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Please turn up the volume on your computer.

A friend suggested this topic.  He wonders how in the world keyboard players get their left hand to do anything.  And then there are the organ pedals.  All that independence!  Mind-boggling!

I agree.  Don’t you wish you were an octopus?  I do sometimes.

Learning a fugue takes patience!  Each voice must be learned separately before we can perform them together with confidence and clarity.

As I do not play the harpsichord, I am not able to offer suggestions.  Portions of this post may, however, be relevant…

A few suggestions

Finding good fingerings is the single most helpful thing we can do.  Start with the subject, then the second entrance, etc.  Adding middle voices is easier when there is a theme to work with.

Practice each voice with the fingering likely to be used later.  If we avoid this, then we’re setting up something that won’t work.  The fingering we need is the one that works while playing other voices.  Yes, that raises the level of difficulty, but the resulting sound will be more cohesive.

While practicing the separate voices, concentrate on exaggerating the finger articulation.  Having the ability to feel intervals in our hands is a learning track that helps a great deal later.

After every voice is comfortable with good fingering, we can begin putting the fugue together two voices at a time.  This needs to be done in every possible combination in order to hear the way the voices relate to one another.

When playing two voices together is comfortable with the correct fingering, then play the lower voices together.  Omitting the top voice allows us to hear the remaining lines clearly.  Most of us remember the top line more easily, but in a fugue all voices are accorded “equal time.”  There is no part that is always in the background.

And now… drum roll!… put everything together!  You will want to use a slightly slower tempo at first.  Playing at performance tempo immediately makes it too easy to revert to bad fingering.  We all sound better when legato lines stay that way.  Fingering is crucial!  Slowing down a little enhances a positive outcome.  Playing too fast right away results in our having to undo things later.

The organ pedal part

If you play organ, you’ve just added a voice.  Your feet will be playing an entire fugue line, including subject, countersubject, sequences, etc.  But don’t panic… it’s fun!

You’ll need to practice the pedal part a lot.  It has to become so familiar that it’s completely independent of the manuals.

Practicing every keyboard part by itself in combination with the pedals will be very helpful.  You’ll get more pedal time in, also hearing  the pedal part with each manual voice as well as against it.

Good luck!  🙂

Many thanks to C.I. for the blog idea!

How do you learn fugues?  Any additional ideas?  Please add your thoughts to the comment section below!

If you are a harpsichordist, do you do anything differently?

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