Issue 6: Playing Bach

My parents listened to a lot of records when I was young, and three particular recordings of Bach have stayed with me over the years.  They are: George Malcolm playing the Italian concerto on the harpsichord, the Swingle Singers, and the Jacques Loussier Trio.

The George Malcom recording fascinated me because just it was such an unusual sound; harpisichords were rarer back in the golden oldie days (when I was very, very young, of course).  However the Swingle Singers and the Jacques Loussier Trio recordings are the ones that have had the most influence on the way that I play, teach, and accompany Bach and other baroque composers.

What all these recordings share is a strong sense of pulse, like a smooth-running, perfectly tuned engine, driving the music along its route from start to finish.  Any unintentional floppiness in the rhythm, or fluctuations in pulse, produce the same effect as being in a car which has something unpleasant (and probably expensive) going wrong under the bonnet!

The trick is to have an imaginary drum-kit rhythm track, like a personal drummer, running in your head as you play. Something along the lines of “Dum Cha Dum Chakachaka”, or whatever rhythm seems to work for the particular piece.  Somehow, a metronome doesn’t work for me; the robotic “click click” is stultifying, rather than enlivening.  The subdivision of the main beats inside the drum groove helps to create the rhythmic liveliness within the music, that makes it travel securely to its final destination.  The drum beat also helps me to place the rhythmic intricacies and ornaments inside the structure of the melody without introducing and lumpy-bumpy-ness into the texture.  It may seem mad to practise a “prelude and fugue” or “allemande” to a reggae back-beat, but I reckon it will help produce that relaxed, but accurate, rhythmic precision which gives an extra sparkle to your performance.


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