Using Cello Suite No. 1’s Motif for Improvisation

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In this video Yo-Yo Ma plays the popular Cello Suite No. 1 by JS Bach. The most recognizable part in my opinion is the opening motif which is based off of a major chord. If we look at the first two chords we play the root, fifth, third then for the second chord it’s fifth, third, root with the bass staying the same for both chords and nice voice leading for the others. You can listen to the first few seconds or the whole thing if you want before we discuss how we can use this idea for our compositions and classical improvisations.

If you’re like me you’re usually intimidating by this type of playing and style. But the more you look at them the more they are easily understandable, which takes a lot of the mystery and intimidation out of the classical music genre.

This motif luckily fits nicely into open triads which I’ve discussed in the harmonizing a melody post. We’ll do a similar example from the Cello Suite but in the key of D. It’s a simple I IV V I progression in our case D G A7/D D

Example 1 is very similar to the Cello Suite to get us started. Notice the open triad or chord shape which can b the framework for our improvisations. Each shape facilitates the ability to play the adjacent notes.

Example 2 (labelled second Ex.1, oops!) uses a cycle of fourths starting on a minor chord (but one chord only gets 2 beats) to show how we might use this in other contexts.

Using Cello Suite No.1 Motif in Improvisation

Try using this for any style or for your songwriting not just classical improvisation by using the open triads approach. Try to find inversions that use voice leading (each ‘voice’ moves smoothly from one chord to the next). Create a chord progression and use open triads to voice the chords. Most of all have fun!

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