Road to Bach?

Edited: December 26, 2018, 12:27 PM · Hi!

I'm an amateur beginner violinist, which is currently starting to learn double stops... and who loves Bach.

I'm currently learning the 2nd movement of the Corelli Op.5 No. 7 sonata, and the mazurka at Dancla Op. 123.

I'd like to know:

(1) Which is the typical path from my current level to Bach solo works.

(2) Which technical aspects should I pay more attention to in order to correctly playing Bach (bow strokes? double or triple stops? new positions?)

(3) Can you point me to a graded Bach repertoire? Which of his works are easier?

Thank you very much

Replies (27)

December 26, 2018, 12:32 PM · Because the left fingers approach the strings diagonally, the distances between the fingers learnt in scales are much modified as we cross the fingerboard. So lots of arpeggios!
December 26, 2018, 12:55 PM · The Bach Cello Suites are easier than the violin works, and can probably be found in a violin edition. Joseph Szigeti was a huge fan of them for this purpose.
December 26, 2018, 3:18 PM · http://conquest.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/8/8e/IMSLP254354-PMLP04291-Bach_-_6_Suites_for_Cello_Solo_(David)_(Heinze_1866)_for_violin_solo.pdf

One example available on line.

December 26, 2018, 4:44 PM · Then, I'll pay attention to my sloppy arpeggios. I had heard the cello suites played on viola... but not on a violin. I'll search for them on youtube and may try some easy parts. Thank you everyone.
December 26, 2018, 5:11 PM · Some movements from the solo sonatas and partitas are a lot easier than other movements. Most people start with either the D minor or E major partitas (no. 2 and no. 3).
December 26, 2018, 5:33 PM · Telemann Solo sonatas are a good stepping stone.
Edited: December 27, 2018, 3:32 PM · Telemann also wrote a set of 12 Fantasies which are a good stepping stone. However, after that, I would try the Bach cello suites, which as everyone has pointed out, are easier than the S&Ps. If you want to try the S&Ps, start with the last movements, or some of the movements in the 1st Partita, which I think are the easiest.
December 28, 2018, 3:42 AM · Thank you Lydia, Scott and Tom. I'd like to play the Sonatas and Partitas, but I prefer to wait and play them properly with a better technique, instead of learning them badly, not enjoying them and not making them sound right. That's why I wanted to know what other works could I play before attempting them.

Scott mentioned Telemann Solo sonatas, and Tom mentioned 12 Fantasies. May I ask which of them are easier, to start with?

December 28, 2018, 6:55 AM · I don't know where they'd fit in, but I'd include the Bach accompanied sonatas - certainly easier than the solos for the most part, and probably intended by him to be so.
Edited: December 28, 2018, 1:11 PM · Telemann Fantasia No 1 in b flat major and 7 in e flat major are the easier ones to start with; also the one in e major and in d major. I'm currently self-studying and working up to the Bach violin solo pieces as well and the cello suites transcribed for violin definitely help since they start out much easier than the violin solos, but by the 6th suite are reaching the same level of difficulty. They are beautiful too, especially the 3rd suite. The Biber Passacagalia also is a slightly higher stepping stone but a good one nonetheless. I find the Bach accompanied sonatas to be a little harder to practice with no accompaniment and of a different playing style than what is needed for the solo pieces.
December 28, 2018, 1:34 PM · I'd second most of those recommendations (apart from the Biber Passacaglia, to be honest that is more difficult than the Bach you would start with).

I'll add the Handel sonatas which are classic intermediate repertoire and a joy to play - they are good to learn before any of the Bach or Telemann.

However even if you're aiming to play Bach, I'd recommend on not focusing solely on Baroque music. You need the rest of the violin 'diet' as well :)

(And do you have a teacher? Always a good move :) )

Edited: December 28, 2018, 2:05 PM · I found this list somewhere online: -

Gavotte in D (Suzuki Book 3)

Gavotte in Gm (Suzuki Book 3)

Bourrée (Suzuki Book 3)

Double Concerto BWV 1043 (Suzuki Book V)

Concerto in A Minor BWV 1041 (Suzuki Book VI)

Concerto in E Major BWV 1042 (Suzuki Book VIII)

Partita in E-Major, BWV 1006

Partita in D-minor, BWV 1004 without the Chaconne

Sonata in G-minor, BWV 1001 (the first movement is an ABRSM grade 8 piece)

Partita in B-minor, BWV 1002

Sonata in A-minor, BWV 1003

Chaconne from Partita in D-minor, BWV 1004

Sonata in C-Major, BWV 1005


(but there's a lot more Bach than that in the Suzuki books)

December 28, 2018, 2:07 PM · Andrew, if you could please post where you found that list, that would be very helpful. Thank you for the useful info.
December 28, 2018, 4:32 PM · J Ray's advocacy of the Bach accompanied sonatas is welcome. They are wonderful pieces and much easier than the S&Ps.
December 28, 2018, 4:58 PM · I don't know where you are with etudes, but Dont op. 37 and Kreutzer complement a lot of stuff in Bach.
December 29, 2018, 5:01 AM · Sorry, Thierno, I didn't keep the address for that one.
Edited: December 29, 2018, 10:10 AM · The edition of the Bach Cello Suites for violin linked below is absolutely wonderful. Expertly edited (i.e., sparsely with keen attention to the manuscripts, very few fingerings), nice big notes that are easy to read, nice spiral binding, and it's only $20.

http://www.beethovenandcompany.com/product_brochure.php?products_id=85295

If the link does not work, it's the edition by Valerie Arsenault. I believe she sells it through that retailer because she is local to Tallahassee but I'm not sure.

Regarding double stops, the best way forward there, in my amateur opinion, is slow scales in thirds and sixths. Barbara Barber's scale book has fingerings but not a method of practice. The method I learned from my teacher goes like this:

B2D0, B2D0-C3E1, C3E1-D4F#2, D4F#2-E3G1(shifting to third posn) etc. Here, the hyphens represent slurs and the commas represent gaps with changing bows, and the numbers are the fingerings. And then you keep going up to, say, 5th position on the E string. Ideally minimize the use of open strings. To change keys just do the same range of notes but with different accidentals.

Additional standard prep for Bach includes Handel Sonatas and as much Vivaldi as you can get your hands on. Do the first movement of Summer and then you'll find the E Major Praeludio much easier.

December 29, 2018, 9:50 AM · (1) gotta really know your single-note scales (as in, up to tempo, in tune, etc.) and having played some double stops. Bach really takes a toll on your left hand because there are a lot of awkward techniques, like parallel fifth string crossings, half positions, let alone that you have to adjust your intonation for double stops.

(2) The ones stated above. So right hand wise, you really gotta listen to yourself and try to find a good sounding point in the bow AND on the string. It'll come handy when you start playing chords, where the "sweet spot" in the bow is basically the place where it's easiest to control AND the most "cushion"y part of the bow and really sinks into the string.


(3) You could probably just follow the RCM syllabus and should be okay

Edited: December 29, 2018, 10:15 AM · As for scales, I agree they're important but so much emphasis in teaching is placed on three octave scales and if your goal is to play the Bach S&P, you don't need to go that high. It does help to be comfortable with lots of hand positions in half, first, second, and third position, however, so if Bach is your goal you are probably just as well off doing scale-passage studies such as you will find in Wohlfahrt, Dont, and Kayser. On the other hand, your goals will likely change later, and if you cannot play scales at all above 5th position that's a serious problem. This is why most teachers emphasize scales and studies.
December 29, 2018, 1:19 PM · But of course the best preparation for solo Bach is playing solo Bach. You really aren’t going to get double stops until you’re in the sh*t, so to speak. I was well prepared when my teacher started me but after a year in a half in which we’ve done all of E and part of D and B, coming back to finish those last two (except the Chaconne of course), double stops finally make intuitive sense. Compared to before, it’s a revaluation, and now that the technical faculty has arrived there is endless musical improvement to explore in the lessons.
December 29, 2018, 6:19 PM · If you're really an amateur beginner, a lot of unaccompanied Bach is going to require technique you haven't got yet. It could be a couple of years before you're ready.

Before you take on unaccompanied Bach you probably ought to spend some time learning to play fifths, thirds, sixths etc -- especially thirds. But before you dive into double stops you probably want to be sure you're playing three octave scales and arpeggios correctly and shifting smoothly. And before that you should be comfortable with two octave scales and shifting among 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th position and 1/2 position. To reach the chords you have to shift a lot and sometimes shift with two or three fingers in mind.

I do think tackling double stops early (as soon as you've developed an ear for them) is beneficial because it helps develop good finger position and hand strength.

Sevcik preparatory etudes for double-stops perhaps? And the late Kreutzer etudes feature some very good double-stop challenges.

And of course this is just the left hand. Arguably the greatest difficulty about the Sonatas & Partitas isn't the left hand and the chords, it's the right hand. You have to have a really well developed bow technique, including the ability to play in a variety of styles, because you will use every ounce of it trying to play Bach.


December 31, 2018, 3:44 PM · Thank you very much. I always get great advice here. I’ll have a look at all the works that have been mentioned, not just for knowing what can I play, but for pure listening enjoyment.

I have a teacher and I have an hour-long weekly lesson with him. I know my technique is still not good enough. But I don’t need to hurry up. This is a lifetime hobby for
me, and I just want to get to play these works someday. Maybe two years later. Maybe five or ten. I just wanted to discover what the way looks like, and I got the answers I was searching for, including a “syllabus” by Andrew Fryer and the suggestion of accompanied sonatas both from J. Ray and Tom Holzman. I also got exercise suggestions. What else can I ask for from complete strangers on the internet? All I must do now is taking my violin and playing it until I get better at it.

Thank you very much again, and happy new year.

December 31, 2018, 8:16 PM · The biggest challenge with Bach is double stops, and few methods have enough concentrated double stop practice. Suzuki does a poor job with it. Few etudes have enough until you get to Kreutzer.

My suggestion: Get either Polo or Trott (2 volumes) and get comfortable with double stops. Spend a good year on them. It will make Bach seem a little less impossible.

December 31, 2018, 11:49 PM · Trott has some great stuff in there, I second that suggestion.
January 1, 2019, 1:20 AM · Happy New Year guys! Could you help me by proposing a duo Violin piece (First & Second Violin) for two of us. Our choices are Bach, Vivaldi or Mozart. We are currently at Grade 6 (Trinity College of London) in Violin.
January 1, 2019, 4:01 AM · Good news then! I’m working right now on Trotts first volume! I have very recently started with it, but my teacher likes the method and wants to go through the two volumes.

Koustav, I’m afraid I can’t help you very much. I like Bach’s double concerto. And I love Mozart violin and piano sonatas (but that’s not what you asked for). You may get more visibility and better answers if you make a specific post about your request in the front page.

Edited: January 1, 2019, 9:30 AM · The Adagio of the F minor sonata, BWV 1018, is almost entirely slow double stops, which are very beautiful. I think they stand by themselves as a musical line, though the contrasting runs on the clavier make it more enjoyable for the listener.


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