Choreographing Bach’s D Minor Invention

I’m going to look at Bach’s Two-Part Invention in D minor, aiming to help you solve a couple of the issues that seem to bother some players in this piece. 

The Subject

The first thing is to find a good fingering for the main subject based on its tempo and character. For me, it’s a vigorous forte at the start, somewhere around M.M. = 60 (+/- 10%) for the bar. I play the semiquavers (16th notes) legato and the quavers (8th notes) detached, allowing for the possibility of more finessed articulation here and there. 

The Invention would be extremely difficult to manage if we stuck to the myth that the thumb should not go on a black key. Here is the fingering I prefer, by no means the only solution but the one I find works best.

In order for this fingering to work we need to remember one important fact: when we place a short finger (thumb or 5thfinger) on a black key we need to make an adjustment up and in towards the back of the keys, since the black keys are higher up and further away. There is no mystery here. Start from your lap and land with your RH on the two black notes with thumb and 5th finger. You should find the way you align will be perfectly natural – there won’t be any twisting in the wrist, and you will have found a comfortable position on the black keys to feel balanced there.

When we play the five-finger position, E-Bb in the RH, a certain amount of motion towards the black key area is necessary so that when we arrive at the Bb the hand will be in the right place – in other words, we move from the front of the keyboard towards the back. As we release the Bb in bar 2, we’ll want to slide back out so that the long fingers (2nd, 3rd and 4th) can feel comfortable on the white keys. If we did not use the length of the keys, we would certainly not feel at all coordinated. 

Traditional v. Modern Methodology

Traditional methodology, based on 18th and 19th century concepts formulated when our forebears were playing harpsichords and fortepianos, favoured a rounded hand position in which finger lengths are equalised. The idea was to curl up the fingers in order to keep them all on the surface of the keyboard, the thumb included. This may work just fine for the early pianos, but as pianism has evolved there has been a shift towards a less curled position and greater freedom about using the full length of the key – in and out movements that might mean the thumb is not always on the surface of the keyboard when long fingers are playing on white keys. 

Clementi’s instruction to place a penny on the back of the hand when practising ensured that it was the fingers alone that did all the work, meaning rotational movements of the forearm inevitably got excluded. Many important teachers have since incorporated rotational movements into their methodology, but I still find a surprising number of pianists struggling with tension issues who are largely unaware of how these movements can assist, how they work and how to apply them.

New Guide to Forearm Rotation

In my new guide to forearm rotation and associated movements on the Online Academy, I look at how we might incorporate these movements into our playing so we can feel strong, free and coordinated. Because the subject is rather involved, it is important to tackle it step by step – nothing much is going to happen overnight. Hence the 40 instructional videos, all short and to the point, and many musical examples that allow you to go at your own pace, backing up if anything is not clear along the way. 

When I was compiling this module, I wanted to come up with a way to notate the mix of single and double rotations involved in applying the rotational movements. Here it is for the D minor Invention opening. The L-R indicates the direction of the initial preliminary swing (from left to right), the slurs showing the single rotations. In the alternate view, I encourage a brief stop before each double rotation to check the hand is level and to facilitate a last-moment fast swing in the opposite direction of travel to land us squarely in the next note. Confused? It is a bit confusing to start with, I will admit. However after a while it does become second nature, the motions getting ever smaller and ever faster. 

The Trills

The single rotations that make up the trill are perhaps easier to feel, but controlling the trill with the semiquavers (16th notes) in the other hand proves challenging.

In my Q-Spot series on the Online Academy I devote a whole article to this issue, offering a systematic step-by-step process we might apply day by day for a short time to develop the necessary coordination to help this feel easy. I offer some ideas in my introductory blog post.


As my regular readers will know, we have recently introduced a technique library on the Online Academy that will grow and expand. Last week saw the launch of my first module on forearm rotation, a practical guide that you can take at your own pace. 

A Practical Guide to Forearm Rotation is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options, or click here to view if you are already a subscriber.