J.S. BACH: 24 Easy Four-Part Chorales (complete)
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ABOUT: Bach's four-part chorales are well-known in college and university music theory classrooms around the world and have been studied for nearly 300 years by virtually all aspiring theorists and composers. Mozart knew them. Beethoven studied and learned from them. Chopin and Liszt revered them and incorporated the principles into their music.
For some reason, however, they have traditionally been overlooked or ignored by piano students and teachers. Pianists are usually attracted to fast and showy pieces in the belief that fast "finger exercises" like Hanon or excessively difficult pieces like the Chopin Etudes will turn them into "super pianists" able to play anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. I argue that the ultimate pinnacle of musicianship and technique can be found in none other than Bach's un-showy (some would say "boring") and beautiful four-part chorales. All pianists should play them and study them over and over again. They should be in all piano teachers' studios and they should be assigned to students as much or more than Hanon.
No other style requires such a complete skill set as Bach's chorales, whose benefits include the ability to: 1) play simple melodies and bass lines in a "cantabile" fashion on which Bach himself placed the highest value; 2) read four-part chords and thus develop superior skills in sight-reading and harmonic analysis; 3) control four parts at once and thus develop superior voicing and contrapuntal skills; 4) choose musical tempi and maintain steady beats; 5) incorporate "ritardandi" and "diminuendi" into phrase endings; 6) achieve the most flexible and malleable fingers able to be contorted in any possible position -- like "yoga for the fingers"; 7) use the damper pedal intelligently.
Popular etudes such as Hanon's mindless exercises or Chopin's excessively difficult Etudes require few if any of these skills, and thus, are inferior to the overall development of the piano student. Surprisingly, it is Bach's beautiful four-part chorales -- not showy 19th-century etudes -- that represent the ultimate pinnacle of technique and musicianship at the piano. They are by far the finest "etudes" the pianist can play!