Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Bach's Two Part Inventions - Part 1

Learn how to approach one of the most famous keyboard works by Bach

In this first video of a 3-part series, Robert teaches you how to approach the famous and beautiful Two Part Inventions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Released on December 2, 2015

Share this page!
Post a Comment   |   Video problems? Contact Us!
DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin. And today is a beginning of a series on how to approach Bach Two Part Inventions. These are masterful works. They're not very long and they're brilliantly conceived. Now, what is a Two Part Invention? First of all, Two Part Invention is simply counterpoint with two different lines. In other words, there's never more than two notes playing in a whole piece and yet it's an amazing composition. It's built with a subject and a countersubject and it's being able to delineate the subject and the countersubject that makes these pieces sparkle.

Well, how can you achieve that? Dynamics is one way but perhaps even more important is by phrasing the two different themes differently from one another - the subject and the countersubject. So for example, in the very first invention you have a subject it is this. And you have a countersubject that's this. And the entire piece is built upon just those two elements. Listen how the very first section sounds like. Now in this particular invention, the subject and the countersubject are incredibly similar but what happens in just a few bars into it is that the fragment of countersubject is elongated - the eighth notes. Notice how I play them legato in groups of notes with the last one being short. This is how you can delineate the different between them. In fact, the whole subject and the countersubject are delineated by the phrase that goes slurring the whole subject and the countersubject together. This is how to bring it out. Now, the beauty of Bach is that you could actually bring much of your own to the music. In other words, there is no right or wrong. If you wanted to play the phrasing completely differently, no one could say that this is not accurate. Why? Because Bach did not write phrasing in in the inventions. It's up to you how to delineate the lines.

The beauty is that you do not have melody and harmony as you do in later period music where you have obvious melody like in a Mozart sonata where you have a melody in the right hand and an accompaniment in the left hand. The left hand merely being broken chords. Here, everything is melody. So the secret is bringing out the melody wherever it occurs and try to delineate phrasing. I'm going to demonstrate with some other inventions in future videos for you where the subject and countersubject are even more extremely different which provides a wonderful opportunity to understand the structure of this music.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Comments, Questions, Requests:

Pianoman on April 7, 2016 @4:09 pm PST
Hi. Thanks for all the great videos.
Just a little correction: what you call the countersubject the beggining of the left hand is in fact the subject!

Robert - host, on April 8, 2016 @5:17 pm PST
Thank you for your astute observation! Yes, the left hand is indeed a restatement of the subject. The right hand part above that is the countersubject. I apologize for the confusion.
Luigi * VSM MEMBER * on December 3, 2015 @12:28 am PST
Hi Robert,
I'm an Italian piano amateur and love very much your lectures that I find very clear and professional.
I'm a friend of a brilliant composer and pianist who's specialized in classical piano improvisation and would start performing this peculiar type of music. For in Italy classical improvisation is almost unexisting, I had the idea of contacting you: maybe you can give me any advice on how to help him.
Thanks for your patience and congratulations again!
Luigi Diamante
Robert - host, on December 3, 2015 @3:56 pm PST
Classical improvisation is almost a lost art. Yet, many of the great composers were also great improvisers! The secret to developing improvisation is to spend a great deal of time doing it. Singing your music is also a great way to develop the ear for music well enough to be able to improvise music. Here is an article and video which discusses improvisation:
Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal