Skeleton Practice


Deconstructing the Score (2)

Basic blocking

Blocking is the most obvious way to group note patterns into solids. It helps us see and feel the bigger picture more easily. We can also use it for technical reasons by securing hand positions.

Bach: Prelude in C Major (WTC Book 1)

A very obvious and extremely neat example of blocking is to be found in Bach’s Prelude in C Major from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Here is the start of Bach’s original:

Here it is as a chorale. Play it like this as solid chords – faster than Bach’s broken patterns allow – to get a stronger sense of the progression in this pure form. Feel and exaggerate the changes in intensity from one chord to the next and one phrase to the next by introducing a phrasing and dynamic scheme into this blocked version. When you go back to the original, you will find you can sense the overall shape much better for having done this. Return to the blocked version from time to time, when you feel you need the focus it brings you.

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Bach: Prelude in C Minor (WTC Book 1)

Let’s take the main harmony notes of Bach’s Prelude in C Minor from Book 1 of the ’48’ and make a skeleton version of the whole in a similar way to the C Major Prelude. We can find the main harmony notes very easily – take the first two notes from each hand in each bar and you’ll have the chord minus the passing notes:

The original:

A blocked version:

If we play the blocked version considerably faster than the original we will get a much stronger sense of the harmonic progression, and thus of the structure and shape of the Prelude. In the blocked version, you will more easily sense that Bars 1 and 4 (tonic chord) are weaker bars, and that there is more tension in bar 3 (a diminished 7th on a tonic pedal). The phrase lends itself to this short of a shape: (or “weak, slightly stronger, strong, weak”).

We probably remember our first experiences of blocking, when we learned our scales. There are two ways we can block a scale; both help us to see the fingering patterns and note groupings from a bird’s-eye view (rather than one note at a time).

Blocking simplifies and clarifies, so it is very useful in the learning process. There are several ways we can do it, and I would like to explore some of them here.

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