Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prelude and Fugue

I have students working on Johann Sebastian Bach this spring and he's a stinker, that one. (I know what it looks like, but it's pronounced fewg.) Everybody gets a baroque piece; 3 students specifically have a Prelude and Fugue set. We hope to learn the art of voicing, that each hand's melody is important, fingering, phrase shaping, listening! The learning list goes on a long time; that is why Bach is so cool. He wrote a set in every key (that's 24 of them), twice! Brilliant! I've never been able to write one that I really liked.

Today they are all struggling with the same thing, and it's not the Prelude. It's the voices of the Fugue. It's allowing each hand to speak independently. I like to explain that it's like a lunchroom with 3-4 friends at a table. The conversation turns to a certain topic, and all 4 have an opinion about it. Most of the time the girl begins, then another girl chimes in, followed by a boy or two. We need to hear each person's voice and their opinion on the topic.

Here's the hard part. Most of the time in the music, like life, the girls continue to talk while the boys are speaking. It's the way it is. We need to let them talk, but we want to hear what the boys are saying, so the boys need to speak louder and the girls need to tone it down.

I broke it down to patting on our laps today. Just the effort of patting one hand louder than the other on your thigh can be tricky. Go ahead, try it, I'll wait. Pat your Right Hand (RH) firmly against your right thigh, now pat your Left Hand (LH) gently on your left thigh. At the same time. Got it? Now switch it around. Then imagine eventually doing individual fingers.

I also gave them the idea to voice their warm-up scales one hand louder than the other, and to try to write their first name with their other hand. Whatever you do with one hand, mimic with the other! This is mostly just to be silly. We'll get there, one musical sentence at a time. (Silo prelude and fugue, wrapping our fingers around it with ivy)


  1. That type of mental and physical dexterity can be VERY tricky. When I first was in school learning to body work, I was so right side dominant, that I could hardly execute the strokes with my left hand. I finally had to just try to do as much with my left as possible. Instead of reaching for somethin with my right, it would be with my left. Brushing tee, you got it. Everything I could think of and finally, it came. You sound like a very good teacher. What is the name of the street in your header?

  2. Hi Chris:

    Have been enjoying your blog-- love the concept of fugue as conversation. My wife & I often talk about ensemble playing as conversation, & as someone who plays guitar & banjo & sings I think of the conservation between voice & guitar, but extending this to fugues is intriguing. Thanks for following over at RFBanjo.

  3. Have you had your students sing one voice while playing the others? So hard, but it works!


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