how to practice a fugue?

1.play each voice separately.

e.g. if there are four voices,

Step 1. play only soprano voice

Step 2. play only alto voice

Step 3. play only tenor voice

Step 4. play only bass voice

next,

2. Play two voices together

Step 5. play soprano and alto voices

Step 6. play tenor and bass voices

Step 7. play soprano and bass voices

Step 8. play alto and tenor voices

etc.

It’s very important to hear firstly each individual voice before practicing them together.

The concept is very simple:

Imagine a fugue is played by a string ensemble, so it would be first violin + second violin + viola + cello. Do they practice together without practicing on their own? No! Only now YOU the pianist has to play every single line together yourself. Therefore, if you really want to know the voices well, you must practice listening and playing each of them separately. In the course of learning each voice, you get to understand how each of them works and how it sounds. Then, when you put them together, you would find it much easier to hear each voice and bring out whatever musical patterns you need to according to the importance of them respectively. 

The same concept can be applied to practicing any polyphonic writing or simply, left hand-right hand situation. In order for the voices / two hands to coordinate well together in harmony and balance, they must be able to perform on their own terms first. And to be able to perform on their own terms first, you must train them to do so separately. Often that’s the solution students miss out on taking (“too boring!” “too much time!”), and that’s the main reason why they don’t get familiarised with the piece they have been working on even for a long period of time. Drilling without strategy on how to practice and precision on details will never get to the point where one truly knows about the piece albeit hours spent at the piano.

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