Music Analytics:
JS Bach - C Major Prelude

Kelly Curtis


In some previous articles written about doing analysis on Music using Algorithms, it was found that one can reduce multiple pieces of Music down to basic components that can be learned and mastered.

In this article, the discussion continues, but this time, we look at Bach's C Major Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 - BWV 846. The focus is ultimately to find new ways of studying Music, but in this article, two performances are presented along with the piece analysis.

You can find the full sheet music on the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP):

IMSLP Link - JS Bach C Major Prelude

To start, you can listen to this piece performed on a real (non-sampled) piano.

Here is a snippet from the score with Chord Symbols assigned.

After chord symbols have been assigned to all measures in the piece, it was ran through the Curtis Card algorithms to see if any patterns that were found in Jazz pieces might be found in this simple piece by Bach. The first 11 measures of the Curtis Card are presented to start discussion.

The first thing that stands out is the fact that it found multiple 2-5 and 2-5-1 relationships in the first 11 bars. This is not discussing modulation or harmonic function assignment, just relationships.

In perhaps one of Bach's most famous and influential pieces, we find patterns that are present in Jazz (1900-1950) are also found in pieces written hundreds of years earlier, with this one written around 1722. Easily 200 years, and continents away, we find that these patterns are in a way universal. If it was good enough for Bach, and then good enough for the Jazz greats, could we not argue that the 5-1, 2-5, and 2-5-1 relationships are universal? Until further research proves otherwise, I will refer to patterns that transcend style and time as universal structures.

Here is the full prelude in Lead Sheet format. There may be alternative ways to analyze this piece, but this is how it was marked up. This includes all the patterns it found in the form of the Music as it is notated.

Given that there are universal structures that exist in Music, studies can continue in the vein of studying of Composers and how they use standard patterns throughout history. That is the intention of this system that was developed, to data mine Music in an effort to do complex pattern analysis.

To close this out, here is an alternative recording of the Prelude on a real (non-sampled) piano:

I hope you enjoy this kind of information, and always feel free to reach out to me for discussion.

Thank you!

-Kelly M. Curtis

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