I just got a piano and want to start working on Bach's Inventions. I have sort of managed to play 2 and 14 some years ago, but my knowledge of music theory pretty much consists of being able to work out which dots on a sheet correspond to which keys on the board. My question is: what music-theory learning-resources would help me appreciate the Inventions more and perhaps even memorize them more easily?

  • You may want to be able to read sheet music instead of memorize...
    – xilpex
    Mar 15, 2019 at 22:42
  • A little more info on your background would help. Do you have a basic understanding of harmony? For example, if you were asked to play a C minor triad, could you do it?
    – user48353
    Mar 15, 2019 at 22:44
  • @replete, no, I don't and couldn't.
    – Toothrot
    Mar 15, 2019 at 23:37
  • 3
    Although (some of) Bach’s Inventions are reasonable early pieces to play, music of the Baroque era (composers like Bach, Handel and Vivaldi) isn’t really the best place to start for learning the rudiments of music theory. The harmonic structures tend to be far clearer in music of the Classical era such as Mozart and Clementi (and to a lesser extent Haydn and early Beethoven). Clementi in particular has a number of Sonatinas that are excellent starters both in terms of piano technique and basic theory. Mar 16, 2019 at 11:18
  • @PatMuchmore, thanks, I'll have a look at the Sonatinas (Op. 36, right?). They're far from as beautiful as the Inventions though.
    – Toothrot
    Mar 16, 2019 at 12:18

3 Answers 3


You could study traditional tonal harmony, which would be immensely useful. If you like to learn from books, then something like Percy Goetschius's The Theory and Practice of Tone-Relations is a good place to start. It's quite old, but basically covers all the harmony you'd find in Bach. Here's a free online copy: https://archive.org/details/cu31924021809797. If you're more into YouTube videos, I can strongly recommend all of Rick Beato's stuff. This video should get you started:



A friend of mine was exceptionally good at playing long pieces from memory. I asked him how he did it. He told me that (a) he memorised the sound of each part (b) he memorised the finger movements (c) he memorised the sheet music!

It never occurred to me to do the last because of course it requires a good visual rather than musical imagination. If it is something you can do then it means you can play the piece as though sight reading but without having to look up and without having to turn any pages.

Interestingly, although all the above sounds like a lot of work, psychological studies show that memory actually works better with many associations than with just one.

Incidentally a good preparation for playing two-part inventions is to learn each part separately. Then try to play them together without having practised them together. Note you can do this with a well-known canon such as London's Burning, Three Blind Mice etc. Start playing with one hand and, by ear, bring in the second part. This helps you hold two parts in your mind at the same time.

  • 1
    You have mentioned aural memory, finger memory, and visual memory. Structural memory - memory of how the music is made - is also valuable. The inventions are the perfect place to start developing it, because they are composed from so few materials so clearly arranged.
    – user48353
    Mar 16, 2019 at 9:33
  • @replete - Now you mention it, I think he may have said that as well. It was a while ago. I'm pretty sure he memorised everything there was to memorise, including vertical harmony and what inversion each chord was. He also knew figured bass so if necessary he could presumably wing it by harmonising the melody! Mar 16, 2019 at 9:39

This would be a very good idea to start with Bach’s Invention. I was tought so too, but my piano teacher was only fixed on phrasing and not at all on harmony. I had to develop all by myself. And I still discover new relations today.

I ment to propose you not to begin with no.1, but with no. 14 and no. 8.

And so I found this link:

I think this will be a good start and most of the analyzing job is already done. You will surely find similar helps on Y.T. if not ask again.


Well, I’ve just checked the roman numbers and I’ve noticed that they are relating to C-major and not to a-minor.

In the notation of the link above is meant:

I = C, V = G, ii =dm, vi = am etc. the result of the transcription of roman letters to chords would be ok ...

but the roman nrs. in fact are wrong:

actually in a-minor the first bars will be i - V -i as am is i. until the modulation begins to C-major. And then in C you will write the capital letters for the major chords: C = I, G = V and E7 = V7. Mind that the dominant is always a major chord and so it’s a V.

So you can right start to transcribe and ad the chords of no. 1. This is in C-major: The correct Chiffre will be: Jk I - V - I (C - G - C)

The following analysis is much better:

This site contains a pretty nice formal analysis that will be a big help to memorize the whole invention. You can also make an abstract drawing of it and try to do the transfer to other pieces:


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