Learning to play Bach on the Piano


How to Play the Piano, written by concert pianist James Rhodes, is published today by Quercus. It promises to teach anyone with two hands and access to a piano or electronic keyboard how to play Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major within six weeks, so long as they are willing to practice for 45 minutes each day.

When the book started showing up on my twitter feed I became curious. When I was offered a copy I jumped at the chance to accept the challenge and see what I could achieve in this time frame. I am currently four days in and can report that it is an accessible and fun way to learn. I am practising hard and the few bars that I am slowly mastering already sound almost as they should.

It is early days but I am hopeful that I can achieve the stated aims if I persevere. That being said, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel that I should share a few facts about my musical background.

I have never had a formal piano lesson in my life. I was, however, taught the basics by my father as a child. My father was a skilled musician. Largely self taught, he took piano to diploma level and his playing formed the soundtrack to my childhood. It instilled in me a love of classical music, particularly when written for his instrument.

Although I tinkered on the piano I never practised enough to play well.

At primary school I learned recorder and then cornet, joining the terrible sounding junior brass band. I disliked having to carry a heavy instrument on the long walk to and from school so when I moved to secondary school I took up the oboe. I played this instrument for seven years, joining several youth bands and orchestras. Eventually I achieved my ABRSM Grade 8. A throwaway comment from my tutor suggesting I didn’t possess the required musical feeling to gain my diploma was all it took to discourage me. I abandoned my lessons.

When I started work and was able to buy a house I decided that I would like to try playing the piano again. I traded the beautiful, French oboe that my parents had provided, that had been gathering dust in a cupboard, and purchased a basic electronic keyboard. My parents were not pleased. Once again I tinkered on the ivories but never practised enough to play well.

However, in my view the keyboard proved its worth. My children showed an interest and I enrolled them in lessons. When their tutor was told that my son had broken a few keys on the keyboard with his toy hammer she offered us an old piano that her church was disposing of as they had been gifted a better model. That ancient instrument was all but impossible to tune but proved adequate for three youngsters, just starting out on their musical journey, to practice on.

As they worked their way through the grades its inadequacies became more of an issue. My ever generous parents stepped in and provided the money that enabled us to purchase a reconditioned Yamaha upright model. Our piano tuner was delighted.

And once again I decided to tinker. And once again I didn’t practice enough to play well.

Now my elder two children live away from home. My youngest will occasionally make music but I hadn’t touched the instrument in many years – until I received this little book.

Thus, I am taking the challenge as a not quite beginner pianist, and as someone who is familiar with music theory. I will not post my review until I have either mastered the Bach Prelude or practised for six weeks. What I hope to achieve is not just the ability to play one piece, but to discover if I can once again enjoy making music. I will keep you posted on my progress.


My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quercus.


3 comments on “Learning to play Bach on the Piano

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Like you, I abandoned the piano (and never learnt to play really well, anyway, although I did have formal lessons) in my late teens and have regretted it ever since. I don’t have the instrument or time to practise, and my children soon lost interest in their music lessons (sadly), but a part of me still hankers after a small family quartet or trio.

    • Jackie Law says:

      It was because we had this beautiful instrument gathering dust in my library that I was inspired to try again. I realise how lucky I am for that. The book though is making it fun. Still early days but I am enjoying practising far more than I remember doing in the past.

  2. […] period proscribed. In the interests of full disclosure I posted details of my musical background here. The key points are that I have never had a formal piano lesson but I did have some musical […]

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