Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 409, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy, who is on the team of transcribing fingering and pedaling for us. So he writes:
Finished transcribing fingering for BWV 541. Normal practice routine. Am getting a little frustrated with the Bach Dorian Fugue. The Toccata is in good shape, with two transitions requiring some attention, but the fugue is simply being difficult. Trying to speed it up: working on two pages a day, starting at half speed, and then working it up. There are moments that aren't a problem, but there are an equal number of sections that I am having getting up to speed. Will try again tomorrow. Just venting.
V: I’m happy that Jeremy doesn’t give up after a few unsuccessful attempts with the Dorian Fugue, don’t you think?
A: Yes. He’s very brave, and I think we all should be. It’s natural to struggle with fugues. They are usually much more difficult and much more complex than preludes. And why do you think it is so, Vidas?
V: Thank you, for this thoughtful question. I think fugues are polyphonically much more complex because even though preludes might have polyphonic sections within the prelude, but fugue is contrapuntal throughout, which means that each voice imitates other voices—takes up a theme, and this theme is presented in different shapes and ways, in different voices and keys. And your mind has to notice all of that. All the while other voices are playing something else sometimes—even more complex things. Four part polyphony, like in the Dorian Fugue—I’m not sure, maybe it’s even five part, five parts polyphony. Could be. It’s really complex for your feet and hand, and your mind especially to grasp. And because this is alla breve meter, not 4/4, but 2/2, basically two half notes per measure. It is much faster tempo and you have to adjust to that.
A: Well, then what do you think about speeding things up? Do you think it’s worth to push or somehow you need to keep working in a slow tempo, and tempo will speed up by itself?
V: Yes, and no. Yes means that if you are not ready to speed up, then working in a faster tempo will just damage the texture, probably. But if you are ready to start pushing it up, upwards, then maybe working in smaller fragments in a really fast tempo—in a concert tempo, and stopping at the end of the fragment, and then continuing in a fast tempo and then stopping again—would be a good way to go. Maybe stopping at each half note first, and then at each measure, at each, every two measures, every four measures, and so on, always doubling the fragment.
A: Yes! I think that would be very helpful.
V: But if this doesn’t help; sometimes people write me that ‘I tried this, but still, it’s a struggle’. You need to understand that each, let’s say, step, right? When you’re playing this with stops, you have to do repeatedly, not just once. So if you’re only playing a fugue, or any piece of music just once in your practice, and playing another piece, it doesn’t count as complete practice. You need to work several days like that—stopping on the smallest beat. And only when you’re feeling that you’re playing without mistakes like that, then you go to the second step—doubling the fragment. For some people, it’s as long as one week, for one combination.
A: True! Do you think that knowing the structure of the fugue will help? Analyzing complete fugue, would help to learn it easier.
V: Mmm-hmm. Of course, this fugue which Bach wrote, is a canonic fugue. It has many canons. And various kinds of canons. I mean, sometimes in inversion, sometimes in different intervals too. So when you’re playing slowly first, you write down what you see. You write which voices playing the subject, you write the key of that subject. What else? You write the number of subject appearance, one, two, three, four five, etc. And you could also write, you could write the counterpoint, if it is counterpoint one, two, three sometimes. They are interchangeable in some fugues. You notate everything, and you notice, especially—it’s important to notice when you’re practice—what you have notated, what you have analyzed. Would that help, Ausra?
A: Yes, because I think you know what voice does what. You will play differently. Because when subject appears, it’s important to show it off for people, and to hear it yourself, because if you will not hear it, nobody will hear it. And it’s very important. So I think understanding the structure will help you to learn faster, and to know what you are doing, and to play it with more success.
V: I would just add, with fugues, because they have constant number of voices, it’s also very beneficial to sing one voice and play the others. Of course it would be too difficult to play three voices and sing one, but maybe start with singing one voice, play and singing solo voice, any voice you choose. And then add one voice of accompaniment—one hand or pedals. And then do all the combinations. And then maybe three voices, meaning you sing one and play two. And after while you will be ready to do voices—sing one and play four. What benefit you see in this practice, Ausra?
A: Well, it’s very complex in benefit, because will develop your pitch, and you will develop your coordination, and you will definitely deepen your knowledge of music in general.
V: It’s basically the same practice that you do with kids at school in ear training classes.
A: True! And I’m trying to convince them that they need to sing when they are practicing piano. I don’t know if they are doing that but this is one of the best ways to make better your pitch.
V: Mmm-hmm. Improve.
A: Improve, your pitch, yes.
V: But always sing what you are not playing—never double the voice and the instrument.
A: Well, I don’t think it’s that important. You might want to play all and sing one voice.
V: At first.
A: At first, yes because otherwise it might be too difficult for the beginner.
A: Plus because of the singing, it might change things too. But that yes, the wise technique is that you won’t play that voice which you are singing.
A: And this is very helpful technique if you are playing on the piano, organ piece. Then you can sing pedal parts. That way you will have entire texture.
V: Exactly. Good advice! I hope will be helpful to people. So please keep sending us your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow. And remember; when you practice...
V: Miracles happen!
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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