I'm asking for objective reasons why this piece can be quite useful for beginners, specifically those who cannot yet read music. I'm not asking for meanings or arguments as a discussion but for examples of copies or tutorials.

  • 3
    I must ask that you clarify or elaborate on what the question means. Did you mean "Would it benefit a beginner pianist to start by learning Bach's Prelude in C"?
    – user45266
    Jan 16, 2019 at 4:03
  • Do you mean a person who has never played piano, but has learnt other instruments and can read music reasonably well? Or someone who has never learnt any instrument and cannot read music? The two answers might be very different. Jan 16, 2019 at 5:07
  • Both! I'm really thinking of an absolute musical analphabet. Jan 16, 2019 at 10:41
  • 1
    It can be a very useful piece for teaching harmony.
    – PeterJ
    Jan 16, 2019 at 12:43
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    All the answers so far have assumed you want this beginner to be taught to read the music, as well as perform the piece. Did you intend that to be a requirement?
    – AakashM
    Jan 16, 2019 at 12:53

5 Answers 5


From a pedagogical standpoint, consider all of the things an "absolute beginner" would have to learn in order to perform this piece:

  • Note names in treble clef
  • Note names in bass clas
  • Note values of whole, half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth
  • Dotted note values
  • Rest values of eighth and sixteenth (and result syncopation)
  • Ties
  • Accidentals
  • Fermata
  • Notation with multiple voices in a single staff
  • Extensive use of ledger lines

I'm sure there are other things I could add to this list—and I didn't even get into questions of technique or interpretation—but this is a huge list for absolute beginners to learn all at once.

If your goal as a teacher is to find one single piece that illustrates a lot of new concepts all at once, then this prelude is one of many that might fit.

However, if your goal as a teacher is to gradually move a student forward one step at a time, helping ensure success by never allowing them to be shocked by too much new material, it's hard for me to imagine this being a good piece "for absolute beginners."

  • that's why I wouldn't choose "jesus, joy of men's desiring ;) Richard, you're giving good arguments, they would also fit for the little preludes. I want to show why I consider the 1st prelude as more useful than any children song or a pop sheet with chords and more appropriate than the little menuets of Bach or the inventions, with which I had to start. Jan 15, 2019 at 17:25
  • 1
    @AlbrechtHügli I have a book of Czerny's etude, which was to me a good starting point (pieces with only the treble key, or which alternate with the bass key). Some don't even sound as bad/boring as I've heard some people say about Czerny's work. The point is that this line of work allows a better learning curve for beginners. It's possible to start with the etude you're suggesting but it has all the obstacles that Richard has in his answer. Of course if you have already made up your mind, we can't force you otherwise. Jan 16, 2019 at 9:17
  • @ Pierre your coming to the point! Of course I would give some etudes (as Czerny's) or own etudes developed of the Prelude 1) Jan 16, 2019 at 10:53

Ironically, I did exactly that with one young adult who had never played the piano before. You are looking for objective reasons. Hard to do but I will give it a shot:


  • motivation: The C prelude provides an infinite source of pleasure and can be played, listened to at length and not lose its original appeal. Many beginner pieces don't provide that appeal. It's a great way to provide motivation to a student, especially an adult with limited time.

  • technique: an important aspect of learning to play the piano is to work on hand position. This piece provides a good learning ground for that skill: working on the ability to put the fingers on the keys and then pressing one after the other.

  • accomplishment: the piece is a succession of chords. Even if the adult doesn't succeed in playing the whole piece, they may get a great sense of satisfaction in playing in a loop a couple of lines already.

  • rhythm: the learner won't have to focus on that aspect. That's one challenge that's removed from the plate.


  • challenging to read: if the adult hasn't any music background, that's a lot of notes to read.

  • challenging to memorize: one of the beginner frustration is to spend so much time reading the notes before playing each of them. Usually beginner pieces present the advantage of being short and having notes that follow each other so that they are easy to memorize and the learner can practice playing the piece. The C prelude doesn't provide that advantage.

  • uneven hands: beginner pieces are best if they help the student practice both hands evenly. This piece doesn't help much with the left hand.

I'd say that with motivation, everything can be accomplished so I think with the right nurturing environment and a good teacher, it is ok to start with this piece: aim for the moon. It's ok if you don't reach it.

I also think you will be more successful with an adult on this piece as it will be easier for them to see the whole picture. A young kid may get frustrated by the length of the piece and how much work it is to get to the end.

  • 3
    "aim for the moon. It's ok if you don't reach it." There are some who can't handle that for a first piece though, so some caution is warranted.
    – Mast
    Jan 15, 2019 at 18:48
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    How many people keep playing an instrument for which they had lessons in childhood? ...could that failure rate have anything to do with inappropriate 'challenges' or a badly designed sequence of lessons? Jan 15, 2019 at 19:41
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    Absolutely, some caution is definitely warranted. Students will react differently when faced to a great challenge. I would not introduce this piece to a beginner unless they asked for it and were aware it may be too much of a challenge. My comment is simply that it can have merits to a beginner. Even so, I would watch for signs of too much frustration, pulling the student out of the piece if they were not making progress with it and becoming increasingly frustrated. We all react differently to challenge.
    – Lolo
    Jan 15, 2019 at 21:56
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    I'd like to stress the sense of accomplishment and pleasure! I started young and got little pleasure from elementary pieces. But Grade 3 included the prelude BWV999 (similar but slightly simpler than BWV846). That was the first piece I really enjoyed! Partly because, well, it's Bach (yum yum) — but also because its simple chordal structure meant that I could play a ‘big boys' piece’ well. That piece and the enjoyment it gave is probably one of the main reasons I persevered with the piano. Not sure it's a suitable first piece; but I'm for introducing Bach early!
    – gidds
    Jan 15, 2019 at 22:40
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    One particular benefit of BWV846 has struck me: once the pupil can play it well, the teacher can sing Gounod's Ave Maria over the top, thus giving practice in listening while playing, and other accompaniment skills! — Still not for absolute beginners, though. But, as I said, the simple broken-chord structure gives a higher ratio of pleasure and richness of sound to concentration and effort than most pieces.
    – gidds
    Jan 16, 2019 at 15:25

As you're after the objective: I'm currently doing exactly this! I'm a 40-something with no prior piano experience. Musical ability limited to bass and guitar via tabs.

It's a stretch but more fun than "simpler" pieces I have access to: my daughter has had tuition and has several simple books (largely aimed at the under-10s). I don't really have the opportunity currently to seek formal tuition. Real proficiency is a long way off if ever obtainable but in the meantime if I can only ever play one tune I'm happy it'll be one I enjoy. (I'll save the C# prelude for later.)

As a (near) absolute beginner I think it depends on the beginner: I doubt my daughter would get as much from it as I would given a love of WTC. Although coming to Bach early in life can only be a good thing.

As a guitar and bass hack I'm happy to play (badly) for my own amusement. I can think of friends that this would put off starting here as they'd prefer to master "simple" first to have a sense of achievement. As a novice, I think it depends on the individual.

For completeness I should add this is largely because of James Rhodes "How To Play Piano" book, which is based on learning this very prelude.


I'd say it's a good beginner piece, the arpeggio pattern repeats itself. I had an easier time writing the notes like this though because it's more condensed.

Use this pattern for all lines, first line example: C E G C E G C E

C E G C E - C
C D A D F - Dm7
B D G D F - G7
C E G C E - C
C E A E A - Am
C D F# A D - D7
B D G D G - G
B C E G C - CMaj7
A C E G C - Am7
D A D F# C - D7

B G D G B - G
G Bb E G C# - Gdim7
F A D A D - Dm
F Ab D F B - Ddim
E G C G C - C
E F A C F - Fmaj7
D F A C F - Dm7
G D G B F - G7
C E G C E - C
C G Bb C E - C7

F F A C E - Fmaj7
F# C A C Eb - F#dim7
G Eb B C Eb - Cm7/Maj7
Ab F B C D - Abdim7
G F G B D - G7
G E G C E - C
G D G C F - G7sus4
G D G B F - G7
G Eb A C F# - Gdim7/G

G E G C G - C
G D G C F - G7sus4
G D G B F - G7
C C G Bb E - C7
F A C F C A C A F A F D F D - F/C
G B D F D B D B G B D F E D - G7/C
C C E G C - C

  • Up vote as you give an impotant reason: the pattern (in rhthmic. and harmoic concern). Why did you post all the notes? Maybe as some say they can‘t read sheet music? (There are some errors by the way) Jan 16, 2019 at 7:00
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    of course this notation is very shallow. It fails to represent that the 2 left hand notes should be held for the entire bar, and the others should not; and also that these 2 notes are different voices, and the first should be played a little stronger than the second. and it also fails to represent dynamics (though in this piece it's kind of obvious for an experienced player, but for a beginner this must be notated). It also fails to indicate the fingering, which is very important for a beginner. I don't know, I think sheet music is still better in this case...
    – coconochao
    Jan 16, 2019 at 20:50
  • @AlbrechtHügli fixed errors
    – user34288
    Jan 18, 2019 at 15:33
  • yes, but not all ... just control the dim7 . well, this is not the important matter, but as you are interested ....and further I would group the measures differently. Jan 18, 2019 at 16:10

That's not an unreasonable 'first piece' for an adult beginner who can cope with notation on an intellectual level.

  • An elaboration with objective reasoning would be appreciated, as per OP's (possibly edited) request.
    – user45266
    Jan 16, 2019 at 4:06

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