Not sure how to word it better. I give two examples below. On the right hand (treble clef), the small groups of notes have similar patterns but vary slightly, sometimes just an accidental's difference. When first learning the Clementi Sonatina No. 4, this part was confusing to me and took me a while to get it right and memorize it.

Any tips on learning this type of passages? How would I know or remember it's a certain note with or without sharp, double sharp, or flat? I suppose it can be helped by learning music theory, and understanding why the composer wrote so?

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  • Learning and memorization are related but quite different aspects, not always related to performance. For instance, some won't actually think whether a note is sharp or not, but how they'd eventually "move" fingers based on physical concepts (touch sensitivity, body awareness). Many use a "compound" approach, decided depending on the context (eg. "what has changed"). Some may consider the harmonic context of those notes. Others may be so well ear-trained to not think about it at all. Experienced musicians often use flexible methods, intuitively deciding the better way to learn each passage. Commented Nov 19, 2023 at 6:01

1 Answer 1


General approach

It is generally easier to memorize groups of notes, or patterns of notes, as opposed to memorizing each note individually.

In passages like the ones shown, it can be helpful to "simplify" or "strip down" the passage to essential elements. This sometimes makes clear the composer's intention, which may otherwise be obscured by the "extra" notes. It also can facilitate memorization by simplifying the structure of the passage.

Applied to Clementi

In the case of the Clementi, notice that each beat of sixteenths comprises two different pitches. So one way to practice is to turn the pitch pairs into chords, and hold the chord for the expected duration.

Chordal approach to Clementi

What now becomes more clear is that there are three voices: two in the right hand, one in the left. In this case, another practice technique is to play each voice single, then in pairs, and finally all together. Below is a "hyper-simplified" version. The practice technique goes like this:

  1. Right hand plays top-most voice, left hand plays middle voice.
  2. Right hand plays middle voice, left hand plays bass voice.
  3. Right hand plays top-most voice, left hand plays bass voice.

Voice-reduced Clementi

Applied to Bach

With the Bach, the key observation is that the 32nd notes are "decorative". Although not technically ornaments, they serve a similar purpose. The main note occurs on the beat.

Bach with "ornaments" removed

Just looking at the reduced version suggests that each hand is, in effect, playing a three-beat chord in each measure. These could certainly be practiced hands separately, and might work hands together as well. That is, both hands together might form a single chord. (Hint: They do, except the second measure, but the whole passage can still be practiced that way.)

Bach as chords

Music theory can help with the "ornamental" notes. Each of them is a half or whole step below the main note, and the determination is according to the key of that particular measure. The first and third measures, for example, are G# minor chords, and the ornaments are diatonic to the G# (harmonic) minor scale. (In fact, the first three measures are in G# minor, and the final measure in G# major so knowing that scale well is helpful.)

But even without this, one could use the Clement "pairs" approach.

Bach right hand in note pairs

  • Thank you so much Aaron. This is very helpful! Thanks for taking the time to answer in such detail! Commented Nov 20, 2023 at 3:46

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