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08 November 2018

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MusicOnline UK Teaching Notes - ABRSM Piano 2019/20 Grade 8 - A1

Sarabande and Gigue - 4th and 6th Movements from English Suite No. 2 in A minor BWV 807
J. S. Bach
Grade 8 Piano - ABRSM 2019/2020 A1

Teaching Notes.

I would like to preface these teaching notes, first of all, by saying that the video performances below were done by one of the members of the MusicOnline UK WhatsApp group. This is a group for music students and teachers like yourself to share, discuss and get feedback from each other about anything related to music education and when this particular performance was shared,  I thought it worthy to be used on my YouTube channel for the purposes of a tutorial. (By the way, anyone interested in joining this group may do so by clicking sending an email request to and who knows, maybe your performance might appear in a future video on my channel.)

So, onto the teaching notes... 


The Sarabande of the Baroque period, is a slow, stately dance, in triple time, often with a characteristic weight on the second beat. As such, despite it's slow tempo, it should never cease to feel like a dance and your performance should enjoy "placing" the second beats with a little extra stress, especially in examples such as bars 2, 8 and 12 etc.

This movement, although seemingly quite easy due to it's slow pace, will require careful attention to finger legato. Take some time to plan a good fingering since, with such, there should be no need for pedal at all. When playing the ornaments, try to keep the fingers that are not playing, still and relaxed.


A gigue, it should be remembered is a dance and this movement should at all times feel light and flowing with it's lilting compound time. Particular attention should be paid to the ornaments, that they do not lose time and "rock the boat" in terms of keeping a steady tempo.

Lengths of the longer notes should also be considered. The tradition in baroque music is to make longer notes, (in the case of this Gigue, the dotted crotchets), slightly detached, following the thinking that the music was originally written for an instrument that didn't have the same sustaining power as a modern piano. However, this is a matter for debate and interpretation and the above performance adopts a more legato approach. Maybe a slightly detached dotted crotchet would add a little more  lightness  to the dance like character, but of paramount importance in baroque music, is clarity, and this performance definitely achieves that.

Continuing with the idea of lengths of notes, take care with those longer notes that occur before rests (e.g. bar 16, 21, 23 etc). It could be tempting to incorrectly shorten these to an almost staccato quaver. Make sure that they last their full length.

A note on repeats. For the purpose of the exam, repeats are not usually played, except for D.S. or D.C. and so in this piece it effectively means missing out the first time bars on each occurrence.

The speed of this movement, will make the ornaments a challenge in terms of not losing time. Try to play them on the beat . You will notice that in most cases, these mordents are preceded, by the same note and so a little lift will be needed before the repeated note. Landing on the repeated note after the lift on the next beat, will help keep the tempo steady. Additionally, some slow metronome practice will help at the early stage of learning this piece.

There are no dynamics marked in either movement, however you can add some dynamic interest. Indeed, some creativity keeping within the style of the music would be rewarded in the exam, but bear in mind that baroque music traditionally is interpreted with terraced dynamics and the range is not as great a in music of later periods. A good structure for dynamics would include keeping the changes to where phrases start and finish and particularly emphasising sequences of similar melodic figures, by the use of stepped changes in volume.


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