Weekend Repertoire: Minuet in G

In an effort to start some discussion about specific repertoire and ways to teach it, I have started Weekend Repertoire here on The Teaching Studio!

Today's piece: Minuet in G from Johann Sebastian Bach's Anna Magdalena Notebook.
Level: Early-ish Intermediate :) (how's that for technical?)
Teaches: phrasing, five-finger patterns, changes in hand position, cross-over fingerings, binary form, balance between right and left hand
Listen: Click here to listen to this piece (scroll down and select the first Menuet in G Major on the list). Also, this great orchestral version really captures the simple beauty and elegance of this piece - I'm thinking Jane Austen era ballroom...

Yes, I know, this little piece is super familiar. Everybody and their dog plays it and knows it. But it really is a great little piece with so much to learn by playing it. I have often found that even when teaching the most simple pieces, sometimes students simply just learn the correct notes and call it good. They learn the notes alright, but have they achieved a truly musical performance? There are so many simple, easy ways to add color and musicality to a piece that will really help the music come alive for a student. Even when playing Baroque music :)

My teacher in high school had all these big, beautiful, ornate paintings hanging in her living room. Kind of like these:

I can still hear her voice, "Look at these people - they're not about to go out and play football!! They are elegant. Refined. Graceful."

And how true that is - this piece should never be overly loud or passionate or abrupt or romantic. It should be  graceful and elegant. In fact, considering the keyboard instruments available at the time this piece was written sheds some light on its interpretation - according to my trusty old History of Keyboard Literature, the clavichord had a "soulful tone," and was ideal for achieving "sweet, delicate sentiments," while the harpsichord had a "sweet, pristine tone" and it required careful phrasing and the use of nonlegato touch.

So how can we teach our students to play this piece with elegance and refinement? Help them to achieve nice, legato phrasing in the right hand (I like to draw little arrows where they should do a slight lift of the wrist to end a phrase); a beautiful, singing melody line that does not rush (hands-alone practice in small sections! and the metronome is a great little pal and may help a LOT); and a softer accompaniment with nicely-phrased eighth note runs.

And a Pride and Prejudice dress wouldn't hurt, you know, just to get the right mood :)

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