How do I approach Bach Chorales?

Bach Chorales may not be the most exciting thing to do, but there are many ways to make the whole concept less daunting, and make your Chorales better in the process! What more can you need?

Here are some tips on how to survive (and succeed!) in Bach Chorales:

- Spot the key first. By looking at the key signature, you can easily find out what key the piece starts in.

However, occasionally it isn’t as simple – maybe the later modulations, and references towards various related keys, are confusing you. One thing you should definitely focus on is how the piece ends – look at the soprano line, and it will almost definitely be ending on the tonic note. Now that you have established the key of the piece, it makes spotting the modulations to related keys so much easier.

- Once the key, and its modulations are established (by looking at cadential points), what you should do now is harmonise the cadential points. These don’t have to be fancy at first, you just want to get the structure grounded.

- One aspect of the Chorale which gets you really good marks is having a strong, and purposeful bassline. This is why the next step is to write the bassline.

Out of all the voices in the piece, the bass has the most interest (apart from maybe the soprano) so make sure you give it lots of direction: leaps (no bigger than a fifth, apart from octaves near a cadence), but make sure these are balanced with conjunct motion, and also consider running basslines (passing notes between harmony notes).

- After this, you can fill in the chords for the tenor -and alto: but watch out for consecutives! Consecutive fifths and octaves make Bach turn in his grave: and though it may seem they can appear everywhere so easily, it’s not so hard to resolve the problem.

 When you think you’ve finished your Chorale – check, check and check again! Check for consecutives between each part: first soprano and alto, soprano and tenor, and so forth – remember the niftier ones like alto and bass!

One way to avoid these consecutives is to write the bassline in contrary motion to the soprano, and make the middle parts move very little, and when they do, only steps and small leaps. Imagine the SATB voices are moody teenagers: S & B are always wanting to go against each other, and A & T want to do as little work as possible.

Hopefully, with these little tips in mind, the prospect of Bach Chorales won’t seem as overwhelming! 

Heather P. A Level Music tutor, GCSE Music tutor, GCSE English Litera...

9 months ago

Answered by Heather, an A Level Music tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


Shannon G. A Level Music tutor, GCSE Music tutor, GCSE German tutor
View profile
£22 /hr

Shannon G.

Degree: Music (Bachelors) - Manchester University

Subjects offered: Music, German


“About meI am a second year Music student at the University of Manchester. My principal instrument is Trumpet, but my degree involvestheory, composition and history of music, in addition to practical performance. I love talking about ...”

Lila B. GCSE Music tutor, A Level Music tutor, GCSE English Literatur...
View profile
£22 /hr

Lila B.

Degree: Music (Bachelors) - Bristol University

Subjects offered: Music, -Personal Statements-

-Personal Statements-

“I know how to break down concepts into easily understandable chunks, and I know that I can always remain calm and patient when teaching! :) ”

David P. IB Music tutor, GCSE Music tutor, A Level Music tutor, Mento...
View profile
£20 /hr

David P.

Degree: Music (Bachelors) - Oxford, Worcester College University

Subjects offered: Music, -Personal Statements-+ 1 more

-Personal Statements-
-Oxbridge Preparation-

“About Me I have just started my first year reading music at Worcester College, Oxford. Some highlights of my first couple of weeks at Oxford have included the receipt of two scholarships – the Ensemble ISIS (the university's new music...”

MyTutor guarantee

About the author

Heather P. A Level Music tutor, GCSE Music tutor, GCSE English Litera...
View profile

Heather P.

Currently unavailable: for regular students

Degree: Music (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: Music, Religious Studies+ 4 more

Religious Studies
Philosophy and Ethics
Extended Project Qualification
English Literature
-Personal Statements-

“Hi there! I’m Heather and I’m a Music Undergraduate at Durham University, and I would love to share my expertise and enthusiasm with you, whether it be for GCSEs, A-levels or Uni preparations!  Why Music? Music is so much more than...”

You may also like...

Posts by Heather

How do I approach Bach Chorales?

How do I find and analyse Neoclassical features in Stravinsky’s ‘Pulcinella Suite?’

Other A Level Music questions

What are the Renaissance period stylistic features present in Weelke's, 'Sing We at Pleasure'?

How do I approach Bach Chorales?

What do you do if you're stuck in Bach Chorale Harmonisation?

What is the best approach to analysing an extract?

View A Level Music tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss