This post is not a tutorial or lesson. The Bach electric guitar excerpt here is from Invention No. 4 in D minor, and I give you advise in the video about how to approach practicing and performing this piece. You must spend a lot of time diligently practicing the tabs linked above, and focus intently on fingerings and the picking “rules” I lay out for you in the video. If you work this piece the way I recommend, I guarantee that your picking and scale fluidity/control will improve dramatically.
In college at West Chester University, I spent my summers living alone and taking classes since I was a double major with a performance minor and needed to pile on the credits to reach my 190 required (Major in music education, Major in music theory / composition, minor in classical guitar performance). One summer (I believe it was 2002 or 2003), I had no internet and no cable – can you imagine that! I would take a morning class, do my assignments in the late morning / early afternoon, take an afternoon class, and complete assignments by dinner. I would go back to my dingy apartment, make a delectable home-cooked dinner, possibly enjoy a few beverages responsibly, and play the hell out of my guitar into the wee hours of the morning.
One night in early summer, I had an idea to follow up on a Bach piece I once learned on the electric guitar (anything by Bach sounds amazing on electric guitar, in my opinion). I found 2 two-part inventions by Bach in one of my music theory analysis anthologies – numbers 4 and 8. There are 15 two-part inventions, and they are essentially short piano pieces with only two melodies working together (one melody in the right hand and one in the left hand) and Bach makes these incredible pieces with only a two-part format. So, no huge chords, no overly-complex inter-weaving of 4 or more parts (such as a soprano, alto, tenor, bass structure) – just two independent single-line parts in harmony or in dialogue. This works perfectly for electric guitar duo. Naturally, I had to see where this could go.
So I learned both hands separately of number 4. Then number 8. I transcribed everything an octave higher than written, as the guitar is a transposing instrument sounding one octave lower than written. Then I decided to notate them on my music publishing software I was using (and still use) called Sibelius. I wrote out fingerings for every single note, picking when needed, and rhythmically notated each and every ornament/embellishment indicated in the score. For those of you familiar with classical music, you might appreciate the incredibly tedious detail-work of researching and interpreting the abundant variety of Baroque keyboard ornamentation and performance practices, and then notating the exact rhythms and pitches of each and every ornament in all 15 of the inventions. I found a book in the School of Music Library on keyboard ornamentation with old facsimile copies of some manual on how to perform each ornament, made some copies, and used them as reference when I came across an ornament I was not familiar with. Yup – I am REALLY persistent.
I had two pieces completed, so I walked to Taylor’s Music Store on the main drag in West Chester, bought a cheap Schirmer copy of the complete 15 Two-Part Inventions, and decided that I would keep going down this rabbit hole. I started from page 1, learned each hand as a separate guitar part, and marked up my score pretty good with notes and fingerings, etc. I got into a groove of learning, practicing, and notating – rinse and repeat. I work best and produce the most content between the hours of 8:00pm and 1:00am – I’m a night owl for sure, and always have been. I would usually stop playing at around 10:00pm, and do the grunt computer work of notating from 10:00 until about 12:00-1:00am, depending on how much I had transcribed that day.
I wouldn’t make a final written draft until I could play the piece in tempo, since many times fingerings will change based on how fast or slow a passage is performed. So, I couldn’t actually write anything down until I could play it perfectly. I kid you not, in those 3 months my technique EXPLODED into a whole new dimension. I had complete control over my scales, arpeggios, notes on the fretboard, key signatures, intervals, triads, altering fingerings in real-time, picking fluently across strings with no hesitation or excess noise, stamina, synchronization, and so on.
After 3 months, I had completed well over 100 pages (I think about 125 due to the 4-line staff of guitar notation and tab for 2 guitars, and another 20 pages when, after completed the 15 inventions, I completed Solfeggietto by C.P.E. Bach and Caprice No. 5 by Paganini – coming soon to the blog), with a fingering for every single note, notated ornaments for every ornament in the score, picking, and alternate passages when necessary (ossia measures).
THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU TURN OFF YOUR PHONE, COMPUTER, TV, AND VIDEO GAMES. This was definitely one of the most productive summers of my life, although each summer at WCU was very productive with practicing and preparing for the next semester of performances. Now I can say that I understand how the classical masters accomplished so much in their lives – they didn’t have as many distractions and they were able to focus like a laser on their craft.
That’s the story. One of my prouder moments as a guitar-content-creator.
– Nate Richards
Owner, Richards Guitar Studio and Richards Rock Academy, Aston PA