Chaconne chords

August 30, 2015 at 05:27 AM · Hi all,

Im looking at playing the Bach chaconne at the moment,and as many would know,there are many places where one has to play a (rolled) chord, and a melody note,at the same time.Id just like to confirm that Im doing these correctly....When I play them,I start at the bass note,"roll" the chord over to the highest treble note,e.g.the e-string note,then go back to the MELODY note.Does this sound familiar? Any input would be appreciated,thanks,or maybe links to more detailed info on this.

Thanks all for reading this!

Replies (30)

August 30, 2015 at 08:56 AM · Listen to Rachel Podgers. What you described is, though common, is not practiced by HIP.

August 30, 2015 at 11:05 AM · Hi there,

Thanks for your interest,Kevin,sorry I

missed your reference to HIP? (Heifetz---Perlman?)

Thanks again,


August 30, 2015 at 01:06 PM · HIP = Historically Informed Performance

Rachel Podgers is a Baroque violinist. :)

August 30, 2015 at 02:06 PM · Thanks,A.O.,for your knowlege,Ive been playing for many years,and have learnt that theres always something new to learn,as in life.


August 30, 2015 at 06:05 PM · Malcolm - it is important to remember that HIP means stands for "informed" and not necessarily "correct." No one really knows how Bach would have performed these chords when he played the Chaconne or how violinists of that era would have viewed the chords. We can only guess, and HIP represents a good guess. Ultimately, you need to play them in a way that works for you and creates the interpretation of the Chaconne that seems best to you. Good luck!

August 30, 2015 at 06:55 PM · If you cannot accomplish a fully Historically Informed Performance of your Bach Chaconne and can only manage to play it as well as, say, Heifetz or Milstein, my guess is that your audiences will forgive you.

August 30, 2015 at 08:30 PM · I would learn as much as I can from the treatises and modern commentaries from really good HIP folks, and then go with my heart. Ultimately all the composers and theorists advices us to play with good taste -- whatever that means.

I think the fixation of maintaining the melody is a Romantic/Modern mindset put retrospectively to older repertoire. When you begin to identify the French chaconne dance elements, I think you will gain a new perspective and not feel so shackled to sustain the melody all the time (Bach isn't particular melodic most of the time anyway, but a sort of horizontal realization and embellishment on harmony.) And not to say you have to make it danceable, only that your overall pulse and beat hierarchy will satisfy your inner dancer.

For a really different perspective than something like Milstein or Perlman, try Sigiswald Kuijken.

It also helps me to single out the bass line and play the way you would as a continuo bass player, that would give you a good sense of were to place your bass note in chords.

August 31, 2015 at 02:55 AM · Also realize that while one can draw on a lot of available information on historical performance practices, unless you're planning on using a period-appropriate instrument and bow, you're having to approach it from the viewpoint of using a modern instrument and bow anyhow. Barring wrong notes and rhythms, there isn't a "right" or "correct" way to interpret the works, regardless of what some people would try to have you believe.

It's for that reason that studying and performing the solo works of Bach is such a monumental task. It's not enough to just play what appears to be on the have to have knowledge about the composer, the history behind the works, the evolution of your instrument from Bach's day to now, the musical structures of the works, etc. Add to that the many editions available, some heavily edited and quite different from the original manuscript!

August 31, 2015 at 01:53 PM · Malcolm,

you did not write if you are using modern or Baroque violin. Even if you intend to perform on a modern violin, studying Chaconne (and other movements of partitas and sonatas) on Baroque violin / with baroque bow is a good investment.

If you can't afford another fiddle, at least use pure gut strings and hold your bow a bit away from frog. The instrument will lead you toward the best option.


September 1, 2015 at 12:31 AM · More on Rachel Podger :)

September 1, 2015 at 01:35 PM · That was a nice read. To this day, there are still violin teachers who ignore or disdain current Baroque practices. It is a shame because Baroque playing is so musically interesting.

September 1, 2015 at 01:49 PM · For some reason, Rachel's complete recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas double CD still has the mirror image on the front cover (and the booklet):

It looks like she is left-handed, with her right hand placed nicely on the fingerboard and G -string shining on the top!

I contacted the recording company and they did not know what I was talking about....

September 1, 2015 at 11:51 PM · Rocky, that seems to be a common phenomenon in the publishing business. It could be something like a print designer thinking it looks better if the subject in a picture is looking in a particular direction, even if it means using a mirror image, irrespective of what happens to the detail as a result. I remember many years ago seeing on the cover of a book a picture of the late Patrick Macnee, an English actor who was one of the best-dressed men of his day, and wondered why he had his jacket buttoned on the left and was wearing his watch on the right wrist.

September 2, 2015 at 02:11 PM · Thank you,everyone who took the time to read my post and give advice,its most appreciated.

Yours in music,


September 2, 2015 at 09:56 PM · You may want to ask about specific measures, but the approach I like is to play three notes at once, thereby never letting go of the melody note at all! Unless your melody is on the G string and you're required to play a chord on all four strings, you can this way avoid the up-and-down rolling sensation that sounds a bit contrived to me.

September 3, 2015 at 08:47 AM · Thanks,Nathan,for the advice,just a question:bearing in mind that some of the melody notes are a "dot" longer than the chord notes,(I have the Auer version),do you play the three notes at once,then release the bow pressure enough to "finish" the melody note? Thanks in advance....

September 3, 2015 at 04:19 PM · Yes, although I don't play from that edition, the idea is the same! Release the other notes and finish on the note (or two!) that you want to emphasize. The important difference from some other techniques is that you start and finish the chord never having released the melody note.

September 3, 2015 at 04:56 PM · I wonder if Bach, in his contrapuntal writing for the violin, was influenced by the lute, in itself an important contrapuntal instrument of the era. For example, the 5th cello suite (the one with the scordatura tuning) is thought by some to have originated as a lute composition, and the Chaconne, when played on the lute or classical guitar, still very much retains its majesty.

September 5, 2015 at 02:28 AM · Hi,everyone,

Just one more question, (hopefully:I cant afford lessons at the moment so the input is really helpful)In bar 3 of the chaconne,the first chord is-from bass up-D-F-A-F.I finger this

4-2-0-1.I find it seems necessary to bring my wrist almost right up to the violin neck,to get a clean chord here.Is it o.k. to play the "4-2",then quickly put the "1" down,just before its needed,to keep the wrist in its normal position?

September 5, 2015 at 03:35 AM · Yes, but... that chord is playable for most hands without adjustment of the wrist. So make sure first that you are reaching back with the 1 (it will likely feel like quite a reach back!) and not allowing the wrist to curve in. If you're reaching all the way back and still can't get the chord properly, it's fine to release the 4-2 and place the 1 just before it's needed. Your reach back with 1 can always be improved later on with some work!

September 5, 2015 at 08:55 AM · It helps to warm up with Dounis' Daily dozens before practicing Bach. When playing chords, I sometimes rotate the violin to make stopping the lower strings feel less stretchy.

September 5, 2015 at 08:05 PM · Of my various non-HIP discs, only Josepf Suk plays the offending chords broken from top to bottom, before the beat.

Personally I prefer this to the usual up-then-down approach, which always makes me think of an angry fox-terrier aiming at my ankle!

On a modern setup, I find three simultaneous notes less than pretty, so I prefer to play the bass theme warmly but detached, with light arpeggiated chords after the beat.

I prefer to imitate the viola da gamba rather than a quartet of trombones!

September 5, 2015 at 11:15 PM · Up-then-down sounds like a hiccup to my ears.

September 6, 2015 at 07:40 AM · Left hand?

In the opening theme, if my short pinky on the G-string is to clear the other strings, my middle finger has to be so curled under that it pushed the D-string to the right, rather than down to the fingerboard; as soon as the bow leaves the G-string, my hand can pivot so the middle finger can resume a more normal shape.

Sure, I am tranposing this on the viola (!) but my comments apply to many of my slender-handed female violin students.

September 6, 2015 at 05:14 PM · Hi,regarding playing 3-note chords,I'm using steel-core strings (thomastic precision).Im just wondering if nylon or perlon-core strings would make 3-string chords any easier,due to their increased flexibility.I'm finding its quite hard to get rid of the "crunch" sound on the attack of the notes,especially the middle note,which seems to have more pressure on it.Any ideas?

September 6, 2015 at 08:51 PM · Malcolm - just out of curiosity, why are you using steel strings? Most serious violinists attempting the Chaconne would use either gut or synthetic.

September 7, 2015 at 04:03 AM · It takes a while to make the mental-physical connection between seeing a 3-note chord (D-A-E strings for example) and setting the bow on the A string. But once you do, and you simply draw the bow with constant pressure and sounding point, you may surprise yourself at the sound and ease of the chord!

This will help get rid of the idea that the chord needs to have "attack" or even articulation at the beginning. Just like any other note, the amount of articulation is up to you! There's a lower limit, i.e. you can't "sneak in" on a 3-note chord. But you don't need an attack either.

The key is finding one good combination of speed, pressure and sounding point for the three strings, then sticking with it. The most common fault I come across is a player starting a chord with a fast bow, disliking the "attack", then slowing the bow down or moving it away from the bridge. Both of those actions usually shut down the sound. You have to hit upon a good combination then keep it, sort of like making a crystal glass ring by rubbing your finger around the edge. What counts is the constant speed/pressure.

It's great to work this with 2-note chords, finding all the good combinations of speed/pressure/sounding point and then extending that to the 3-note chords. It's not fundamentally different. Good luck!

September 7, 2015 at 08:25 AM · I have noticed another aspect to bowing double and triple stops: we tend to raise the right arm as for the lower string, and either leave it too high, or lower it too vigorously, in both cases crushing the higher string(s).

True, I prefer my violin E and viola A to sound like strings, not trumpets, and I learned early on to use weight on the low notes and speed on the higher ones.

So, for chords I set my right arm to get the best tone from the higher strings, and tilt the wrist for the lower ones.

September 7, 2015 at 10:46 AM · Hi,Thanks,Tom for the advice Re-strings,I guess Ive just always used thomastic precisions,probably due to their lower price...I also quite like their fast bow response and brightness.Ive only been learning 3-string chords for a short while,so its a learning curve for me;Im more than happy to try other types of strings,though!

Incidentally,I noticed that when I was practicing the 3-string chords,if I treated them as playing a double stop on the OUTSIDE two strings,it stopped me stressing about the "middle string sound",and helped me get even pressure.Maybe this might help someone else?

September 8, 2015 at 10:25 PM · I like that concept!

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