Improvised Bach: A Case Study in Classical Improvisation (Video)

Bach is already perfect, but having fun with it is hard to resist (see video below). Although Bach’s Fugue for unaccompanied violin could be treated with a walking bass line, I tried a half time feel bass line to allow space for fugue-like countermelodies in the inner voices. The difference between foreground and background becomes blurred this way, rather than assigning the bass, comping, and melody their typical places in a swing-type rendition.


I hope classical musicians can use case studies like this to inspire them to improvise with classical material in other ways. After you check out the video below, please leave a comment below and let me know what you think.


Get free access to my premium trainings.


Before I got heavily into jazz, I improvised using the only vocabulary I knew. Jazz has a history of drawing from classical composers, but I predict an explosion of new music once improvisation is taught to classical musicians from an early age.


In this performance, I hear a bit of “everything” (jazz and classical vocabulary), and “nothing” (stylistically neutral material). That’s partly why I decided to share it.


At the risk of being redundant, I think the single best way for musicians to improve is by recording and listening back. That’s one reason the loop pedal is more than a gimmick. A great practice tool, looping provides the ability to immediately review my timing, rhythm, ensemble, ideas, phrasing, intonation, and more.


Photo: Stephan DanelianIntonation always needs work, and for this I plead “guilty” as charged. As Yo-Yo Ma once told me in a master class (paraphrasing), “Learning to play in tune is a lifetime project for every string player.” Yo Yo Ma is totally the man.


But the loop pedal reveals a flaw in my playing that’s harder to pin down than intonation, something most classical musicians rarely spend time honing, and in this performance it’s so blatant, I almost didn’t post the video. Hint: anytime you’re working with a longer form, this will be harder to perfect, and it becomes apparent at one moment each time the form loops around. Leave a comment and let me know if you figured out what I’m referring to, and if it bothers you.


There’s still time to get in on the Creative Strings Academy new year’s giveaway!
Join us now and get free access to all of my premium trainings.


Credit for the idea of truncating the form of the Bach Fugue in G Minor goes to Billy Contreras. We recorded a duo version of this arrangement on “Jazz Fiddle Revolution”.


All my gear is supplied by the Electric Violin Shop.

My gear:
Yamaha Silent Violin 250
D’Addario Helicore Strings
Boss ME-70 (multi effects signal processor)
Ditto loop pedal

Don’t forget to leave a comment below and please share this if you enjoyed it.

Support for this case study is brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council and city of Columbus.