/doc/58975714/5052515-Robert-Gauldin-a-Practical-Approach-to-Eighteenth-Century-Counterpoint

Here is a free online harmony textbook;

https://archive.org/details/firstyearharmon00love
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quantum
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2017, 06:18:11 PM »

You could start by getting a book of Bach chorales and playing through them.  They give a direct picture into Bach harmonizations and voice leading.  

http://imslp.org/wiki/Chorale_Harmonisations,_BWV_1-438_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)

After you become more familiar with the chorales, as an exercise, you could try rewriting some of  Bach's keyboard music in the style of a Bach chorale.  In essence, removing the keyboard centric idioms and revealing  the harmonic skeleton.  
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mjames
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« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2017, 06:31:29 PM »

You could start by getting a book of Bach chorales and playing through them.  They give a direct picture into Bach harmonizations and voice leading.  

http://imslp.org/wiki/Chorale_Harmonisations,_BWV_1-438_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)

After you become more familiar with the chorales, as an exercise, you could try rewriting some of  Bach's keyboard music in the style of a Bach chorale.  In essence, removing the keyboard centric idioms and revealing  the harmonic skeleton.  


This might be a dumb question, but how do you play music meant for a choir on the piano? By playing chorales do you mean by actually transcribing them yourself?
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iansinclair
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2017, 07:20:36 PM »

If indeed the vocal chorales are meant here, almost all of them are available in editions with all of the voices annotated on two staves.  You definitely should be able to play those editions as published, with no recourse to transcriptions.

Frankly, at the risk of being overly blunt, if you can't play them from those editions, you're in over your head.

Now having said that... keep in mind that Bach's music is contrapuntal, not harmonic, and what is fascinating about it is how the various voices -- even in such strictly simple keyboard works as the French Suites -- weave and intertwine to arrive at certain harmonic points.
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Ian
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« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2017, 07:26:48 PM »

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I'm wondering if the OP is going to come back to elaborate about his question, or if this is a cross-posted question where there's no point in answering?

Not criticizing the OP, because I also prefer to not spend much time online, just curious.

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hardy_practice
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« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2017, 08:31:49 PM »

You need the chorales with the bass figured.   Once you understand how to read figures you're off with an excellent start.
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torandrekongelf
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« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2017, 09:07:38 PM »

Just to satisfy my own curiosity, I'm wondering if the OP is going to come back to elaborate about his question, or if this is a cross-posted question where there's no point in answering?

Not criticizing the OP, because I also prefer to not spend much time online, just curious.



Not quite sure why I need to elaborate. I want to learn so I can see the modulations, what key we are in and understand his music from a composers view. Like fugues, understanding more above the levels of just see strettos and countersubjects.

But I dont want a book where I learn about intervalls and key signatures etc. I know that allready.



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quantum
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« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2017, 09:11:32 PM »

This might be a dumb question, but how do you play music meant for a choir on the piano? By playing chorales do you mean by actually transcribing them yourself?

Actually yes, play vocal parts as written at the piano.  If you were accompanying a choir, this is what you would do for a straightforward accompaniment.  For a performance with piano + choir you might want to register differently to make better use of the pianos resources, but the basic idea is to just play as written.  

As Ian has stated, keyboard reduction scores are available.  If you want a musicianship exercise you could also try reading from open score.  

Another point of study is Bach's use of implied harmony on solo instruments not usually associated with chordal writing. The Cello Suites, and Violin Sonatas and Partitas would be good to study. 

https://imslp.org/wiki/6_Cello_Suites,_BWV_1007-1012_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)
http://imslp.org/wiki/6_Violin_Sonatas_and_Partitas,_BWV_1001-1006_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)

Implied harmony is also topic important to two part contrapuntal writing, as one does not have access to a complete triad. 
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torandrekongelf
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« Reply #10 on: October 29, 2017, 10:00:48 PM »

To be more specific. Here is an example. Courante from French Suite in D-minor.

As you see he adds sharps to all the Cs. He does this is almost all the movements in the suite. I understand that a c-sharps leads to the tonic d natural. But why this all the time? Is it because its dances?

In bar 3 he changes the B-flat in d-minor to a b-natural. And we se sharps to Gs and Cs. Later in bar 4 to Fs as well. So this implies to me we are in A Major which is harmonic with D-minor. (At least I assume so even though its a major key).

Bar 5 we get b-natural turned in to B-flat which would imply we are back in D minor. Or have we changed into g-minor which is harmonic with d minor because we get a flat infront of E in bar 6. Modulating into B-flat major would not make any sense here so I assume its G-minor.

Bar 7 E-flat is changed to E natural which would assume we are back in D minor though I cannot see a clear D minor chord in the bar or the next.

Bar 8 b-flat is changed to B natural which makes me wonder. Are we in A major again? We can't since F is still natural in the next bar.

Second part seems to start in A major which makes sense. But we get a B-flat in the 2nd bar allready. And he changes C-sharp to C natural and we get E-flats and F-sharps at the same time. What is that? From here on I am lost.

I hope this helps clarify what I am trying to learn.



* Example.jpg (201.44 KB, 818x696 - viewed 12 times.)
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j_tour
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« Reply #11 on: October 29, 2017, 10:35:07 PM »

Not quite sure why I need to elaborate. I want to learn so I can see the modulations, what key we are in and understand his music from a composers view. Like fugues, understanding more above the levels of just see strettos and countersubjects.

But I dont want a book where I learn about intervalls and key signatures etc. I know that allready.





Good.  So, functional harmony.  Any standard textbook.  I mentioned Walter Piston, and I'd also add Perle's books were helpful to me.

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quantum
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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2017, 10:45:02 PM »

From your questions, the takeaway is to understand that pitches do not have equal importance in the harmonic structure.  Some are anchor points, others are the skeleton above the anchor points, others are the surfaces on top of the skeleton, others are the paint on those surfaces, etc.

Reiterating my previous post, an familiarity of Bach's chorales will illuminate a lot of the harmonic structure in his music. 


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quantum
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« Reply #13 on: October 29, 2017, 11:59:31 PM »

Here is an example of what I was talking about earlier.

I've left in what I think are the more important non-chord tones, essential to illustrating line and contour.


* Bach Courante analysis.jpg (406.37 KB, 2550x3300 - viewed 12 times.)
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klavieronin
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« Reply #14 on: October 30, 2017, 12:17:39 AM »

As you see he adds sharps to all the Cs. He does this is almost all the movements in the suite. I understand that a c-sharps leads to the tonic d natural. But why this all the time? Is it because its dances?

There are plenty of Cs that aren't sharp. The first one being in bar 4 in the soprano. There are 4 in the next bar and 3 in the one after that.

As far as 'why' you see so many C3s, the note below the tonic in minor keys is often raised simply to maintain harmonic momentum. The leading note (raised ^7) "wants" to move to the tonic (unlike that lazy sub-tonic) therefore it creates a stronger progression. This practice goes right back to medieval music before major and minor were even a thing.

In bar 3 he changes the B-flat in d-minor to a b-natural. And we se sharps to Gs and Cs. Later in bar 4 to Fs as well. So this implies to me we are in A Major which is harmonic with D-minor. (At least I assume so even though its a major key).

The B natural in bar 3 belongs to the ascending form of the 'melodic' minor scale. The sharp Gs, Cs, and Fs could be a number of things but my guess is that it is an applied (or secondary) dominant (actually a couple of them) as he prepares to move into G minor in bar 5. The general structure being V of V of iv where iv becomes i in the new key of G minor.

Bar 5 we get b-natural turned in to B-flat which would imply we are back in D minor. Or have we changed into g-minor which is harmonic with d minor because we get a flat infront of E in bar 6. Modulating into B-flat major would not make any sense here so I assume its G-minor.

Yes, that would be my guess. Always look for a perfect/authentic (V-I) cadence if you suspect modulation. In most cases you are technically not in a new key until you see a V-I cadence, which we have between b4-5 here - Dmaj-Gmin.

Bar 7 E-flat is changed to E natural which would assume we are back in D minor though I cannot see a clear D minor chord in the bar or the next.

Don't forget about applied dominants. In bar 7 we have moved into B flat and the E natural is part of the V7 of V (C7 - F) in the last beat of that bar.

Bar 8 b-flat is changed to B natural which makes me wonder. Are we in A major again? We can't since F is still natural in the next bar.

Bar 8 begins with a descending 5th sequence as we move back into D minor (B natural is part of the melodic minor scale).

Second part seems to start in A major which makes sense. But we get a B-flat in the 2nd bar allready. And he changes C-sharp to C natural and we get E-flats and F-sharps at the same time. What is that? From here on I am lost.

Tonicizations, modulations, applied/secondary dominants, different forms of the minor scale, mixture chords… These are the things you need to know about in which case, as others have suggested, any good harmony textbook would do and based on what you've said here that's where I think you should start. You can try analysing the chorales but I don't know if that's a good idea just yet. Get your head around some of those other concepts first.

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torandrekongelf
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« Reply #15 on: October 30, 2017, 12:23:45 AM »

There are plenty of Cs that aren't sharp. The first one being in bar 4 in the soprano. There are 4 in the next bar and 3 in the one after that.

As far as 'why' you see so many C3s, the note below the tonic in minor keys is often raised simply to maintain harmonic momentum. The leading note (raised ^7) "wants" to move to the tonic (unlike that lazy sub-tonic) therefore it creates a stronger progression. This practice goes right back to medieval music before major and minor were even a thing.

The B natural in bar 3 belongs to the ascending form of the 'melodic' minor scale. The sharp Gs, Cs, and Fs could be a number of things but my guess is that it is an applied (or secondary) dominant (actually a couple of them) as he prepares to move into G minor in bar 5. The general structure being V of V of iv where iv becomes i in the new key of G minor.

Yes, that would be my guess. Always look for a perfect/authentic (V-I) cadence if you suspect modulation. In most cases you are technically not in a new key until you see a V-I cadence, which we have between b4-5 here - Dmaj-Gmin.

Don't forget about applied dominants. In bar 7 we have moved into B flat and the E natural is part of the V7 of V (C7 - F) in the last beat of that bar.

Bar 8 begins with a descending 5th sequence as we move back into D minor (B natural is part of the melodic minor scale).

Tonicizations, modulations, applied/secondary dominants, different forms of the minor scale, mixture chords… These are the things you need to know about in which case, as others have suggested, any good harmony textbook would do and based on what you've said here that's where I think you should start. You can try analysing the chorales but I don't know if that's a good idea just yet. Get your head around some of those other concepts first.



Thanks that was really awesome. Did you get your knowledge from books or in what way?

I am also googling a lot of the things your brought up. The raised 7th is also called an "Harmonic minor scale" it seems. To mimic major scales who naturally has a leading semitone in the 7th step.
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klavieronin
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« Reply #16 on: October 30, 2017, 12:28:08 AM »

Thanks that was really awesome. Did you get your knowledge from books or in what way?

I studied harmony at university. The textbook we used was Robert Gauldin's 'Harmonic Practice in Tonal Music'.
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torandrekongelf
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« Reply #17 on: October 30, 2017, 01:51:34 AM »

Thanks I will look that up.
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quantum
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« Reply #18 on: October 30, 2017, 02:25:12 AM »

Just a clarification, you don't need to analyze the chorales in order to learn from them.   Learning how progressions sound is just as important when learning harmony. 

I tend to concur with the others, as it seems a harmony text is what you need right now. Make sure you play the examples at the piano or sing them. 
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