Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.
Bourrée in E minor by J.S. Bach from his Lute Suite in E minor, transcribed for classical guitar, is a popular piece among guitar students and seasoned performers alike. It's not a beginners' piece but is around intermediate level of difficulty. So, if you're a guitarist who is 'handy' with your picking-hand fingers, and you appreciate Baroque period music composed by a master of the craft, this is for you.
It's not a particularly easy classical guitar piece as it moves up the fretboard quite a bit and there's no shortage of sharps to deal with if you're reading the notation rather than the tab. There are no specially difficult chord shapes, but there may be lots of unfamiliar shapes.
You can see the score of Bourrée in E minor, line by line in the video capsule and hear an audio demo of the MIDI file generated by the score. View it in full-screen mode and at HD playback quality if possible.
If you prefer to see all of the score—it's there below the video capsule, too. You can enlarge any individual line of the score by clicking on the relevant staves.
You can also click the link below the video to download and print the entire score.
Bourrée in E Minor
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Bourrée in E Minor: Learners' Notes
The main feature of Bourrée in E Minor is counterpoint: Interdependent melodic lines of music combining harmonically. That was the hallmark of music of the Baroque period. It's a period that is synonymous with Bach - an undisputed and unsurpassed master of the technique of counterpoint. This piece is only in two parts, bass, and melody, and is simple compared to some of Bach's highly complex multi-voice compositions such as his fugues.
Typical of the period, the form of Bourrée in E minor is 'two-part' or 'binary' form. The first section starts in the home key of E minor, and towards the end of the first section, it modulates (changes key) to the relative major key of G and then repeats the first section. The second section starts off in the new key of G major and gradually works its way back through a series mini-modulations to more distant keys and finally to the home key of E minor. Then it repeats that second section to finish the piece.
Metre and Rhythm
A bourrée is a dance originating in France and the main rhythmic figure (short-short-long) imitates the dance movements. Emphasise beats 1 & 3 throughout the piece.
Fingering and Hand Positions
Fretting-hand fingering is shown in the standard notation staffs where it might be helpful. There are many fingering options you could use so choose any that suit your hand better. I haven't included picking-hand suggestions. Use whatever feels natural - thumb (p) for bass notes and alternating i, m & a fingers for upper notes. If you're not too familiar with classical guitar technique, see the chart explaining how the fingers are labeled in classical guitar music. P-i-m-a is the equivalent of T-I-M-R in fingerstyle guitar, but only in English speaking countries. P-i-m-a is Spanish but universally known throughout the classical guitar world.
The Roman numerals tell you the fretboard position to be in for the required notes where you need barre chords, but even where there are no barred chords needed, your hand positions are usually somewhere above the nut position.
Bourrée in E Minor—Chords
As Bourrée in E minor is in two parts consisting of upper melody and bass melody, the chords are mostly implied rather than played in full. See the chart for a list of the chords used. Some chords can be interpreted in different ways. For example, A# diminished (A# C# E) can be considered the same as F#7 (F# A# C# E) but without the root note, F#, as it's doing exactly the same job as F#7 would do in that context, which is to resolve to the home chord.
The principal chords are the tonic, dominant and subdominant chords of the two main keys, E minor and G major:
Note* The tonic chord is the home chord built on the first note of the scale, the dominant leads home; it's the chord built on the 5th scale note, and the subdominant, which is the chord built on the 4th scale note usually leads to the dominant chord.
The key of E minor's principal chords are E minor (tonic) and B major (dominant) and A minor (subdominant).
The key of G major's principal chords are G major (tonic), D major (dominant) and C major (subdominant).
Other chords are there for the purpose of briefly resolving to different keys and to provide a more colourful tonal landscape within the longer second section of the bourrée. It's a longer section because it takes the scenic route home to E minor, the principal key of the whole composition.
E G B
B D F#
G major (G7)
G B D (F)
C E G
A C E
D major (D7)
D F# A (C)
G# B D
A major (A7)
A C# E (G)
A# C# E
D F A
G B D#
Born in Eisenach, Germany in 1685, Johann Sebastian Bach is as famous as its possible to get in the classical music world, especially music of the Baroque period during which he worked. As one of the greatest composers of all time, his music is played at classical venues worldwide. Many of his works are transcribed for guitar and you can check out his famous Minuet in G in another of my articles from the link below. You can read more about J.S., Bach on Wikipedia.
More Classical and Fingerstyle Guitar Pieces to Try
Here are two more pieces to try. They're easier than Bourrée in E minor.
- Bourrée in E minor is composed by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and is in the Public Domain
- The score, audio track and images are by chasmac and produced on Finale, Goldwave, and Photoshop.
© 2014 chasmac