Friday, April 26, 2013

Playing Bach

Playing the music of Bach is one of my therapies (playing, and listening to, Mozart is another one). There is something healing and restorative in sitting down and playing a Bach fugue. It is orderly, yet beauty is at its center, and I find that whatever might be bothering me at the time just melts away. In fact, I find it hard to be consumed by my 21st-century worries when Bach is at my fingertips--there is peace in hundreds-of-years-old music that makes me feel small and insignificant (in a good way). What I'm struggling with today is just a blip. Bach reminds me of this.

I was describing to one of my students a few days ago the power of muscle memory. The subject was scales--I was telling him that with time and practice and repetition, his fingers will get to know the C Major scale so thoroughly that he won't have to think about what finger comes next, or when to cross over or under. His hands will know what to do, and he will be able to focus on subtler points like tone and clarity and evenness when practicing his scales.

I used a Bach fugue as an example. I told him that I worked on this particular piece very hard my senior year of college, but that I hadn't played it very much since then. I explained how complex it is and that I no longer had it memorized. I said that I pulled out the music a few days ago to reacquaint myself with it and very often, my fingers were ahead of my mind. In several very difficult spots, where I thought I would have to pause and remind myself of the notes and how to play them, my hands actually knew what to do. My body remembered when my mind did not.

Obviously, you would never rely solely on muscle memory. It's only one piece of the puzzle. But it's sort of an awesome thing to experience (in the truest sense), and a powerful lesson in just how much our bodies are capable of.

Having my beloved teacher's scribbles to guide me didn't hurt, either.

If a few practice sessions with a Bach fugue can bring on all of these thoughts and experiences, perhaps I should make it a habit to take the advice of Wu Han, a wonderful pianist who I played for once in a master class in grad school. She said in that class that all of us pianists should play Bach every single day, whether or not we're preparing for a recital or performance. She said that it's so good for our fingers, our minds, and our souls, and that Bach should become part of our daily routine--like eating breakfast.

I like that idea. I think I'll try it.


  1. Katie @ Loverly SheApril 26, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    I always found that Bach and Mozart had that sort of calming effect on me - it's sort of like doing yoga, you have to focus really hard and be really intentional about your movements. Clears the head :) I don't know if I could discipline myself to play my old preludes and fugues every day though, haha! although I'm sure it would be beneficial!!

  2. Or like reading a daily devotion! I am inspired to get out some Bach again. Have a great weekend, Kate!

  3. Yes, much like yoga! But harder :)

  4. Oh yes, that's a perfect comparison. Thanks Sarah, you have a great weekend too!

  5. Stacey McDonaldMay 3, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Ooo, just seeing this now. So funny, I recently made it a goal of mine to sightread a little bit of Bach every day. When time permits, I do this in the morning while waiting for my coffee to finish. Great way to get the fingers and brain warmed up for the day.

  6. That's so fantastic! I love that you start the day with Bach. In addition to playing old Preludes and Fugues I've been sight-reading the Well-Tempered Clavier, and also learning Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring (Myra Hess arrangement). What have you been playing?


Your comments bring me joy! I do my best to respond to each one either on the blog or via email (if your email is linked to your comment). Thank you for visiting Something Ivory.

Designed by Jackie's Design Studio