Bach Chorales for A-Level

This year I moved back to Edexcel from AQA for my A-Level class. The Old Spec AQA didn’t require the students to complete a Bach chorale, or let me rephrase that, I didn’t choose that option. My students have always been good composers and so the Free composition unit for AQA was perfect and they always did really well.

This year I can see that alongside the composition, the Bach Chorale option is going to be the best thing, and so off I go (again) into the world of Bach and his 371 Harmonisations. There is something about that number 371 which I kinda like, not sure why, and, well it isn’t massively relevant.

So what is the point of this blog?

Well I wanted to share with you my favourite resource so far, you may have seen it, but if not then you need to see it:

Harmonising Bach Chorales: a guide for students and teachers – third edition

by Chris Gill

This book is fantastic and I just wanted to share with you why.

This is the third edition and I think it was released earlier this year. It has a number of key benefits that I have found really useful so far – for both my own prep work and for the students. I have asked all my A-Level students to buy a copy along with a copy of the 371 harmonisations. So here are my top 5 favourite things about this book:

  1. It is really nicely laid out. There isn’t too much packed in to the book. There is space to write notes and it is all just very clear
  2. There are lots of great exercises, particularly in the early parts of the book. These are great for students and really work well for them. I have enjoyed setting them in class and working with the students. These examples use actual Bach harmonisations and you are given the “R” number so you can look them up. Some of the exercises have had changes made to them so that students can spot mistakes. They can then easily look up “what Bach did” and see if they have spotted the mistakes
  3. The chapters are clear and help the students to make progress. If they read each section, do the exercises and really take on board what Chris is saying, then they will make clear and steady progress.
  4. There are fuller exercises in the back of the book that give students a chance to tackle a full harmonisation. These exercises get progressively more difficult.
  5. The language is easy to take in. It is well written and I think the students are really taking on board the rules as they move through the book. It isn’t too confusing or wordy and obviously the third edition has potentially refined the language.

I am really pleased to have found this book and I am sure you will enjoy using it – if not already. It is also an affordable book and it is not too heavy. It is useful and also a nice size – not too small and not too think.

So if you are looking for an excellent book to use with your students this year, then I can’t recommend this book enough. For £10 I think it will give your students, like mine, a great introduction to Bach Chorales. The only thing I will say is that you will need to cover some theory on chords, keys & cadences before you start on the book, but that is normal practice. So get over to amazon on the link below and grab yourself a copy:

Order it on amazon.co.uk

I would also like to recommend the most amazing website – but I am sure you have seen this one already. It is so well laid out and full of amazing content. I would imagine that I am going to be using this, alongside the textbook, a great deal this year:


Tom Pankhurst if you are reading this I would love to buy you a pint to say thanks for your fantastic website!

If you have any tips or resources for Bach Chorales then I would love to see them and maybe share them with others. In the mean time, Happy Harmonising everyone!


1 comment

  1. Ha – I’ll accept your kind offer of a pint – thanks for a shout out – I’ll buy you one in return. Not seen this book – I must check it out. I’ve gone over to Eduqas so am leaving Chorales behind for now (with some genuine sadness). My new project is resources to help students get started on style composition in the Western Classical Tradition, Debussy and Musical Theatre. I’ve made a start on http://www.alevelmusic.com but there is a long way to go! I enjoy reading your blogs – lots of food for thought.

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