I am currently trying to analyze the harmony in Bach's first prelude from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. To do this, I identify the chords, the inversions, borrowed chords, the melody, etc... However, this is a quite difficult exercise for me as I am a student on this topic. Can anyone please help me out?

  • There are lots of analysis, also youtube videos. the best is you do it yourself. This answer will probably be closed. music.stackexchange.com/questions/78043/… May 1, 2020 at 21:19
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    Welcome to Music Stack Exchange! Identifying the chords, inversion, and etc., are basically the main things of harmonic analysis. Can you please rephrase your question so it is more specific? I would love to help you out May 2, 2020 at 0:24
  • Why is this especially difficult as you are a student on this topic? Where exactly are you stuck?
    – Nico Haase
    May 2, 2020 at 6:56
  • The C-Major Prelude from Book 1 is a great piece for practicing this skill, as it is composed almost entirely of simple arpeggios. If you're trying to get better at this skill, I'd suggest just blocking out some time and trying to do it on your own rather than reaching for someone else's solution. May 2, 2020 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


I assume you mean of the first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier?

If so, perhaps the most famous is that done by Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker. You can find it in his Five Graphic Music Analysis, but Bill Drabkin also wrote a famous article on it in Music Analysis.

  • I have tried to see both, but it's not really a bar after bar analysis. Would you have a source in which we can see for example bar 1: I, bar 2: ii, bar 3: V, bar 4: I, ... key changes ...? Thanks!
    – Basj
    May 20, 2022 at 16:07
  • @Basj Unfortunately, I don't know of anything like that. But if you find one, hopefully you could share it here!
    – Richard
    May 22, 2022 at 18:15
  • I struggled a bit on this topic, but finally found a description that partly solves the puzzle: I shared it an an answer below. Please comment it if improvements are to be done. Jun 2, 2022 at 18:54

Here is an description of the chords.

I : C        | ii : Dm7/C    | V : G/B    | I : C

vi : Am/C    | V/V : D7/C    | V : G/B    | I : CM7/B

vi : Am7     | V/V : D7      | V : G      | V : G

C#dim7/G     | ii : Dm/F     | vii : Bdim7/F

I : C/E      | IV : FM7/E    | ii7 : Dm7

V7 : G7      | I : C         | V/V : C7

IV : FM7     | F#dim7        | VI : Bdim7/Ab

V7 : G7      | I : C/G       | V : G7/11

V7 : G7      | F#dim7 / G    | I : C/G

V : G11      | V7 : G7       | C7

IV : F/C     | V7 : G7/11/C  | I : C

Here is an analysis of the most interesting chord changes.

  • Bar 6 : D7 is borrowed from G, because D7 is the dominant chord in G. The D7 chord is a secondary dominant chord to G. This is why bar 7 is G.
  • Bar 7 : the bass moves for the second time to B, whereas it was set to C up to that point (with the exception of bar 3). This starts the slow fall of the bass to the end, where it will sit on bar 35, two octaves lower.
  • Bars 8, 9, 10, 10 prepare the half cadence to G, with a D7 borrowed from G.
  • Bar 11 : the G dominant chord is finally reached (all G chords before that point where inverted).
  • Bar 12 : C#dim7/G creates a tension to prepare the Dm/F at bar 13. The C# note at soprano resolves to D and Bb resolves to A.
  • Bar 14 : Bdim7/F creates a tension to prepare the C / E at bar 15. The B note at soprano resolves to C.
  • Bars 15 to 19 : The bass falls from E (bars 15 and 16), to E (bar 16), to D (bar 17), to C (bar 19) after a temporary low G at bar 18. This is possible thanks to the first inversion of the major C chord on bar 15.
  • Bar 20 : C7 is the secondary dominant to F, which appears at bar 21.
  • Bar 22 to 24 : The F#dim7 and Bdim7 chords creates a tension which partially solves on bar 24 with the G7. The chord F#dim7 on bar 22 is borrowed from G and acts as a secondary dominant chord to G. The bar Bdim7/Ab has Ab on bass which moves smoothly a half step to G on bar 24.
  • Bars 28 and 29: F#dim7/G creates a tension which resolves to G on bar 29. This is one of the rare 5 sounds chords in this piece. The augmented 5th on bass between G and Eb brings maximum tension. The remaining of the piece is more quiet, with the exception of bar 34.
  • Bar 32 : the C7 chord is a secondary dominant chord to the F chord on bar 33.
  • Bars 32 to 34 : an unexpected perfect cadence, because of the long C note on bass, which does not move from bars 32 to 35. The bar 34 with C pedal on bass creates some tension, finally solved on bar 35.

This attempt of analysis may be improved, because I am a beginner on this topic. Help on bars 22, 23 and 28 is welcome!

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