Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Allemande from Bach's Partita in D


Dear Dr Colin,
I'm struggling to make harmonic sense of bar 14 of the allemande from Bach's Partita in D, BWV 828. The left hand plays an E and a G-sharp, which suggest the chord of E major. However, the first three notes of the right hand melody are E-natural, F-natural, and G-natural, which is not consistent with the implied E major harmony. How can one account for the G-natural? Can you help to make sense of the harmony in this bar?
Many thanks,

Dear HM,

Thanks very much for getting in touch. I have checked the bar in the work that you mention and I can see your problem here. At that point in the music, the actual key is A minor. Yes, you are correct that in bar 14 we certainly do have the harmony of E major in the left hand. This is the dominant of A minor, so it's not totally unexpected. The answer to your question lies in the construction of the melodic minor scale. Now as you may recall the melodic minor scale of A minor has an F sharp and G sharp on the way up, but they revert to F natural and G natural on the descent. The first couple of notes of the bar go up and in theory you'd expect them to the sharpened, but the main feature in this phrase is the descending scale which requires the F and G to be naturalized as they normally would be in the descending melodic minor scale.

If you try playing the phrase with F sharp and G sharp it doesn't sound right. I think the way Bach writes it is very attractive and it is used an awful lot in Spanish flamenco and folk music.

So in a nutshell, I suppose you could analyze that moment by saying there's E major (dominant) harmony in the left hand with a decorated phrase in the right hand using the notes of the descending melodic minor scale.

I hope all that makes some kind of sense.

Best wishes and good luck with your musical studies,


Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Dr Colin


I can answer questions from students of "classical" composing, arranging, notation problems and music theory, writing for instruments and voice and writing music for education. I can answer questions about orchestration but I do not cover questions about pop or rock music, pop song writing or electronic music.

I taught for many years in UK up to "A" level theory and composition. I have spent many years in music education, initially (like everyone else) as a teacher. Then I moved on to advisory work (teaching teachers!) and also lectured, giving many workshops for teachers in developing music education skills and techniques. For a time I worked as a teacher-lecturer at London University's Institute of Education and eventually worked full-time as a Music Education Adviser to schools in part of London, offering advice on music education and curriculum development.


I started composing music at the age 14 (it was mostly rubbish, since you asked) and now have a large number of compositions to credit as well as many publications, especially for instrumental music and choral music. I have also written several acclaimed works for large orchestra and choir. My work has been published particularly in the UK (under different names)(notably by Boosey & Hawkes, Novello, and Schott) but also in the USA and the Netherlands.

My music for elementary players (several publications) has been performed and broadcast worldwide. I am now retired from my previous job as Music Education Adviser. These days I spend most of my time composing and arranging. I am currently working on instrumental arrangements of world national anthems for my National Anthems website and also completing a suite of very easy piano solos and duets for elementary players. For many years I have used the music program "Finale" for all my music writing activities.

International Society for Music Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

"The Times" Educational Supplement; "Hi-Fi News and Record Review". For several years, I used to write for many of the state music education periodicals in the US and I also wrote several influential articles on instrumental music teaching for "Music Teacher" magazine in the UK. (UK).

PhD(Hons); MA(Hons); FLCM (compositon) ARCM, LMusTCL,(music diplomas)

©2016 All rights reserved.