Back to Bach


There is an excellent pianist in New York City, Spike Wilner (who runs the iconic Greenwich Village jazz club, Smalls, and a newer club, Mezzrow), who was kind enough to give me a free piano lesson a couple years ago.  In that lesson, Spike told me that he preaches three things in life: Bach, Bird (referring to Charlie Parker), and Buddha.

What I took that to mean is this: Bach and Charlie Parker have provided so much music, and so much instructive information in their music, that if you were to study these musicians alone you would still have an incredibly detailed and thorough music education. Their contributions to music are universal in nature. (And the mention of Buddha, although specific to Spike, is really just another placeholder for the idea that we should try to live our lives in a meaningful and "right" way).

Bach is, of course, a hugely important figure in music. Perhaps the greatest of the Baroque composers, his mastery of counterpoint (having two or more musical "voices" being played simultaneously), motivic development, and improvisation make him arguably one of the greatest jazz keyboardists of all time.

But this article is about to take a quick left turn down a very interesting music history side-road. Because although Johann Sebastian Bach is often credited with having written "Minuet in G," it was only fairly recently discovered that this piece of music was actually written by Christian Petzold, also a German composer, organist, and contemporary of Bach's. Look to the top right corner of the sheet music in this lesson, where the author's name is listed. Notice anything? It reads "from the notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach." Anna Magdalena was Bach's second wife with whom he had 13 children! (Imagine trying to support that family on a musician's salary).

The "Notebook of Anna Magdalena" refers to just that - a notebook that Johann presented to Anna Magdalena containing a bunch of sheet music of composers of the day. It was basically a compilation songbook, much like we would purchase if we wanted to be able to play "Music From the 1950s" or "Broadway's Greatest Hits." Although much of the music was written by Bach himself, it was later realized that "Minuet in G" had been mistakenly attributed to Bach and was really the work of Petzold.

Want some more music history info on this great tune, "Minuet in G"? What if I told you that "Minuet in G" also enjoyed success as a gold-record radio hit in the U.S., Canada, and Britain in 1965 and sold millions of copies more than 200 years after it was originally written? It's kind of true actually. In 1965, a band called The Toys recorded a tune called "A Lover's Concerto." Give it a listen by clicking here: "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys.

Notice anything about "A Lover's Concerto" and "Minuet in G"? That's right, it's the same song! Same basic melody and harmony. Of course, there are a few changes that were made. Can you identify what they are? Firstly, (and obviously) the lyrics were added in 1965. Secondly, the meter has been changed from 3/4 time to 4/4 time. Thirdly, the version by The Toys modulates through 4 different keys. Can you identify which keys and by what interval the tune is modulating?

So although not really a Bach composition, "Minuet in G" is a classic tune that will be instantly recognizable to listeners whenever they hear it. I will sometimes play this tune on a solo piano gig and try to reharmonize various sections of the tune, injecting jazz elements and trying to mold it into a new and interesting ballad. As you proceed to learn this tune there are a few things that I want to highlight:

  1. Fingering is of the utmost importance. Piano fingering is not negotiable, so you should adhere to the fingering specifically indicated in the sheet music.
  2. Classical music is a great opportunity to enhance your sight-reading abilities. Focus on a small section and only one hand at a time (ie, first 4 measures of the treble clef/right hand) and practice clapping the rhythm. Then try to play the part (still just one hand at a time). Repeat the same process for the bass clef/left hand. Then, slowly start working on putting hands together, still working in short, 2-4 measure phrases.
  3. Use your metronome. This is another opportunity to reinforce your rhythmic awareness and practice playing on a steady beat.
  4. I use a little test-game with my students. Take a small 4-measure section. Put your metronome on slowly. Try to play the passage 5 times in a row perfectly. If you succeed, increase your metronome speed by about 4-6 clicks. If you fail, continue playing until you are able to play 5 times through with no mistakes. My general rule is, if you can play it 10 times in a row with no mistakes, you probably have it well learned.

Check out our "Minuet in G" lesson.


And check out ALL of our great Classical Piano lesson selections.


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