Khachaturian’s Toccata – Practising the Piano

Aram Khachaturian’s Toccata is one of the most effective showpieces for the advancing pianist. Although it looks and sounds very difficult, it is actually much more approachable than you might think, with patterns that are always highly pianistic and often surprisingly simple to memorise. There is plenty of scope for narrative and imagery in this piece, the pedal bringing textures together to create a soundscape that is at times savage and barbaric, then scintillating and brooding.

khachaturian toccata
Aram Khachaturian, 1971

In this excerpt from my video walk-throughs for the piece, I demonstrate an approach to learning bar 74 which looks daunting due to numerous accidentals:

The full video walk-through of Khachaturian’s Toccata featuring over an hour of detailed information on learning, memorising and performing it is available on the Online Academy here.

Other walk-throughs of pieces from the 2021 – 2022 ABRSM Piano Examination Syllabus are available here.

Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 Piano Examination Syllabus

We have published a comprehensive collection of resources for the 2021 & 2022 syllabus. The full set of over seventy video walk-throughs is included with a subscription to the Online academy. Please click here to subscribe or click here to find out more about the Online Academy.

Alternatively, the complete set of video-walkthroughs for all ABRSM grades can also be purchased separately along with recordings from our recent workshop day on the syllabus. Please click here for more information or if you have already purchased a ticket then you can access the videos by signing in to your account.


Toccata from Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E Minor

The Toccata from Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830, is a popular choice for piano diplomas. I decided to make a study edition for the fugue and a series of walkthroughs for the whole movement to assist players in their learning of this magnificent music.

Even if you’re not playing this piece, many of the concepts I discuss in these new resources can be applied to other works from this period. The videos also provide a detailed walk-through of a piece that is a perfect example of Bach’s genius in contrapuntal writing, with the subject appearing in different keys and with different textures, creating beautiful variations in its colour.

Learning a Fugue

Much keyboard music is written with the human hand in mind, whereas a fugue is conceived in horizontal lines with each as important as the others. This makes learning and playing a fugue something of a challenge and calls for a great deal of coordination. The process of learning a fugue cannot be hurried and requires a disciplined, step-by-step approach.

One of the methods for learning a fugue which I suggest in my edition is called the “Stepladder”. Instead of learning hands separately, you first learn the individual voices separately and then together in different combinations. For example, in a three voice fugue you’d learn the soprano (S), alto (A) and bass (B) lines separately. Then you’d combine two voices e.g. S & A, A & B and S& B before putting all the voices together. 

To facilitate this process, edition has a version of the fugue written in an open score which makes it easier to read the individual voices:

JS Bach Toccata from Partita in E minor open score


I strongly advise organising a fingering that works for your hand. After some experimentation, write it down and commit to it every time you practise. Eventually the fingering will become automatic, allowing you to concentrate on other aspects of music making and performance. My edition provides some fingering options, but these are only suggestions – feel free to come up with your own (but remember to write them in!).

One of the challenges with playing a fugue is that there are more voices than we have hands. Therefore we need to divide some of the voices (usually the middle voice(s)) between the hands. In addition to my fingering suggestion, I’ve also used different colours to provide some suggestions for hand distribution:

Extract from Toccata

Style & articulation

Bach has left us some slurs in this movement, which of course need to be respected. Elsewhere, as is the case with music from this period, the choice of articulation and other performance details is very much up to the individual performer and there is no one right way of doing it. For example, the head of the subject can either be played legato, or the up-beat quaver (8th note) separated from the quaver pair (which will want to be played slurred):

Articulation ideas for fugue theme

There are some further ideas for articulation, interpretation and realising the ornamentation both in my edition and the accompanying video walk-through. The complete, downloadable version of this edition is available for separate purchase from our store here or as part of a combined bundle of study editions. It is also included with an annual subscription to the Online Academy. Please click here to find out more about subscription options or click here for an index of the videos if you are already a subscriber.

Other Resources for Playing Baroque Music