Teaching Two-Part Inventions with Notation Software

Teaching Two-Part Inventions with Notation Software

James Frankel
[email protected]
Franklin Avenue Middle School, Franklin Lakes, NJ

TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:

Electronic Musical Instruments


Middle School


A computer with notation software and MIDI interface.
A multi-timbral, General MIDI synthesizer.
Ideally, networked computers with a file server.


90 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

This lesson is primarily for a music history/appreciation course with some practical aspects enhancing the coursework. General understanding of notation would be an asset.

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 3: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.
MENC 4: Composing and Arranging Music within specified guidelines.
MENC 5: Reading and notating music.
MENC 6: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.
MENC 7: Evaluating music and music performances.
MENC 9: Understanding Music in Relation to History and Culture


1) A piano score to J.S. Bach’s Invention No. 8 in F Major.
2) A computer with appropriate notation software and MIDI interface (a lab setup would be optimal).
3) A multi-timbral, General MIDI synthesizer.
4) Teacher-created notation file with only the right hand part to Bach’s Invention No. 8 in F Major. This file must either be preloaded onto each individual workstation, or it can be placed on an accessible file server.

Optional Items
5) LCD projector.
6) Networked computers with a file server.


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the canon form and Bach’s Two-Part Inventions by composing an aesthetically pleasing left-hand part after being given only the right hand part to J.S. Bach’s Invention No. 8 in F Major.


1) Teacher introduces students to the concept of a canon as a short composition in which the parts imitate each other exactly which sometimes may include a coda section so that the parts can finish together.

2) Teacher introduces J.S. Bach’s Invention No. 8 to the students by displaying it using the projector (optional) or by handing out teacher-created copies of the piece. Teacher explains how the right hand and left hand parts relate to each other and the definition of a canon. Teacher then plays the piece using the notation software as a playback device. (If a recording is available, by all means use it).

3) Students listen to, analyze, and describe the piece in regard to the definition of a canon and how it applies to this specific piece with the class. Students can do this in one of two ways. First they can use their own workstations with the teacher example either preloaded or by retrieving it from a file server, or they can use the teacher example that is being displayed for the class (I prefer this option for classroom management purposes).

4) After sufficient discussion, teacher then displays the Invention without the left hand part (either with a projector or on another teacher-created handout), and asks students to write the left hand part. Teacher should explain to students how to use the cut and paste function to copy the right hand part into the left hand, as well as how to transpose the entire part down an octave. (Be sure to take away the complete version!).

5) Teacher asks students to play the example as is, and to determine where Bach had to make adjustments in the left hand part to be able to finish the piece together (third beat of measure 7). Students now must use their own workstations to complete this task. (If a lab is not available, they can complete the exercise as a class using the teacher computer/LCD projector).

6) After the students determine where Bach altered the left hand part, they are instructed to complete the left hand so that it “fits” with the right hand part, making sure that the two parts end together. Students are given ample time (perhaps two class sessions) to complete the assignment. I recommend allowing the students to work in groups of two. The students should try to make their left hand sound like Bach.

7) After the students have completed their assignments, they perform their compositions for the class. This can be done by having the students play their composition using their workstation through an amplification system, or by having them save their file onto the file server and having the teacher play it through their amplification system.

8) After each performance, students discuss the success of their work and compare and contrast it to the work of other students.

9) After all of the compositions have been played, the original version is played again and the students compare and contrast their work to the work of J.S. Bach.


Follow Up:

Have the students create their own original two-part inventions in the style of J.S. Bach.

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