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"Sight-Reading & Harmony" Description

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SIGHT-READING & HARMONY: Progressive Pieces for Keyboard, Grades 1-10, Selected from Four-Part Chorales by J.S. Bach (ca. 220 pages, GBC comb binding, published by BachScholar Publishing, LLC, due for release July 24, 2017) suits the following purposes:

  • PRIVATE TEACHERS:  Piano/Organ/Harpsichord instruction in the studio at home, college, or university. For children (with the aid of a teacher) through adults. Teachers and students will love the 150 pages of beautiful Bach chorale excerpts as well as 10 full chorales at the end. In addition, teachers and students will come back time again to the practical scale, chord, and cadence exercises presented in Part 1.  
  • CLASS PIANO:  The systematic and structured layout is tailored specifically for all levels of readers (Grades 1-10), which makes the book especially effective for college and university group keyboard lessons with a diverse group of varying skill levels.
  • EAR TRAINING & SIGHT-SINGING:  The unique system of increasing complexities in Bach's four-part chorales makes it an especially practical book for playing and singing melody and bass lines as well as dictating three- and four-voice textures with and without passing tones. 
  • MUSIC THEORY/HARMONY INSTRUCTION:  The broad spectrum of Bach's chorales chosen (excerpts from 150 chorales plus 10 full chorales) featuring a chart on each page listing the chords and cadences encountered make the book especially ideal for college and university theory and harmony classes.
  • "DO-IT-YOURSELFERS":  The easy-to-understand systematic and structured layout and easy-to-follow exercises make the book ideal for adult learners who prefer to learn by themselves at their own pace.   


  • Dear Colleagues
  • About the Author
  • Features of Sight-Reading & Harmony
    • Intended Audience and its Usage
    • Introduction, Essay & Practice Instructions
    • Organization of Pages
    • General Description of the 150 Chorale Excerpts
    • Grades 1-2
    • Grades 3-4
    • Chord Chart
    • Grades 5-6
    • Grades 7-8
    • Grades 9-10
  • Sample Page
  • 10 Four-Part Chorales in Entirety Organized from Easy to Difficult

Dear Colleagues:

You are invited to take advantage of a fantastic sale on arguably the finest book on sight-reading ever produced. Developed and perfected over many years by master pianist, music theorist, composer & arranger, and educator, Dr. Cory Hall, Sight-Reading & Harmony (scheduled for completion in July, 2017) promises piano and organ students, from beginning to advanced, the most incredible rock-solid music reading and sight-reading skills imaginable by using an original system of gradually increasing complexities applied to Bach’s four-part chorales.

Educators unanimously agree that Bach’s unduly neglected masterpieces of harmony, the approximately 400 four-part chorales, represent the pinnacle of musical harmony in the history of western music. Bach’s chorales have been a mainstay of college harmony and theory classes for 250 years and will never be replaced by anything better. Bach set the gold standards for harmony and voice leading up to 1750, and even today, they have never been surpassed.

All educators agree that Bach’s chorales are masterpieces of the highest order and that music theory students should study them time and time again; however, the practical sight-reading benefits of Bach’s chorales for developing pianists and organists has been all but forgotten or overlooked. Dr. Hall realized several years ago that Bach’s chorales offer the most beneficial examples in existence of sight-reading practice for pianists and organists. Two of Dr. Hall’s favorite aphorisms are:

“If you can sight-read Bach’s chorales well, then you can sight-read anything.”

“The pianist who can play at least a dozen of Bach’s more difficult chorales musically with intelligent fingering, smooth voicing, clear pedaling, and good tempi is a pianist who has reached master status. No other style of music has so much to offer in so few measures.”

About the Author:

Dr. Cory Hall leads a multi-faceted career as piano teacher, recording artist, independent scholar, composer & arranger, master music engraver, and music publisher. He currently teaches a full studio of 50 weekly students around the world via Skype, from Australia to Norway, from his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to being in high demand as an international master piano teacher, he also produces YouTube piano performance and tutorial videos (with over 900 to date, with a total of 36 million views, and over 72,000 subscribers), composes, arranges, and publishes music with BachScholar Publishing, LLC (Est. 2011) in which he is founder and editor-in-chief. His recently begun “Bach Chorale Project” led to the present publication that uses Bach chorales as the basis for improving sight-reading skills. He holds a D.M.A. in Piano Performance and M.M. in Historical Musicology from the University of Kansas, M.M. in Performance and Literature (Piano) from the Eastman School of Music, and B.M. in Piano Performance from California State University, Sacramento. He has held adjunct professorships at St. Petersburg College (Florida), Eckerd College (Florida), and served for 11 years as a church organist until resigning from all three posts to devote all his time to BachScholar® (U.S. registered trademark awarded in 2016). Between his graduate study years at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Kansas, Hall taught private piano for three years in Kassel, Germany where he learned fluent German and became immersed in German culture.

Front & Inside Covers, Table of Contents & Sample Page. Contents subject to change:

Features of "Sight-Reading & Harmony"

  • Intended Audience and its Usage:  For private or class piano and organ students from beginning to advanced, Grades 1-10. Also, ideal for classes or private lessons that combine keyboard skills and music theory. Teachers will find this book immensely helpful in establishing a regular sight-reading and theory/harmony regimen with their students. Sight-reading and understanding chords and chord types are by far the areas in which most students struggle the most, and it is not uncommon to find students who can play difficult repertoire such as Chopin Études or Beethoven Sonatas, yet have difficulties sight-reading at a Grade 4 level. In this and similar cases, teachers should use this book for remedial sight-reading work.  
  • Introduction, Essay & Practice Instructions:  This section intends to include explanations of the basic chords progressions and cadences used by Bach in his chorales along with general rules on fingering, tempo, and other performance issues.   
  • Organization of Pages: Total of about 220 pages of a 9” by 12” bound piano folio with GBC comb binding consisting of:
    1. A table of contents listing the 150 chorale excerpts in alphabetical order (by German title), listing the composer of the melody, time signature and key, and BWV. The table also categorizes the excerpts according to key and according to composers of melodies.
    2. About 15 pages of detailed practice suggestions followed by explanations of the basic cadences and chord progressions Bach used in his four-part chorales.
    3. About 40 pages of exercises consisting of all the major and minor scales with corresponding diatonic chords, a special circle of fifths progression in all 24 major and minor keys, and exercises consisting of Bach's most common cadences.
    4. 150 pages of four-part chorale excerpts, each presented on one line with five lines per page.
    5. 10 pages of ten full chorales arranged from easy to difficult, accompanied with brief information about the chorale as well as performance directions.
  • General Description of the 150 Chorale Excerpts:  Each page of 150 presents five short excerpts (usually two phrases) of a four-part chorale, graded from 1 to 10. It is recommended that students work not on each full page, but rather, on a specific line from each page, which is determined by their current sight-reading abilities. The grading system used here is based on a systematic increase in musical complexities -- that is, all relative within its own system -- rather than being in exact agreement with traditional piano methods; however, in terms of the prevailing rule on sight-reading (i.e., that students should be able to sight-read two grades below their current performance grade), the present system is scientifically consistent. For example, if Beethoven's Für Elise is the most difficult piece a student can play (which is about Grade 4), then the student should be able to sight-read the Grades 1-2 lines with little or no difficulties. If there are difficulties, then the student needs to focus exclusively on the Grades 1-2 lines (all 150 of them) and master the reading of them until moving on the the Grades 3-4 lines. As a general rule, the teacher should select a few of the same lines from random pages and have their student try sight-reading them as a test. These lines should be selected based on what the teacher believes the student's current performance grade is. Thus, if a student is currently at about Grade 5-6 in terms of performance, then the Grades 3-4 lines should be practiced. If the student has difficulties sight-reading these lines hands together, then remedial work is necessary (i.e., the Grades 1-2 lines). Highly advanced students and concert performers who have no problems sight-reading most of the Grades 9-10 lines will find it fascinating and rewarding to play complete pages from beginning to end in order to gain an overview of the etymology of Bach's complete, unedited four-part chorales (i.e., the Grades 9-10 lines). Between the Grades 3-4 and Grades 5-6 lines is a chart of all the chords used in the following lines (i.e., Grades 5-10). The first two lines teach predominantly “horizontal” reading while the last three lines teach predominantly “vertical” reading, although both types contain some hybrid elements. Now, here are detailed descriptions of the make-up of each of the 150 pages:

Grades 1-2 (first line of each page):  This line teaches rock-solid treble and bass clef reading skills with simplified four-part chorales presented in two voices of mostly quarter-notes, half-notes, and whole notes, which music theorists refer to as "first-species counterpoint." Difficult rhythms and eighth notes are eliminated to optimize the learning of note reading. The main reason why sight-reading is such a huge weakness in most students these days is that first-species counterpoint examples like in the Grades 1-2 lines have virtually disappeared from the beginning method books, in favor of immediately pleasing and, unfortunately, "dumbed-down" compositions. Most melodies in Bach's chorales originate from the 1500 and 1600s, which are simple, extremely beautiful, and songful which make learning to read music a complete joy! As a general rule, Grade 1 students should be able to play this first line on each page hands separately, while Grade 2 students should be able to play them hands together. If a student can sight-read five of these first lines hands together at a slow and steady tempo with no mistakes, selected at random by the teacher, then the student shall be promoted to the Grades 3-4 lines. All Grades 1-2 examples should be played with a smooth, legato, and cantabile touch. Fingerings are provided for all the Grades 1-2 lines. 

Grades 3-4 (second line of each page):  This line is more advanced than the Grades 1-2 examples above, due to the inclusion of eighth notes and dotted notes as they appear in Bach’s original, unedited chorales (as seen in the Grades 9-10 lines). This line fosters superior reading skills due to the prominence of first and second species counterpoint. As pointed out previously, contemporary method books do not teach this type of counterpoint, which is why sight-reading has become such a sore spot for so many students. Students who become well-grounded at reading these Grades 3-4 lines develop an incredibly strong foundation in sight-reading, since the "linear" or "horizontal" aspect is optimally combined with the "chordal" or "vertical" aspect even though complete chords are not yet played. That is, students need to always be looking ahead horizontally while at the same time being conscious of the vertical relationship between the two quarter notes. This is no easy task, and is a skill that too few students learn today. It is a sad reality that many pianists who can play highly advanced repertoire like Chopin Études have difficulties sight-reading many of the Grades 3-4 lines in the present book. One can have the fastest scales in the world, yet this is no guarantee at all that one can sight-read or play in a musical fashion the Grades 3-4 lines. If a student can sight-read five of the Grades 3-4 lines hands together at a slow and steady tempo with no mistakes, selected at random by the teacher, then the student shall be promoted to the Grades 5-6 lines. All Grades 3-4 examples should be played with a smooth, legato, and cantabile touch. Fingerings are provided for all the Grades 3-4 lines.

Chord Chart:  The first two lines (Grades 1-4) contain no chords, yet the next three lines (Grades 5-10) contain chords exclusively. Between this break is a chart that lists all the chords and cadences used in the next three lines which focus on three and four-part harmonies. In addition to simply playing the chords at a slow and steady tempo, students should eventually work up to being able to play and name each chord within one second, or perhaps two seconds at the most. Cadences should be practiced over and over again in order to instill into the student's mind the main "formulas" used in Bach chorales and most other classical music. Inversions and non-harmonic tones do not need to be named and thus are not listed in the chart, but rather, students should be able to name the chord name and quality -- for example, "E minor", "C major", "D minor 7" or "D7" -- using the chart as a guide. Roman numerals do not need to be named while playing and naming chords; however, they have been included in the case that students wish to have a better understanding of the relationships between all the chords. The chord charts for the 150 pages do not list non-harmonic tones (such as suspensions) or inversions, so that the analyses do not become too bogged down and over-analytical. The cadences, however, do include inversions in their analyses. It is great if students know which inversions they are playing; however, it is of primary importance and is required to know the roots of the chords (i.e., A, B, C, etc.) as well as their qualities (i.e., major, minor, diminished, augmented, sevenths). Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the chord chart is that the chords as they progress to the tonic chord, according to the usual rules of chord progressions, are listed in order from right to left so that the chords farthest removed from the tonic chord are listed at the far right. For example, in the chart below the chords listed for "Primary Chords" from right to left make the usual progression of iv-V-i (rather than the incorrect and unusual progression of V-iv-i). Likewise, the chords listed for "Secondary Chords" begin at the right with the VII chord, which naturally progresses to the III chord, which naturally progresses to the VI chord, which naturally progresses to the V chord, in which each chord progresses to the next by the root going up the interval of a fifth (or down the interval of a fourth). Teachers and students will find these 150 chord charts extremely practical in that students can learn all the usual chords Bach employed, understand their functions as they relate to the tonic chord and to other chords, and at the same time not be too tedious and over-analytical as many music theory publications tend to be. 

Grades 5-6 (third line of each page): This line introduces students to the reading of basic three-note chords with mostly two notes in the right hand and one note in the left hand, in essence, four-part chorales minus the tenor. Eighth notes and dotted notes are eliminated so that students can concentrate solely on the vertical harmonies. These beautiful examples help build a strong foundation in vertical reading, preparing students for the reading of complete, unedited chorales. Once a student is ready to begin working on the Grades 5-6 lines, the performance grade is assumed to be at least at 7-8. Once a student has reached this advanced stage, the student should be mature enough to experiment with various fingerings and decide upon good and logical fingerings. For this reason, fingerings are not provided for the Grades 5-10 lines. As a general rule, students should not expect to find the "perfect" fingering from the beginning upon the initial sight-reading, but rather, should experiment with various fingerings until good ones are discovered. As a general rule, good fingerings for the Grades 5-10 lines are ones that permit the most legato connections between the voices without the use of pedal. Although the damper pedal (when played on piano) can be used effectively in many of the Grades 5-6 lines, it is recommended to practice them with no pedal in order to train one to play in a cantabile and smooth fashion. If a student can sight-read five of the Grades 5-6 lines hands together at a slow and steady tempo with no mistakes, selected at random by the teacher, then the student shall be promoted to the Grades 7-8 lines. All Grades 5-6 examples should be played with a smooth, legato, and cantabile touch.

Grades 7-8 (fourth line of each page):  This line is essentially identical to the third line with the addition of an additional fourth voice (tenor), which builds an even stronger foundation in vertical reading due to the complete, soprano-alto-tenor-bass (SATB) texture. Due to the absence of eighth notes, passing tones, and ornamental notes, students will find this line extremely practical and useful in the reading and analysis of chord progressions and cadences. Most pianists who do not have experience playing church hymns or accompanying for singers or instrumentalists will find the Grades 7-8 lines difficult to sight-read. The way to overcome this is by mastering all 150 Grades 7-8 lines with diligent repetition and practice. On the other hand, most pianists and organists with church hymn playing experience will find the Grades 7-8 lines relatively easy. When played on piano, these lines should be rendered slowly and steadily with great attention given to a smooth and beautiful tone. The Grades 7-8 lines are also ideal for practicing correct use of the damper pedal, as most lines require regular pedal changes on each quarter note (even though they should still be practiced with no pedal to train the fingers completely). If a student can sight-read five of the Grades 7-8 lines hands together at a slow and steady tempo with no mistakes, selected at random by the teacher, then the student shall be promoted to the Grades 9-10 lines. All Grades 7-8 examples should be played with a smooth, legato, and cantabile touch.   

Grades 9-10 (fifth line of each page):  This line presents the chorale excerpt in its original, unedited form. Students will find it highly fascinating and helpful to compare this final line with the Grades 7-8 line above, in that all passing tones and other non-harmonic tones can finally be viewed, played, and analyzed. The pianist who can sight-read at least a dozen Grades 9-10 lines well hands together at a slow and steady tempo with no mistakes and in a musical fashion with good pedaling, selected at random by the teacher, will have achieved master status in the realm of sight-reading. Most organists, however, will find the Grades 9-10 lines not very difficult, although they still serve as excellent vehicles for practicing sight-reading and becoming more familiar with Bach's great four-part chorales. All Grades 9-10 examples should be played with a smooth, legato, and cantabile touch.

  • Sample Page:  Now, all five lines and the chord chart discussed above can be viewed on their respective page. On the top of each of the 150 pages is the key (on the left) and the official chorale title in German with BWV number with the composer of the melody and its date (on the right). BachScholar Publishing prides itself on its extremely high standards with engraving as well attaining a clear, professional, and uncluttered appearance on the page. Imagine the "goldmine" of sight-reading material that is present in 150 pages similar to this!  
  • 10 Four-Part Chorales in Entirety Organized from Easy to Difficult: The first 150 pages of Sight-Reading & Harmony presents a short snippet of 150 selected chorales, usually two phrases, that all fit on one line and are thus easy to work with. The final section of Sight-Reading & Harmony goes a step further by presenting ten chorales in their entirety organized from easy to difficult so that pianists and organists can gain a broad overview of their mastery and musical depth. In general, the least difficult chorales can be classified at about Grade 5 while the most difficult can be classified at about Grade 10+. Organ students are likely familiar with some or many of Bach's chorales; however, most piano students and even most highly advanced students and concert pianists are unlikely to have played any of Bach's chorales at all. This is a shame, since these "gems" of the highest order and utmost beauty function beautifully on the modern piano. It can rightly be said that, "The pianist who can play at least a dozen of Bach’s more difficult chorales musically with intelligent fingering, smooth voicing, clear pedaling, and good tempi is a pianist who has reached master status. No other style of music has so much to offer in so few measures" (Dr. Cory Hall). The chorale shown here, Durch Adams Fall its ganz verderbt (BWV 18), is the fifth of ten selected for Sight-Reading & Harmony and at about a mid-difficulty level of Grade 7. A brief background of the chorale is given along with performance suggestions.  

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