Using Intervallic Studies from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue for Technique and Flexibility

In my first article for the Best. Saxophone. Website. Ever. I discussed using melodic shapes from J.S. Bach’s music to expand your vocabulary and improve your technique and range. We then took those shapes and applied them to a standard chord progression.

Today I want to delve in to just one piece of Bach’s music, the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ. You know, the one that goes like this:

I will be devoting an entire chapter of my next book to this piece as there is a wealth of material here, most of which I discovered while playing Stokowski’s orchestration of the piece for Orchestra last year.

In my first book, Bach Shapes, I created ascending and descending diatonic major and minor patterns from various sources. I did not cover diminished material. Here is one great way, from the Toccata, to work on your diminished chords. I advise looping each section until it is comfortable, then moving up as shown here:

I would then start this exercise a half step lower, and then another to cover the three diminished chord types. You could go the other way but I find it easier to start here rather than to start with a low Bb diminished triad.

A little later in the piece we have this nice melodic segment, more of a static pattern that you can work up and then move up or down as you see fit.

You want to make sure each of your intervals is resonating and is in tune. For more of a challenge with this shape, displace the static note up an octave, like this:

Playing this on soprano as I write this article, it’s quite a workout! Watch your embouchure, and make sure you are not moving too much as you play this, but a slight taking in of more reed for the high notes will really help.

Moving on to the fugue section of the piece, the fugue subject itself makes for a nice intervallic pattern, which I move up chromatically like this:

This one is a beast on clarinet if you are so inclined. Again just loop one key before moving on if it is difficult. The key is to focus in a certain groups of notes, certain intervals and really be aware of the quality of your notes, and also any tension that might form in your embouchure or hands. Slow and steady.

There are also a number of diatonic sequences that I have taken from the piece, but I will save those for another article. I hope you find these useful, and are inspired to look for different sources for your practice material, there is so much out there. If you haven’t, please do check out my book, Bach Shapes, at Happy Practicing!


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