I am intimidated by the idea of writing fugues.

...but I would like to do it. I have in mind the style exemplified by Bach.

In a collegiate "Counterpoint" class (or book, or private instruction, or self-guided groping) is (are) there a standard approach(es) to teaching/learning the fugue-writing process?

In the ideal, I'd like to undertake this on my own, at least initially, at my own pace. I'm not interested at this stage in finding a teacher or class. I'm open to books, but what I'm looking for here is an outline of how such a teacher, course, or book would approach guiding me through the compositional process.

As background: I consider myself proficient in the analytical and performative aspects of tonality and form, including fugues. However, my education in terms of writing (tonal) music ends with a solid understanding of four-part writing a la Fux.

  • 'Self-guided groping' sounds like it could be fun...
    – Tim
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 21:58
  • 2
    Book recommendations are off topic I think, so I'll leave this as a comment and not an answer. You might enjoy Kind Jeppesen's book on 16th century counterpoint. I very much feel like it picks up where Fux leaves off. Alfred Mann has also translated several older theorists' works on fugues and it is published in a single volume as The Study of Fugue. I'd start with Jeppesen though - it's incredible.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 23:06

1 Answer 1


One thing I can say is this-- music theory books are a distillation of actual pieces of music, in this case largely Bach's. Someone's done a lot of the analysis, and packaged it in bite-sized chunks for the consuming student.

You should always understand this, and go between theory and actual music-- look for your own examples of certain rules. Try changing some notes to BREAK those rules, and see if you can hear the problem when you play them on the piano. In short-- think for yourself, with theory as a guideline rather than a dogma.

For writing, start with modifying Bach's inventions or fugues. Change a few notes of the first theme, and see if you can make the rest of the restatements work properly. Try moving a fugue through different keys than Bach did by modifying transition sections.

This will give you a good framework to work from until you're ready to try your own original compositions.

  • 3
    As for fugues, the piano is good, but hearing them on an actual pipe organ is very instructive. I spent an hour once with a church organist and she played one of my fugues. I had proofread it so carefully.. but a parallel fifth survived unnoticed. I had never noticed it on piano, but on an orga it stuck out like a sore thumb! A very unforgiving instrument can be instructive like that.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 23:08
  • Yeah, I bet. The harmonics would probably make things like parallel 5ths stand out a lot more strongly. You're lucky! That must be a great experience. Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 0:04
  • 1
    It was - and it was NOT hard to come by. I'd recommend beginning contrapuntists ask around. Church organists I've met are wonderful and generous people.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 0:21

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