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Do You Know How to Listen to a Fugue?

Have you ever sung a round like Row, Row, Row Your Boat?  It's like a game of Follow the Leader.  One voice follows another, singing the same song at different times.  (Rounds are also called canons.)

It's tough to sing your part in a round. That's what makes them so much fun.     

A fugue is like a round.  One voice starts the piece, then other voices enter, one after another, just like in a round.  The difference is that the voices in fugues enter on higher and lower pitches.  They also continue to play new material while the other voices make their entrance.  

Confused?  That's OK.  Hang in there....

It's easier to hear a fugue than to describe what it does.  

A fugue starts off with a musical idea, called a theme.  This theme is played on higher and lower pitches throughout the piece. 

Can you hear the theme of this fugue when it is played on different instruments?  Click the pictures to hear the theme.  Then click the picture of Bach to hear the entire fugue.  

The violas are the first to play the theme in the piece you are about to hear.  

Did you know that violas are a bit larger than violins?  Violas have four strings and are played with a bow or plucked with the fingers, just like all the strings in the orchestra.    

Next come the second violins, playing the theme a little higher than the violas.  

The orchestra splits the violins into two groups. The second violins play notes a bit lower than the first violins.  

The first violins make their entrance, playing the theme higher still.  

The violin is the most popular instrument in the orchestra.  There are more violins in an orchestra than any other instrument.  

The cellos and string basses are next to enter.  You will hear them playing the theme of this fugue with the harpsichord.  

The cello is bigger than a violin, but smaller than a string bass.  It has a wide range and can play very low notes as well as high notes.  It has a beautiful, mellow sound.  You must sit down to play the cello.  It is held between the knees.

The string bass is the largest of all the string instruments.  It is also called the double bass.  It stands over six feet tall!  It plays the lowest notes in the string family.  


The flute is the last to enter and plays the theme way high up.  It is a member of the woodwind family and has a bright, happy tone.  

Can you hear the harpsichord?  In this example, the theme continues to develop.

Harpsichords were very popular during the Baroque period.  They existed before the piano was invented.  

You are now ready to hear the entire piece.  Remember that each instrument will continue to develop the theme as new voices enter.  

Enjoy the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.4  in G.  

To learn more about Bach, click here

To learn more about orchestra instruments, click here.  

To learn about other musical forms, click here

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Things To Think About

1.  Why are there more violins in an orchestra than any other instrument?

2.  How are fugues and rounds different?  How are they the same?  

3.  Would a fugue be harder or easier to sing than a round? 

4.  Why aren't harpsichords used very much in music today?

5.  Can any melody be written as a fugue?  

6.  What tune would you like to hear as a fugue?

7.  Find other pieces that are written as a fugue.  

8.  Compare fugues to other musical forms you have studied.  

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