Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/analysis


I was told by a musicologist that doing chord analysis of Bach's C major prelude is a bit wrong. Why is bad and what kind of analysis should I do?
What kind of analysis would be good in order for me to memorize it in piano?

I am also learning Musette (I'm not sure if Bach wrote that). Doing chord analysis of this piece seem a bit stupid. How should a pianist analyse such pieces?

ANSWER: Hello again, Hank, and thanks for being patient.  I lost my internet access over the weekend.

There's nothing wrong with harmonic analysis - it's a necessary tool for musicians!  But memorising music has nothing to do with analysing it - in order to memorise you use your muscular memory, not your intellect.  Constant practice is the only answer - try getting someone to cover the keys so you can't see your hands, then you read the music and play by feel.  Concentrate on getting the piece well into your hands - you don't practise until you get it right, you practise until you can't get it wrong.  Once you know it that well you should find you've memorised it automatically after a few weeks.

Hope this helps.

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But isn't easier If you know something about The music you're playing? Or are you saying that music theory is only important when improvising on your instrument? And are there ways to learn how to do improvisation? It seems like blues piano is nearly all abort improvisation and this is where classical and blues differ. Btw, is learning classical music by ear even possible?

Hello again Hank,

First of all, my apologies that you've had to wait so long for my response.  My e-mail account was closed by mistake and it's taken me nearly three weeks to get it back.

Of course you need to understand the piece you're learning - its form, its key structure, its shape - in order to be able to interpret it, in the same way that an actor needs to understand how their role fits within the structure of the play as a whole rather than parroting their part.  But that analytical process has nothing to do with committing the piece to memory.  Memorisation is purely muscular, as I say - your hands know where to go and what to do unconsciously.  That's how you deal with a memory lapse - after that initial moment of panic you stop thinking, switch off and let your hands get you out of it until you know where you are, then you switch on again.

The most fundamental concept in art music from the 18th century onwards is absolute fidelity to the score, so unless you have extremely good ears learning art music by ear is impossible.  You play the score with 100% accuracy and that means reading it, at least initially.  Pre-18th century music is slightly different in that the relationship between composer and performer was more of an equal partnership - the score was seen as a starting point for the performer to add ornamentation in order to display their good taste and musicality.  From the classical period onwards the performer becomes translator of the composer's wishes, and interprets them to the audience.

As for learning how to improvise, yes, of course you can but you'll need a rock-solid knowledge of harmony to do so.  I can improvise in a variety of historical styles and imitate many of the great composers, but in order to do that you need to know how harmonic vocabulary has changed over time and how the "rules" of music work.

Hope this helps.  

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Clare Redfarn


All aspects of the academic/theoretical side of music, including harmony, counterpoint, elementary composition, history, harmonic analysis, aural training, sightreading - the lot! Please note I'm not primarily a composer so I can't help with composition beyond what's required for Grade 8 theory or A'level. And don't ask me about psychoacoustics or music psychology as I have no knowledge of, nor interest in, either subject.


58 years as pianist (soloist and accompanist); 43 years as harpsichordist (soloist and continuist); 10 years as violinist and 6 years as bassoonist (youth orchestras/chamber groups); 46 years as piano teacher, coach in performance/interpretation (all ages, instruments and levels) and private tutor (mainly the old O'level, Grade VI+ ABRSM theory/practical musicianship, A'level and undergraduates); 21 years as ballet pianist (Cecchetti syllabus).

Member of Musicians' Union in Britain 1978-1989 and 1991-2009.

I've been writing professionally since I was 20 - too many programme notes to count over the years and a number of articles. Additionally, from 1996-2000 I was a Music Assessor for London Arts and as such regularly wrote critiques of concerts given by recipients of Arts Council funding.

MA in European Cultural Policy & Administration (Warwick University, 1994)
B Mus with Honours (London University, 1977)
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Administration (City University, 1982)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Piano Teaching (1976)
Licentiate of Royal Academy of Music in Harpsichord Teaching (1978)

Studied RAM Junior School (1966-74), then as full-time student (1974-78).

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