I’d like to demonstrate some practicing using the waterfall technique. I chose the B major fugue from Book 2 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Although I have played many Bach fugues, this particular one was completely new to me. It is a 4-voice fugue, with a lot of complexity. Here, I show how the fugue can be learned without ever trying to unravel that complexity.
I did this in 3 sessions of approximately 20 minutes each, with short breaks in between.
I have divided the demonstration into 4 videos, shown below along with some notes relating to specific points in the videos.
For fun, I decided to sight-read the whole fugue from beginning to end, with the metronome. I approached this from the angle of simply dropping my arms to the beat, not caring what notes I hit. Many of them were right, many were not.
Set metronome to faster tempo, work on very beginning (mm. 1-9), reducing by one click each time. Always, the focus is on dropping the arms with the click.
Set metronome to 208 and work on mm. 1-27. Reduce by one click each time. No effort is made to correct any mistakes or work out any fingering. I am simply playing over and over, paying attention to what happens. The tempo is way too fast, so there are certainly plenty of mistakes. But, it doesn’t matter to me at all. At this tempo, I am only working on focus, poise, and balance. These skills need to be dragged down to the slower tempos. If I started at the bottom, that might never happen.
The right hand is just playing the same cluster of notes over and over for a few times. This is probably because my attention was focused more on my left hand at this point.
Throughout this process, there were several mistakes I noticed which kept occuring. I made no effort to fix them.
Around this time, I started to notice that my attention had been pulled into the music and away from the arm dropping. You can perhaps see how I correct this by bringing the attention back to the task at hand.
I reach the lowest setting on the metronome, 40 bpm, and yet I still have mistakes, so I dial it back up to 80 (playing at the same tempo, but the metronome is now twice as fast) and focus on dropping every two clicks.
I felt that the most recent play-through was pretty flawless, so I dial it back up to 208. Was it actually flawless? Don’t know, don’t care. This was my perception in the moment, which is all that matters.
I continue working like this, reducing by a couple clicks each time, never trying to fix mistakes, always focusing on the dropping of the arms.
Yes, sometimes I notice mistakes. And sometimes I fix them. If it happens, it happens. If not, no big deal.
I again play flawlessly (at a slow tempo), and so I dial it back up to 208 and do another round.
At this point, I am eager to wrap this up, so I reduce the metronome by several clicks each time.
By the end of this video, I feel I am playing pretty well at a good performance tempo, so I decide to shut off the metronome and play one last time to admire my final result.
With the metronome off, I ran through mm. 1-27 one last time, allowing myself to play as musically as I wished. Also, all of my practicing up to this point was without pedal, but I decided to use the pedal here.
I am happy with the final result. Is it perfect? Of course not. But, it has its own perfection in that it is exactly the natural consequence of the work that I did.
Are there faster ways to learn a piece like this? Maybe. I tried to be pretty strict in how I did this, as I wanted to demonstrate this technique in its purity. And even I got impatient and rushed to the end.
As I see it, here are the distinct advantages I experienced doing it this way:
- The work I did will stick with me for a while. The mistakes that got corrected will stay corrected for the most part. If I pick this up again in a month, I will not feel like I am starting from scratch.
- I never felt pressure from speed. I never felt out of control for any reason.
- I never had to stop to work anything out. I never cared why I made any mistakes, so I didn’t waste time trying to figure them out. Same thing with fingering. I don’t even know if I ever used the same fingering twice. It’s not any of my concern. If the fingering isn’t obvious, I don’t care about it. This frees up my attention considerably.
- The whole process was fun and relaxing. I never felt like I was “working” on anything. I was just grooving to the beat the whole time. I could have gone on for another hour with no problem, but it was getting late and I had other things to do.
- I felt liberated from any responsibility of having to fix any of my problems. It is great to know that I am playing the best I can possibly play.
It cannot be overstated how important it is to have a method of practicing that is enjoyable. It doesn’t matter how “efficient” your method is if it makes you feel worse about yourself and about the process, or even pushes you to quit altogether.
There is certainly more to do with this fugue. I could learn the rest of it, for example. I could analyze the score. I could memorize it. I could record it and listen back with an ear for details. And I would do any of those, depending on what my desired outcome was, and how much time I had to work. But, this is a start.