Ideas for approach to Bach etudes

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bherman, Jul 27, 2016.


  1. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Hi all - could use some suggestions from players with more experience than me in working through etude material, be it Js Bach or other. I've recently added JS Bach for Bass to my practice routine, and have worked through other etude -type books before. What I am not sure is the best approach to tackling this material. Seems to me that there are several different levels, and I'd like some thoughts on the most effective approach:

    1) Play through them enough times to be able to play them at a reasonable tempo, focusing on learning the most efficient fingerlings, but not neccessarily looking to master them, especially at increasing tempos. This might mean working on one etude for a week or so, for 15-20 minutes a day as part of overall practice session of an hour or so

    2) Stick with it until fully mastered and can play all the way through at tempo without mistakes

    There's probably other variations of this, but the key question is att what level will I get the most benefit? I have no intention of taking these to performance level; mostly view them as great reading practice, good fingering studies, and fun to play!

    Any thoughts from players who have worked with this kind of material long-term - what's the best way to get the most from time spent?
     
  2. BBQisgood

    BBQisgood

    Feb 24, 2016
    Think of an etude as a lesson from a master in written form.

    Usually the purpose of an etude is to practice, striving for technical mastery, building new skills and rehabilitating old, wrong or forgotten ones.

    To that end, do both: practice slowly using the best fingerlings and master the etude--or at least try to. The two stated options are not at all mutually exclusive.

    There are truly masterful string players who keep up etude practice for years and still find shortcomings that can be addressed.
     
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  3. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Thank you for your thoughtful advice. Does that mean that you keep moving on to other pieces, but come back to ones you've done before? In just starting, it seems like you could stay with one piece and not move on for a long time. I guess that is what I am seeking some direction on.
     
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  4. BassWaffle

    BassWaffle

    Apr 10, 2011
    DC/Maryland
    Ive never delved into etudes on bass, but I've been studying classical saxophone at the undergraduate level for a few years now and I've done my fair share of etudes. I would think they apply similarly to all instruments

    The purpose of etudes, as BBQisgood said, is to challenge and train components of playing. When you play a piece meant to be performed, the end goal is generally a faithful and evocative interpretation of that piece. You apply the things learned from exercises

    You can learn etudes and play all the notes perfectly, but that will only get you so far. I am not sure whether the book you are using has articulation, dynamics, etc, but those components are just as key as the technical aspect. Once you have the technical aspect of them down, you can start looking for these aspects to really flesh out the etude. Am I playing these staccato notes too choppy? Are my decrescendi as even as my crescendi? What kind of shape should I give this line? With the technical mastery as a base, you can begin addressing these kinds of questions and really wring all the musicality you can out of these things
     
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  5. BassWaffle

    BassWaffle

    Apr 10, 2011
    DC/Maryland
    This is also where having a teacher becomes immensely helpful. Teachers are going to notice things that you don't, and that is incredibly helpful. Once you begin to listen for subtle articulation and phrasing and the like, you can get more out of everything you do because you can take each etude even further than you did before

    (I realize my avatar might undermine my credibility, but I'm a classical nerd, I swear! :D)
     
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  6. INTP

    INTP

    Nov 28, 2003
    Dallas, TX
    I'd mix them up, as per your option 1. Spend some time on the first etude, then once you can get from beginning to end (no matter how slowly) with a fair amount of accuracy, move to the next one. Then repeat for each of the others. The novelty of changing etudes will help you more than just beating the first one into submission, IMHO. Then go back and work on the nuances of the first one, and perhaps play a bit faster, but don't get obsessed about speed. Speed comes from coordination and being relaxed. Work through the series again, as you did the first time, but with more attention. Take a break and come back to them again in a month of a few months, again with more emotion and focusing on the phrasing, etc. Repeat as many times as you like.

    Here's a couple of random article about interleaving, which is basically what I'm advocating:
    The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning
    » Interleaved Practice: A Secret Enhanced Learning Technique j2jenkins
    -

    FWIW, I bought that particular book and liked the exercises, but found it very frustrating due to the layout. There is so much white space that there are only 8 measures on a single page (ok, sometimes more, but still...). It seems like just when I get started playing, I have to turn the page, even though a better layout would have prevented this. I have been tempted to copy the pages, cut out the spaces, and cut out the TAB, then paste the lines back together to fit them on a single page (or two facing pages) per etude.

    Also, I really think this is one of those times where the TAB is a hindrance. Try very hard to play by reading the standard notation and not looking at the TAB. If it helps you to mark fingerings and/or shifts on the standard notation, then sharpen your pencil and have at it.
     
    Remyd likes this.
  7. For novice players, etudes are the tools your private instructor uses to measure your progress and monitor your performance. Think of them like book reports.

    For master players, etudes are the drills you warm up with to keep up your technique and good habits.

    Etudes are generally more gymnastic than melodic; more exercise than art.
     
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  8. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Thanks to all of you for your helpful replies. This will allow me to move forward within a basic framework.
     
  9. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    I agree having tabs in a book like this is annoying and unnecessary. I've learned to just ignore it (and get used to turning pages a lot!)
     
  10. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    What I've been doing with etude types of things even difficult music is to break it down into phrases and taking them one phrase at at time like this:

    Week 1: Practice the first phrase for 15 minutes.

    Week 2: Practice the first phrase for 15 minutes, and the second for 15 minutes.

    Week 3: Practice the first and second phrase together for 15 minutes. Practice the 3 phrase for 15 minutes.

    Week 4: Practice the first, second, and third phrase together for 15 minutes. Add the 4th for 15 minutes.

    Etc. until you are up to playing the whole piece.

    C/S,
    Rev J
     
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  11. Remyd

    Remyd

    Apr 2, 2014
    St. Louis, MO
    This method seems like it would get you plenty of work on the beginning, but almost none at the end. The end is an important bit, even in etudes, that needs study just as much or more than the opening. I sometimes make students start in the middle or after a main phrase, but those guys aren't working etudes either. I seem to like learning the hard phrases and patterns first, then the beginning and end, then the other bits. That assumes that there's written music (like an etude) - if it's a learn-by-ear tune my methodology is really quite different.
     
  12. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    You're right I am working with written music I left out some other factors. Such as having a target tempo goal. Generally I start everything at about 40bpm and work up from there. For example I'll work on a passage at 40bpm the first day. When I can play it perfectly at that tempo 4 times perfectly I'll speed it up 2bpm repeat, speed up 2 bpm etc until the 15 minutes is up. The next day I'll do the process again starting at 42bpm etc so that every day I'm starting 2bpm faster than the day before. If I practice 6 times a week then at the beginning of the next week I will start piecing the passages together at 50bpm and work it up from there.

    C/S,
    Rev J
     
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  13. BBQisgood

    BBQisgood

    Feb 24, 2016
    Back from my classical days my teachers would always help me through etudes until I had some facility with the whole thing. At that time we would move on to new pieces and also keep going back to the old as long as it was beneficial.

    Usually practice would include scales, multiple etudes (I learned classical violin), each of which may help with different skills. For instance, I might have a few that helped with second position in the flat keys and one that taught bowing and another that cycled through double stops and the cycle of fifths.

    I would move on when there were diminishing returns. Of course at that level, the performance pieces I learned were basically etudes in and of themselves, Selected and taught to teach me what I needed.

    I can remember being frustrated that I was in a rut, or dog-tired of practicing certain ones, and I really can't say I would wish that on anybody.

    Still though, the goal of those pieces is to get them "just so" and exactly how they should be. If you are self-taught give yourself a break from things with diminishing returns and don't be afraid to have more than one iron in the fire.

    --hope that helps!!!!:)
     
    bherman likes this.
  14. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Great Advice all, thanks!
     
  15. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny

    Nov 20, 2000
    The beauty of etudes is they play to your weaknesses.
    If your reading is not good that's the first thing they can improve.
    They're good for exploring fingerings.
    You can use them to work on tone.
    If they sound mechanical or contrived they'll challenge you to phrase more musically.
     
  16. HandsFree

    HandsFree

    Dec 23, 2015
    Don't know 'JS Bach for Bass', but I don't think Bach wrote any etudes. Like others have said, etudes are pieces that are designed to practise a specific technical challenge.
    I'm not sure if it's a good idea to approach Bach with that mindset. :unsure:

    Studying Bach is very valuable however. While the polyphonism may not be directly usable for a bassguitarist in a band setting, the harmonic ideas definitely are.
    I may be wrong, but I think the classical theory of harmony, with tonic, dominant, subdominant had not yet been formulated at that time. Strangely enough that meant that Bach used many (7th) chords that are commonly used now but were not at all common in the works of later composers.
    I'm sure that's one of the reasons why so many rock/jazz musicians study Bach more often than, say, Mozart.

    But anyway, Bach wrote musically meaningful pieces. As far as I know they are not designed to address a certain technical issue (and certainly not on a bassguitar) so you are probably not going to find that. There may be jumps, and chromatism, arpeggios, scales and whatnot, but very likely all in the same piece. So, in my opinion, as an etude a Bach piece will not work well.
    But study what chords are used and how the bass (or the melody, or a midvoice) moves along using chord tones, passing tones, leading tones, etc. That is immediately transferable to a band context.

    And of course it's beautiful music, so why not pick a few that you like and practise them until you can play them at performance level?
     
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  17. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Good thoughts, thanks. You are right in that they are not etudes, and I am working on them primarily for the challenges they present as well as reading practice. Although I'm only partway through the first piece, I would agree with your observation about lots of arpeggiated 7th chords that are good to get under my hands. He (Bach) was a master at chordal movement and it's beautiful stuff to play.
     
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  18. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I recommend to play each piece ONCE per day, as best you can, with feeling, like you are on stage and yor life depends on it. Record yourself and listen back.

    Bach is full of emotion, rhythm, and drive. A lot of Bach's music is based on dance forms, and you can really get your toes tapping to the beat.

    Listen and be inspired by Bach masters such as: Edgar Meyer, Pablo Casals, Yo Yo Ma, Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Yehudi Menuhin (to name a few). This music is definitely not "etudes"! There are a million ways to interpret Bach. Make it personal. Make it your own.





    Don't be a perfectionist and miss the forest for the trees! Choose a piece that is easy enough for your current ability level, and play it all the way through from beginning to end.
     
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2016
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  19. bherman

    bherman Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Thank you...always so many helpful people here on TB - always grateful!
     
  20. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    When I was in music school one of my bass teachers made all of his students including the electric players play through the Cello Suites. I think once I'm done working through Gary Willis' Fretboard Harmony book (Last time I did it was on a 5 string and I've since moved up to a 6) I may revisit them.

    C/S,
    Rev J
     
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