Bach Violin Partita in Bm Transcribed for Pick-Style Guitar
In 1980 I was finishing my degree at Berklee College of Music when my teacher Jon Damian introduced me to a book called “Six Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin” by Johann Sebastian Bach. While originally written for the violin, this music is also perfect for the guitar, laying easily in our written range; with the lowest note on the violin being a “G” below the 2nd ledger line below the staff (our 6th string, 3rd fret), and the highest note being a “B” on the 5th ledger line above the staff (our 1st string 20th fret). While our notes sound an octave lower (because the guitar is actually a transposing instrument), everything sits very well on the treble clef.
Classical Studies are Great for Sight-Reading, Technique and a Deeper Harmonic Understanding!
Besides being a great sight-reading and technical workout, the Partitas are just so musical and lot of fun to learn and play. You’ll find tons of useful phrases and harmonic devices that are common to all styles of music and especially jazz! I’ve learned a number of the Bach Partitas over the years and never get tired of them, so I’m very happy to share this one with you. I originally learned it from the Schirmer Music edition and worked out the positions and fingerings for guitar. Then I went to the end of the piece and reworked the fingerings measure by measure, so that when playing the phrases, they all flow nicely with a feeling of inevitability. Then everything was entered into Guitar Pro and analyzed the chords progression being suggested by the melody. As a jazz player, I wasn’t so interested in a strict classical analysis as I was looking to see how we, as modern players, would interpret these chords.
Some Notes About Learning The Partita
This piece (and most of Bach’s music) is composed in a way that uses a principle that the great jazz pianist and teacher Hal Galper refers to as “Forward Motion.” The idea is that while we see music written in groups of eighth notes that look like they are grouped “1&2&” and “3&4&,” the music actually feels like “&4&1” “&2&3” so that each phrase is actually landing on one of the strong beats in the measure (beats “1” and “3”). So as you’re learning, developing the muscle memory and building your speed (so that you can play the phrases effortlessly), it’s a really good idea to work through small groups of notes. Try practicing one measure at a time, but always landing on the first beat of the next measure, creating a 9-note group “1&2&3&4&1.” If a passage feels particularly difficult, you may also want to try smaller groups of 5-notes “1&2&3” or “3&4&1” until the phrases feel easy. Then sew the phrases together into longer lines, but remember to always land on a strong beat!
Some Thoughts On Memorizing
Over the years, I’ve noticed a tendency for guitarists to learn the beginning of a piece very well, but then begin to have trouble towards the middle or the end. This is because as they learn, they often go back to the beginning of the piece and start again. To counter this tendency, I’ve found an extremely effective practice strategy: After reading and playing the piece for a few days, try memorizing the piece by starting with the last measure, and then working your way backwards through the piece memorizing and adding one or two measures at a time until you can play everything non-stop from start to finish. Try it and you might be pleasantly surprised at the result.
A Note About the Performance
As I was learning this piece, I listened to a number of recordings of violinists and noticed that their performances were not strict and metronomic, but rather seemed to rise and fall with the lines. I also noticed that many played some of their eighth notes pairs as almost a “dotted-eighth/sixteenth.” So I’ve adopted their looser interpretation of the score. I’ll leave it to you to decide how you’ll play the piece. I hope that you’ll find it as satisfying and rewarding as I have.
Soundslice Notation for Bach Violin Partita in Bm Transcribed for Pick-Style Guitar
About Soundslice Notation
A little while back I met Adrian Holovaty online. Adrian is an excellent Gypsy Jazz guitarist from Chicago and also an brilliant computer programmer. He was one of the original developers of the web framework Django which is now used by sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Mozilla, The Washington Times, Disqus, and many others. His most recent creation Soundslice allows music notation to be synced with online videos.
To truly appreciate everything you can do with Soundslice, click on the gear in the lower right corner and explore the settings panel. You can then easily navigate the notation, slow it down, loop sections, etc., all the while watching the original video! It’s really an amazing tool for teaching and learning music and we’re using it for many of the lessons on JazzGuitarLessons.com.
Soundslice uses flash, so it doen’t work well on iPhones, so if you’re having trouble viewing the transcription, you can also download the transcription as a pdf: Bach Partita No. 1 in B Minor
Please leave a comment below and use the buttons below to share this post on your favorite social media sites.