which of Bach's S&P's should i start on

November 16, 2011 at 07:43 PM · hi,

i would like to start on Bach's S&P. My teacher tells me my abilities are at around Level 5-6-ish, although i know that I have technical gaps...but she's a good teacher and although we're not treading a pedagogically traditional route, she's a good teacher. for instance, although i should technically be doing wolfhart or kayser (according to what i read here and elsewhere), she's choosing pieces from kreutzer and somehow, its all falling into place. we're also doing shradieck on the side...i'm on the second position. well, anyway, my teacher told me that we'll need a new piece after the one I'm doing (dance of pink/rose ladies by khachaturian ... here's what it sounds like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRO-BPmc0Ug ) and i asked whether we could start on one of bach's sonatas and partitas or whether they were all beyond my current stage. she said that actually we might be able to work on one of the partitas. so my question is, which do you think would be the 'easiest' of the S&P's to start on. it would mean so much to me to actually start working on them. Thanks so much

Replies (22)

November 16, 2011 at 10:01 PM · My teacher had me learn the E major partita in reverse, which was a very good way to boost confidence as well. It builds up your skills in terms of double stops in a very natural way, I thought.

November 16, 2011 at 11:00 PM · The violin transcription of the cello suites is generally agreed to be easier than the sonatas and partitas and may thus be a useful 'way in' to playing unaccompanied Bach for the first time. So far as I know, the usual edition is that by Enrico Polo, published by Ricordi. However, if you want to dive straight into the violin sonatas and partitas, I recommend the first four movements of the second partita. The Chaconne will have to wait for quite a few years yet.

November 16, 2011 at 11:11 PM · Most people seem to start their students on the E-major as described. However, as far as transitional material is concerned, I'd be more inclined to recommend the Telemann solo sonatas over transcriptions of the cello suites.

November 17, 2011 at 03:06 AM · I agree that the D minor Partita (first four movements) is probably the best place to start. My teacher advised me that I would learn a lot about the violin from playing these pieces, and wow, was he ever right.

November 17, 2011 at 04:01 AM · Greetings,

I second Scott`s recommendation. It is natural and healthy to want to play such beautiful music but there is no difference between starting the Bach too soon and starting anything else (like the Paginini Caprices too soon.)

The art of learning the violin under the guidance of a good teacher is always working on pieces appropriate to your level and needs.

Working on great music when one is not ready , because it is great music, almost always ruins that music for the player in the future.

Learning patience and (musical humility) is a major part of mastering the isntrument.

Furthermore, the beauty and power of this way of working and thinking is that one always has great things down the road that one knows one day are going to be owned. Keeping the dream in front of one is one of the keys to solid patient daily work on the demanding instrument.

When the appropriate day finally arrives one knows it and the experience is joyous rather than frustrating and counter productive.



November 17, 2011 at 05:45 AM · hi,

thanks all for the comments and help; so if I start, its E major or D minor but..

Buri and Scott advise against starting at all. I respect that opinion; perhaps its too early. The thing is, though, I am tenacious and patient...but yes, I would also not like to burn the pieces by having an unecessarily intractable feeling towards them.

In that case, Scott, you advise telemann...

Buri, would you recommend other pieces to work on? either that would get me ready for the S&P or generally wholesome.

I once suggested the cello transcriptions; my teacher did not really take it too seriously. she said it sounded "weird" and i got the impression that they were not part of, or clearly fit into, the standard pedagogical material.

eventually, i would love to be able to play the S&P's.

November 17, 2011 at 06:00 AM · Ever since Suzuki put some of the cello suites into his books they've been pretty standard material...

I think the E-major is a better starting point than the D-minor because you could potentially learn the entire thing. People who start with the D-minor often just play the first movement. They certainly exclude the chaconne! I also think the D-minor has more difficulties for the bow and working out the proper voice leading.

The flip side is the the first movement of the E-major is actually really hard...

November 17, 2011 at 05:45 PM · hi joseph;

i already played the bourree in suzuki three with another teacher and it was nice. but these transcriptions do not feature on my current teacher's radar (her education is quite russian)and she just did not take to them...and i didnt push the matter of course, since there is a lot of music out there.

November 18, 2011 at 04:40 AM · Greetings,

Tammuz, aside from the Teleman I think it is a good idea to have at least three Handel sonatras under your belt before doing the Bach. Not suggesting you learn these all at once of course but the Handel really are staple repertopire even though nowadays they seem to be treated more and more as beginner pieces. But to learn the d major for example is a major challenge and performing it is very demanding. Nor is it surprising to me that Milstein was still perfroming the a major sonata right at the end of his career.

Other wise I would say having excellent control of bowing and left hand through a thorough knowledge of Kreutzer. One wants to be -ready- because the challenges of unaccompanied Bach do not sit well on top of a partially formed technique. They may well cause more harm than good. Another underrated set of stuides is the Dont opus 37 which are said to be preparatory to Kreutzer. Actually I think some of them are harder or at least on a par and they do give an amazing technical foundation. Don`t know why they are under valued so much. Overshadowed by their massive counterpart the opus 35.

You would also do well to thoroughly master the double stop etudes of Polo. Small but extremely powerful works that rerally set you up for Bach.

You might even consider doing the accompanied Bach a little before shooting the pianist.



November 18, 2011 at 07:32 AM · Buri, thanks so much. I will get the Handel sonatas and Telemann's as well. I have one question though, I hope I'm not being too needy but its not something I can ask my teacher because I would not like to embarass or underline some sort of inadequacy or lacking in her lessons - again, she has been a good teacher to me. Well, she doesnt have the paino to play the counter part (i dont know if she does play the piano)...so I almost always play solo violin. the Handel sonatas are for violin and piano, right? would i miss anything by just playing the violin part without fitting it into the piano counterpart? you see, its also a case of "beggars can't be choosers", which is not a nice expression...i'm lucky i found her a decent teacher in abu dhabi and this is the status quo. is the violin part self sufficient? this is actually my concern with all other violin and piano literature.

again, thank you so much for your help

November 18, 2011 at 10:19 AM · Greetings,

is a difficult situation. A teacher isn`t necessarily going to use a piano when teaching. For many it adds a great deal , for others it is not so importnat.

But this is not really coonected to the works you are going to play. Almost all the literature has a piano compnent and without that the work is probably never going to be truly understood. Indeed, if you don`t have a lot of experience of piano, harmony etc. then playing Bach may not be too successful anyway.

Depending on where one lives this can be an extremely difficult issue (as in your case) but one must seek out a pianist to play with, somehow, somewhere. This is probably an issue you should discuss with your teacher.



November 18, 2011 at 12:08 PM · thanks Buri. it makes sense that I should play along with the piano. In any case, if I dont find an opportunity now, I know I will eventually. I wont be in the same place and stituation. It will be a matter of working with what I have and keeping an eye and an ear out. I will ask my teacher though. she might propose something out of the blue. please tell me if you ever want my vote to be a president or prime minster or something :o)

November 18, 2011 at 01:41 PM · Nice to hear from you again tammuz!

Buri took my suggestions and added onto them nicely, so I'll just say that I second the Handel.

As far as piano goes, just some suggestions:

Find a piano-playing friend to play with, even outside of lessons.

Youtube/recordings and scores. Obviously you don't want to over-depend on interpretations from a recording, but get you score and follow with it till you can literally hear the piano part, or at least its main figures, in your head. Then imagine it and interact with it as you play. That's how you will mostly have to practice anyway.

If there is a piano available to you at all, go try to pick it out yourself. I am a rotten pianist but I have learned SO much from picking out accompaniments on my own even if its kinda slow and probably painful to any listener. It still gets you inside the harmonies and countermelodies in a very close way. If you can't process everything, just play the bass line!

Best to you!

November 18, 2011 at 04:22 PM · I studied the Bach D Minor Partita Allemande a while ago and, as my teacher predicted, I learned a lot from it about playing the violin. As I have been working on other repertoire (including Handel which is difficult in different ways), I come back to the Allemande from time to time and I enjoy noticing whether certain passages seem easier or improved as I myself improve. Hilary Hahn described Bach as a touchstone and I think it can be very useful in this way. Just because I wasn't a very good violinist when I started the S&Ps won't ever keep me from enjoying the hell out of them as I progress.

I also agree wholeheartedly with Buri about the Dont exercises. They're very good and they isolate certain technical challenges that you will find in a wide range of repertoire.

November 18, 2011 at 04:41 PM · For accompaniment, there's also the option of using a free notation software and inputting each note of the accompaniment and then creating a MIDI, which you can speed up and slow down at your leisure. Is it as good as a live player? Heck, no. But it does give you a vague idea of what's going on beneath you. And you will learn a lot writing all the notes in.

November 18, 2011 at 05:05 PM · If you've already studied the Bach cello suites in some depth as a cellist (as I have) then I suggest it's probably not a good idea to work on the violin arrangements; too much to unlearn, and the violin doesn't have the deep resonances of the cello that Bach had in mind.

November 18, 2011 at 06:29 PM · I like the idea of making friends with an advanced piano student, one who can sit down with the sonata accompaniments and not struggle too much, but will be eager to practice and set goals. You could both meet once a week or so. Is it possible for you to do this? I've been going back over Mozart sonatas with a college level student, and it is so much fun to throw out ideas about phrasing and dynamics and make discoveries together.

November 18, 2011 at 08:09 PM · Paul,

you have completely misrepresented what I said about the Handel sonatas which is actually quite annoying because now I have to waste time correcting you so that people don`t just read the most recent messages and think I am stupid.



Now, based on decades of teaching the violin I have found 8no big surprise) that there is a certain amount of repertoire which is more helpful than others and certain oreder or learnign which is useful.

In the case of the Handel sonatas I would make the following points.

They are standar repertoire so they sould be learnt at some point.

Learning a beautiful detache, secure and precise left hand, left/right coordination, harmonic sense etc is gretaly aided by playing baroque sonatas in the ealry stages which is why I seem to remeber Suzuliki include sa verison of the f major sonata fairly early on. That is quite standard.

learning the d major and or the a major sonata before the Bach is VERY HELPFUL in playing the latter well. Both show up and facilitate the development of excellent bowing technique.

There is absolutely nothing to stop you playing some movements of the Bach before the Handel or indeed not bothering with the Handel at all. Whteher or not this is the right thing to do depends a great deal on what the player wants and what they plan to do in the future.

My observation has been that strating the bach with the intention of using it to fiurther technique rather than having the basic necessray technique in place on the whole deserves a lot more scrutiny than it is getting in many cases..

As does what I write.


November 18, 2011 at 10:21 PM · I take Trevor's point about the violin transcription of Bach's cello suites being unsuitable for past and present cellists. He is of course also correct in saying that the Bach cello suites played on violin will lack the cello's resonance. But surely a change in sonorities forms part of any transciption or arrangement. Having originally heard the suites on the cello, I have just listened to a number of movements of violin versions on youtube and found the experience, not weird as mentioned above, but unexpected. As such, it has certainly given me a new and worthwhile way of appreciating the suites.

I seem to remember a poster on another v.com thread suggesting that the violin versions of the cello suites were recommendable for private study but that the A minor concerto would make a more suitable introductory work for Bach study with one's teacher. I have no opinion on this but am noting it as an interesting 'take' on studying Bach violin music.

November 19, 2011 at 06:34 PM · The cello suites are really great to play, and I've played and performed some on viola. The only problem is....they're too darn easy. Most of them can be sight-read by a competent violist (or violinist if transcribed). I just don't think they push one very far towards the major problem of the violin sonatas, which of course is the chords and sound production.

So I also like the idea of learning several Handel sonatas as well. In addition, I have my students go through both Polo and Trott books--I'd rather have them struggle through the basic chord formations here than on the sonatas themselves. Tthe later etudes in each help the student build the hand strength and ability to manipulate fingers independently before getting to hard-core Bach.

This leads to a basic question of pedagogy: is it more effective for the student to struggle with a particular technique before applying it to an important work, or to learn that technique from the work itself? I'm more in the first camp, for the psychological implications. For example, one could, in theory, learn spicatto or sautille from the last movement of Tchaikovsky. However, there is the possibility that the memory of struggling with the technique will remain with the student for a very long time and become associated with the particular work. I can't prove this, but it's the reason I'd prefer to have a student become grounded in a technique before applying it.

November 19, 2011 at 08:03 PM · thank you all so much, i'll repond more fully but i'm too tired to muster a proper response. i'm placing an order for the etude books..but i'd like to choose between the Polo and the Trott, Scott you recommend both, Buri your recommend the Polo..i really would like to start on one not both..it'll be overkill given myother material. which would you choose? I'm assuming the Polo so far, given that this was recommended by both Buri and Scott. Thanks so much

November 20, 2011 at 03:27 AM · I would just like to throw in a teeny vote for the Allemande from the d minor Partita. It's been a great intro to solo violin Bach for me--the rhythm is all the same and the notes are not ridiculous (no crazy weird accidentals like Bach Double), so all you have to concentrate on is the phrasing. And the only double stops are at the end of each repeat: sort of a final chord to finish the section. Not to mention that you can take it nice and slow to really focus on getting the "Bach-ness" of it. It's a wee bit harder than the cello suites transcriptions from the Suzuki books, but it's not a huge jump. I've really enjoyed learning it and I've felt like it's been a good step from Suzuki repertoire to bigger and better things. I want to do the Preludio from E Major next--I love love LOVE that piece!

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