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I'm wondering if there are any pieces I could look at before attempting the inventions. Im working through invention 1 in c major and it's quite challenging for me. I suspect the problem is that I need to play... Two parts... and there is lots of melody in the LH. I generally find Baroque music like the inventions challenging due to its constant motion in both hands. Problem is I haven't been able to find studies that are helpful. I know that the inventions themselves are supposed to be studies, but what does one do when the study needs it's own study?

Also, is there​ a common set of technical skills one needs to play the inventions?

  • The skills you need to develop aren't technical as much as mental, it seems from your post (unless you encounter technical problems when playing just one of the two voices with one hand). Learning to play two (or more!) seemingly independent parts is simply one of the challenges that are encountered when learning to play the piano. A set of slightly easier pieces in the same style would be the "Kleine Präludien und Fughetten" (small preludes and fugues), also by Bach. – 11684 Apr 30 '17 at 11:54
  • Maybe try the F Major? It might be easier for you. But you should still approach it hands separately first. – Brian Tung May 1 '17 at 22:29
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Make sure you are ABSOLUTELY fluent hands separately before attempting to put them together. Then try it VERY slowly. Slowly enough to not make mistakes. If you do make a mistake, go even slower. When you can play a section 10 times, without errors, at the slow speed, try a bit faster. Sleeping on it helps.

You know, just the standard How To Practice stuff. But you REALLY have to do it with contrapuntal music. It's hard to fake!

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    Is the primary difficulty then just the counterpoint? I have always found pieces like these tremendously difficult. In fact, I've recently gone back to my old books, and I find that, say, my grade 7 (Canada's RCM) book is generally not that difficult except for the Baroque pieces, which I can't make much headway on. I've always wondered why they are grouped with the other pieces at the same grade level, although I guess difficulty is subjective... – Michael Stachowsky Apr 30 '17 at 11:17
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    Not so much "the counterpoint," but the fact that the hands are independent. That's a basic necessity for keyboard playing, though you can avoid it for a long time by only choosing music that doesn't need it! (Counterpoint gets "hard" when you have to play 5 or 6 independent parts with two hands, not just two!) – user19146 Apr 30 '17 at 17:38
  • In that case, would Hanon exercises be good, or just choose pieces to practice that have independence of fingers built in? I'd rather avoid Hanon if I can – Michael Stachowsky Apr 30 '17 at 20:13
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    IMHO Hanon is worthless for anything - except lighting a fire, if you have a paper copy. Much better to play music - e.g. start with some easier teaching pieces by Bach, like the Anna Magdelena notebook imslp.org/wiki/…, or this collection of preludes he wrote as teaching pieces: imslp.org/wiki/… – user19146 Apr 30 '17 at 21:00
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    @MichaelStachowsky: I'd be wary of saying Hanon is worthless for literally anything (besides starting a fire), but I would agree with alephzero that it's not really useful for this. Independence of motion is presumably what you're having problems with, and Hanon has essentially none of that. I would reiterate Laurence Payne's advice to practice hands separately first and master those first before trying to combine the hands. Trying to play hands together prematurely may permit you to play the correct notes, but you will likely not retain proper articulation and phrasing. – Brian Tung May 1 '17 at 22:27
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I am guessing that you are having difficulty with the independent nature of the left hand part.

I would suggest that you start practising your scales, especially in contrary motion. If you can play the chromatic scale (2 octaves) in contrary motion starting from any note then you will have developed some of the skills needed to play these pieces.

Also normal scales in contrary motion and scales,again in contrary motion but with one hand starting on the third of the scale.

Arpeggios might be useful as well.

I'm sure other people will be able to suggest some easy pieces that will help you develop this further. Good luck.

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One book I have personally loved is First Lessons in Bach, edited by Walter Carroll (and easy to find online). It contains a variety of somewhat easier pieces by Bach and his contemporaries, many but not all of them from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook. In his introduction, the editor specifically recommends it as good preparatory material for the two part inventions.

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However, listening to interpretations by other pianists is very good advice. Myself, I am playing five of the fifteen inventions on harpsichord and am planning to learn them all. I listen to Gould who is interesting and a few harpsichordists. It's fun to compare not only the interpretations but also playing times.

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