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41.  Prelude and Fugue in A flat major from Book 2




(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

I have always been fascinated by numbers. When I was a child I would walk up and down suburban streets checking all the house numbers, intrigued by the absence of number 13s, and again by one particular street where there were several even numbers missing as well. Maybe it was just a mistake - I never got to the bottom of this! Later on I was fascinated by other series of numbers - the perfect numbers 6, 28, 496 etc.; the Fibonacci numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc. ; the perfect cube numbers 1,8,27,64 etc. Most of all, I was fascinated by the numbers which I still don’t really understand like e and i, the imaginary square root of minus 1. Many composers have been fascinated by numbers too, and indeed patterns based on the Fibonacci numbers can be found in many pieces of music. But of course some numbers are more common in music than others - the 5 notes of the pentatonic scale, the 6 notes of the whole tone scale, the 7 notes of the diatonic scale, the 12 notes of the chromatic scale. The 2 beats in a bar of duple time, the 3 beats of the waltz and minuet, the 4 beats of rock music, the 5 beats to a bar of sections of famous pieces like Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition, Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony - and of course the Dave Brubeck hit Take Five. Being musical, however, is nothing to do with counting beats. Often, counting gets completely in the way of listening. It can be very confusing having an amateur conductor say 1 - 2 - 3 -GO rather than clearly signalling where the first beat of the bar actually is. A common mistake amongst pianists who are over fond of counting beats is that when the music comes to a rest the counting will speed up. It is as if people simply cannot believe that the pulse needs to remain steady during a silence. The pulse of a piece of music needs to be internally heard and felt. If the ‘counting’ part of the brain dominates over the ‘listening’ part of the brain the pulse will almost inevitably speed up and the flow of the music will be disturbed. Counting needs to happen in a sort of different dimension so that the awareness of the pulse is in the foreground and the awareness of counting is in the background. This is why a good conductor does not count a group in but rather gives a clear indication of the pulse. Before you start playing a piece on the piano, find the pulse, feel the pulse of the music by playing a couple of bars from somewhere later in the piece as an imaginary soundtrack in your head. This will establish the pulse clearly in your conscious awareness. If you are playing a rhythmically complex piece you will also need to feel clearly the divisions of each pulse and be able to switch your awareness from dividing the pulses into two to dividing the pulses into three. Regular work on this away from the piano is highly recommended. You do not need an instruments for this other than your own body which is always with you - so there are no excuses for not practising! Tap slow pulse with RH, then with this established tap 2 to a beat with the LH for a few beats, then switch to 3 to a beat. Reverse the hands. Tap the slow pulse with the LH and the divided pulse with the RH. Tap the divided into 2 pulse with the RH for 4 beats, then the divided into 3 pulse with the LH for 4 beats. Tap the two divided pulses together, 2 in the LH and 3 in the RH Tap the divided pulses together, 2 in the LH and 3 in the RH Work on this for a few minutes each day, and gradually your rhythmic coordination at the piano will improve considerably.