A note on practicing JS Bach's Well-tempered Clavier
I will keep this topic brief, as I assume that everybody has his/her own learning and practicing patterns and techniques, which have a history for each individual. And I don't want to make the impression that I found the silver bullet to this topic. However, here are some things that I have learnt over the years and that make sense to me, so I share them:
- If you want to learn a piece of the Well-tempered Clavier, don't play along too much, without actually learning it. I have noticed (also with myself), that people who are (only) average sight readers tend to play a piece, and then another one, make some mistakes, use impossible fingerings, but enjoy hearing some of the music and put some own feeling into it. In my daily routines, I have shortened such exercise to maybe 5 minutes, as it does not bring you anywhere. Only few people are that good that they can actually learn by playing along, without spoiling more than they achieve (there are some though - a species which I truly admire).
- Instead, one should analyze the music, make a concept for interpretation, find and train proper fingerings, etc. Use every minute on the keyboard to actually develop something.
- Play pieces section-wise, not always the whole piece (repeating the same old mistakes). The better you can play the individual sections of a fugue (exposition, episodes, stretto section etc) individually (and without first playing the other preceding parts of the fugue, the better you understand the piece and the more secure will your playing be.
- Example: learn to play all episodes of Book 1 fugue B minor separately. Play them by heart one after another (not including the subject entry sections). Then play all the subject entries, one after another. Map in your mind where in the composition the subject entries and the episodes show up; put the puzzle pieces together again, and play the whole piece according to your plan (derived from analysis and stylistic thoughts) - unless you are already very advanced, I can assure you that you will do better after this.
- As the Well-tempered Clavier uses some less common key signatures (I admit, I don't usually play in C# major), it is important to familiarize with those. The best way for me to do this is to prepare a simple basso continuo (BC) pattern, which uses all major, minor and dim-chords of the scale, best also inverted, and (after learning it in C major) play those in the keys that you are less familiar with. Do this without looking at a score or your keyboard and "feel" which chords you are playing when you go through your BC-exercise. Then play the respective P/F in the "exotic" key signature and map it to your BC-exercise. This worked wonders for me.
- Another way to better understand "exotic" key signatures is to transpose what you play on the fly into a simple to read key signature. Example: Play Book 1 P C# major in C major. Forget all the 7# in the key signature, and within the notation, instead of Fx, you play F#, and instead of B, you play Bb (etc). Its that simple. Quite amazing how easy it suddenly is to play and comprehend the piece. When you then move up one semitone to C# major again, you will understand much better what is going on, which opens the piece up to you (including mastering it technically).