I have played a few pairs of pieces from this collection, however it was some time ago. I have the ambitious goal to work my way through the entire collection.

It will obviously take me some time to work my way through the entire collection (both volumes), and I'd like to start with the easiest ones and work my way up to the hardest ones given that I've not played serious technical pieces lately.

I have searched for a listing ordered by skill, but I have been unable to find one. I understand that each person might find different technical skills harder than someone else, but is there a commonly regarded ordering by skill?

  • 1
    +1: Hey, me too! I've got the prelude in C Major (probably the easiest) and the prelude and fugue in C minor down so far... Interested to see how they might be ordered by difficulty!
    – NReilingh
    May 6, 2011 at 1:28
  • @Rebecca: do you mean to study the volume 1 only or the volume 2 as well?
    – ogerard
    May 6, 2011 at 6:48
  • @ogerard, both. May 6, 2011 at 16:17
  • 3
    @Rebecca : I would advise you to work on all of them as a minimum foundation before working on the WTK. Of course they are quite short and they do not cover all tonalities, but especially for sinfoniae they cover three voice leading, thumb substitutions, imitations between the two hands, etc. which are everywhere in WTK.
    – ogerard
    May 9, 2011 at 18:45
  • 1
    @Rebecca: I will try to make you a good answer for this question, but I need first to find my notes on WTK 1 and they are still on low-tech paper in a series of folder. I hope to be able to do so in a few days.
    – ogerard
    May 9, 2011 at 18:51

4 Answers 4


What a great question! I am currently working my way through the second book, so I have more specific opinions about that. Of those I've learnt from the first book, I found the following to be less tricky:

  1. The C major prelude, of course. Curtis is right about the difficulty of the fugue, however.

  2. c minor prelude and fugue are a good first pair to learn

  3. c# minor prelude is a nice lyrical dance movement whose difficulties are mostly due to the tricky key. The fugue on the other hand is quite complicated, although the difficult bit here is mostly playing 5 voices at the same time, not playing fast or complicated figures.

  4. The D major fugue is also quite simple as fugues go. It looks more imposing on the page than it really is (the fast fanfare figures only occur in one hand at a time, and there is a lot of stuff which is basically chords). The D major prelude is not too hard either. Most people make it hard by playing it too fast.

  5. The d minor fugue is another fairly simple fugue -- no harder than the c minor one, I would say. The prelude is a workout for arpeggio playing which can be difficult if you have problems with tension in your arms and wrists.

  6. Eb minor prelude is a very nice slow sarabande with mostly chords in the left hand and the right hand playing the role of a solo instrument. The fugue is difficult though (d# minor!).

  7. The E major prelude is not too hard, and very pretty -- another dance-like piece

  8. The e minor fugue is in two parts only, which obviously makes it somewhat simpler to learn. The first half of the e minor prelude is not bad, but it gets harder at the second half marked "presto"!

  9. Finally, the F major prelude and fugue is another nice pair to start with -- on about the same level as the c minor and d minor.

Here are the pieces I've found easier in book two, so far:

  1. The C major fugue is quite straightforward. The prelude is not very hard but sustaining the long notes and making the whole thing flow can be tricky.

  2. The c minor prelude is more or less a two-part invention. The fugue is for four parts, but only in three for long stretches -- maybe a good first four-voiced fugue to learn?

  3. The D major prelude has a lot of repeating patterns of scales and arpeggios which eases the learning a bit, and the fanfare-like character makes it easier to get into compared to some of the more abstract pieces. The fugue is not bad for a four-part fugue, but it requires a good legato on the piano to keep the voices connected.

  4. d minor prelude is another invention, and the three-part fugue is straightforward, although rhythmically and harmonically peculiar (lots of chromatic descending scales)

  5. The E major and Eb fugue are not too tricky for four-part fugues. Their preludes are moderately difficult, I'd say.

  6. The F major fugue is fast but not really very complicated, if you've played something like a Gigue from a French Suite.

  7. The f minor prelude is simple and beautiful; the f minor fugue (3 voices) is not bad apart from the tricky key. I'd say the same about the f# minor prelude.

  8. The G major fugue is fast and fun -- mostly arpeggios. The prelude is similar. Like the d minor prelude from book one, they can be tiring if you have trouble playing arpeggios and similar wrist-rotation techniques in a relaxed way (or when taken too fast ;->)

Wow, that's much more than I meant to write. Hope it's useful to someone! I haven't really gotten much further than halfway with either book, so there may well be other less-difficult pieces which I've overlooked. But I think these are reasonable starting points.


Wow - you are really motivated :)

In general one can say that book 2 is more difficult than the first one. To find an exact order of difficulty would be highly subjective.

I would suggest starting with the fugues with the least amount of concurrent voices first which makes life a lot easier. This way you won't be overhelmed by the complexity (it is the way my teacher handled it).

The technical skill will build up automatically if you practice slowly and patiently and don't rush the pieces.

  • One can learn the entirety of both Well-Tempered Clavier books in a year, I would estimate, but it would take a lifetime to master. Unless you're Angela Hewitt or Glenn Gould I would recommend mastering only a select few Preludes and Fugues rather than being 'okay' at all of them. Jun 15, 2011 at 21:48

I don't know how old this topic is, but generally speaking, VERY generally, the preludes are easier than the fugues, the easier keys are the ones with the fewer sharps and flats, C,D,F,G. etc. The two voice fugues are easier than the three and four voiced fugues, and as far as tempo goes, though it may be tempting, and everybody does it, don't play at tempo until you can play it perfectly with both hands slowly. Because you will only be 'enforcing' mistakes. Thankfully, Bach's music sounds just as good slow or fast.


I've played the First Book and learned perhaps half of the Second but one thing for certain - the first fugue in C Major isn't easy at all. The fact that something is in C Major with no flats or sharps doesn't mean that it's easy to perform. Chopin's First Etude or Schumann's Toccata are in C Major and are notoriously difficult. To begin, I could suggest C Minor, D Major, D Minor and Bb Major as good points for departure. Ab Major works well as well as C Minor from the second book. Good luck on your project!

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