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I want to know if playing J.S. Bach would improve my overall piano technique. I look for pieces that help me to become better. I usually play romantic composers. I have played pieces such as

  1. Chopin's "Nocturne op.9 No.2"
  2. Chopin's "Waltz No.14 in E minor posthm."
  3. Schubert's "Moments musicaux nr. 3"
  4. Mendelssohn's "Songs without words op. 30 nr 1".

The most difficult pieces I attempted was "Fantaisie-Impromptu" and "Etude Op. 25. Nr 2." which I can play unfortunately only badly.

So I wonder if playing some "2/3-part Inventions" or the "WTC" would actually also improve my overall playing, or would I just become better at counterpoint music? I played 2 Bach pieces so far, they were the Kempff transcriptions of "BWV 1031 Siciliano" and "BWV 639 Ich ruf zu dir...."

And if I should play some Bach, should I do the "Inventions" or should I jump directly into the" WTC"? I usually play romantic pieces around Henle levels 4-6. But level 6 is still quite difficult for me.

I do enjoy some Bach, but I enjoy Schubert for instance a little bit more. So my main motivation is piano technique.

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So I wonder if playing some "2/3-part Inventions" or the "WTC" would actually also improve my overall playing

I say YES! I don't know exactly what you call "counterpoint music". Is it "music that has counterpoint" or "music composed entirely based on counterpoint" (like a lot (not all) of Bach's) ?? Because it will indeed improve not only you counterpoint, that is useful to a lot of pieces, but also independence of the hands in general, which piano is all about, right?

Take for example Schumann's Träumerei. It's romantic, but it's an amalgam of voices and phrases and counterpoints. Is it "counterpoint music"? I don't know, but if you are great at WTC fugues it will be so much easier. Of course it's a completely different style, but since you are familiar with Romantic, it should be easier for you to transpose your skills, the counterpoint (an important matter in this case) would be a technical barrier you won't have anymore.

Talking about "non-counterpoint music", as I said, independence of the hands is always useful for piano. Even melody + accompaniment becomes easier, and also almost every piece has a little counterpoint here and there.

And if I should play some Bach, should I do the "Inventions" or should I jump directly into the" WTC"?

This one seems easy. Start with the Inventions, when you're doing well, or if you feel like you're not being challenged, jump to WTC. You're not in a hurry, are you? Also, I think it's a good idea to start slow. WTC has 3, 4 and even 5 voice fugues. How can you play that if you didn't even try 2 voice Inventions?

  • Thank you a lot for your comment. The reason why I eventually asked was not only because I am more into Romantic composers but also because I think Bach is sometimes hard to remember and unpredictable. When I listen to the "Inventions", they sound harmonic but still very "random" for me. So I imagine learning the fugues of the WTC would be so hard. I have no problem in remembering for instance Schubert's "Impromptu Op. 90 No. 2" which has a lot of notes, but it seems more predictable. Any tips on that? Should I learn the 2 voices first separately or can I learn them at the same time? – Matriz Jan 22 at 12:29
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    @Matriz Good point, I could have talked about that! It's indeed a lot harder to remember: there is almost no repetition, lot's of notes and almost no chords. It's like memorizing several complex melodies and playing them all at the same time. But this is another good thing, because you get better at memorizing too! I don't know about predictability, I think it depends on what you are more used to. I just heard this Schubert's you mentioned, and I think it's easier to remember because the left hand is mostly harmony, and there are some repetitions too. – coconochao Jan 22 at 16:38
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    @Matriz As for learning, I am no expert, but I think it's good to learn them separately. At least for me, in WTC it's impossible to learn all voices together, so one tip that a teacher of my gave me, was to learn each voice separately, then playing 2 at a time, then 3, etc... So in a 3 voice fugue, for example, you would learn: voice 1; voice 2; voice 3; voices 1 + 2; voices 2 + 3; voices 1 + 3; then finally 1 + 2 + 3 (and it will still be hard!) – coconochao Jan 22 at 16:48
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wtc and inventions are both very useful. it always depends what will be your goal. if you want to profit by studying or if your purpose is to perform this music in front of a public. I always make music for me and my pleasure - this doesn't mean that I don't imagine myself playing for friends or a big audience.

you have to look at the difficulty:

as I already mentioned in another post of this SE site the prelude in C of the wtc will be easier to achieve than the inventions. there are also some very easy pieces in the little preludes.

when I started playing piano I was at first confronted with the inventions in C, am, dm, gm, F, Bb. this doesn't say it would be good for all the same (actually I don't believe that it was perfect for me)

If you like to play them slow also the preludes in dm and in D will benefit a lot and spend you great joy.

as the sheet music of Bach is all available for free you should look for it.

  • Well I am no beginner and I already played some Bach pieces (as I mentioned the Kempff transcriptions). And of course I already looked into the WTC and Inventions and listened to them. But my point is, would Bach also improve my overall piano playing for non counterpoint pieces? (romantic pieces) Or should I just play Mendelssohn, Schubert and Chopin? I know that Liszt and Chopin were great fans of the WTC, I think Chopin took the book with him when he traveled. For me Bach's music seems very hard to remember. Much more difficult than romantic pieces. "Dankä für dä Bihtrag!" – Matriz Jan 19 at 21:57
  • I will still carry on to play other preludes of the wtc. "So my main motivation is piano technique." my aim is not improve my piano technique - da komme ich nie auf einen grünen zweig! I have the pleasure to analyze and enjoy the music just playing in a slow tempo. eventhough I've read today here in somewhere: music has not been written for analyzing but for playing. – Albrecht Hügli Jan 19 at 22:19
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It is good and very valuable to expose yourself to a multitude of styles, composers and eras. However, if it is technique you are after, technique is all in your head. It is the knowledge of proper movement and what movements not to do.

For instance, if every time you bend over to pick up a piece of paper off the floor you throw your back out, bending over more won't fix your back. It needs no more strengthening. The solution is to pick things up by bending from the knees. Ergonomics.

If crossing the thumb under the palm causes ulnar or radial deviation of the wrist and corrupts your speed, then use the arm and elbow to place the thumb instead of flexing it and tying up your extensors.

If trilling causes your fingers to cramp, quit trying to play from the finger muscles (which don't exist) and play from the pronator and supinator.

If your hands feel sore after an hour of playing, go with gravity instead of trying to manhandle it. Gravity just is, you can't strengthen it. Like petting a cat, pressing harder doesn't increase the enjoyment for the cat.

So if you have technical difficulties or mountains you can't ascent, if you get cramps, fatigue, pain, you don't need more technique or more practice, you need proper movement. Something is either wrong or getting in the way.

Your teacher should be addressing the laws of physics in your lessons. If not, they probably don't know and it might be time to graduate to a new teacher.

  • So you are essentially saying playing Bach would also improve my playing for romantic composers? – Matriz Jan 19 at 21:51

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