Importance of etudes?

Edited: October 30, 2018, 11:29 PM · Hello,
I am an adult amateur taking a lesson now beginning 4th year, recently playing some pieces and etude like Kayser, Hrimaly and so forth. In my humble opinion there seems largely two thoughts in violin studying. The first is Continuous drilling of etudes then applying it to a certain piece, and the other is Playing pieces gradually to its difficulty, for example Suzuki, with supplementary etudes considered necessary to the piece.

My teacher prefers the second approach, other the First. In fact, I am much to the First side, as is in my studying piano in the past. I eagerly want to hear what would be your opinions on ways of studying. Am I wrong who put excessive importance on etudes such as Kayser, Kreutzer, Dont, etc? All these are just contingent with persons?

Thank you for opinions.

Replies (32)

October 30, 2018, 11:40 PM · If you are playing for your enjoyment, my opinion is that you should play what you enjoy. There are actually many pathways to violin study, not just two, but if you love to play etudes, play etudes. I hate etudes, and for me they are soul-crushing torture, and after decades of playing traditional fiddle music of various sorts, I decided to play the Bach Sonatas & Partitas. If I come upon a difficult section (plenty of those) I make an "etude" out of that difficult part. I mean, Bach managed to play the stuff, and Kayser, Kreutzer, Dont, etc. didn't even exist. Apparently he didn't need them. I am a composer/record producer by profession, and I was curious to see how good I could get playing just the solo Bach (as well as my traditional fiddle repertoire), so I took on this experiment, and I am thoroughly enjoying it! Your goals should determine your path, I think. Good luck!
October 30, 2018, 11:50 PM · Learn technique from the technical books; Etudes, Scales and exercises, Sevcik, etc. Start learning the major repertoire when you have the technical tools to play them right. Otherwise, everything you actually play will sound mediocre, and you will lock in primitive playing habits. And you will waste a lot of practice time trying to do something beyond your limits.
Edited: October 31, 2018, 1:39 AM · I forgot to mention about myself that I learn a violin purely for future joy of playing, with my own hands, a various opus and concerts of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch,.. and of course Bach's invaluable 1001~1006. Maybe I have a narrow view to see the path of achievement. Thanks for your comment and thank you Joel, Exactly!
October 31, 2018, 2:43 AM · If you use pieces, which are often beautifully composed music, as etude material, you largely miss out on the beauty. So in my view it is much better to use etudes to improve your technique as well as your stamina (very important aspect of etude playing), and then work on pieces for which you have the needed technique and stamina. The work on the pieces will then largely consist of learning the notes, the finger patterns, the bowings, which can still take a lot of time, but success is almost guaranteed which can be very motivational.
Edited: October 31, 2018, 3:24 AM · In 6 years of piano playing I played no more than 3 etudes, afaicr.
Let's be reaaaaallly generous and say I played one etude a year. Last piece I worked on before going to university was Beethoven's pathetique first movement.
There seem to me to be too many studies for violin.
Play all of them and you'll never have any time to play any music.
Perhaps you need to sift out the ones that are too obviously merely scale- and arpeggio-based (Wohlfahrt 1, Kreuzer 2?) and rely on scales and arpeggios instead?
Only play the studies that work on things scales and arpeggios don't. Use more varied bowing on scales and arpeggios.

When you play studies, do you play them as mechanical technical exercises, or do you play them as expressive pieces of music?
Same question for scales and arpeggios.

Kreuzer 29 is potentially beautiful. It's way too hard for me. On Youtube there's a teacher who can play all the notes (80% of them in tune), but without any expression or even tonal quality. He charges a lot for his time. I won't be giving him any money.

(but like a lot of violin studies, Kreuzer 29 relies on mathematical permutations and is thus way too long. Piano etudes are far more musical - Czerny was a real composer, and a student and friend of Beethoven)

No point in studying music if you're not going to produce music.

October 31, 2018, 9:27 AM · I play études when I don't have any interest in learning any pieces. I only play something when I have real passion for the music—or for exams, but let's not get into that...

Some études can be really nice, though. I lean towards the more musical études like Kreutzer than the dry stuff like Ševcik. Dear god, the Ševcik.

Edited: October 31, 2018, 9:37 AM · Yeah, I bought Sevcik Op 1 & 2 shortly after buying my first fiddle, naive fool that I was. You can get them free online anyway as well as the Op 6, which is easier. Recently I bought Dancla Op 84 and Sitt's first 60. Those and the pdf of Kreutzer will last me forever. I only took up the damn fiddle to play western swing anyway, lol!
October 31, 2018, 9:37 AM · It's pretty much the norm, as far as I know, to supplement Suzuki with etudes as soon as the student becomes advanced enough to begin Wolfhart, regardless of whether the teacher is using the Suzuki Method or just the books for repertoire purposes. Just because the pieces are intended to have technical building blocks doesn't mean that it's not useful to supplement with etudes and exercises.

Different students and teachers have different optimal balances of exercises, etudes, and repertoire. (Personally, I prefer exercises to etudes, for instance.)

Edited: October 31, 2018, 9:40 AM · I've been treating "étude", "study" and "exercise" as synonyms. Naughty of me. Or does it matter?
October 31, 2018, 11:05 AM · Some etudes are great music that would be appropriate for a concert?
Edited: October 31, 2018, 11:37 AM · I consider etudes/exercises essential to my technical development for several reasons. I find that focusing solely on pieces generally does not bring enough repetition of certain elements of technique to really develop the necessary physical changes that need to take place (control, flexibility, speed, rhythm etc.). Also etudes/exercises allows me to focus on what the left and/or right hands are doing and need to do rather than focusing on the necessities of the score and musicality.
October 31, 2018, 11:33 AM · I deem Sevcik technical drills, rather than true etudes. If used as such, they become more bearable. His section on double harmonics is, for instance, much more helpful than Flesch's double harmonic section in his otherwise excellent scale book.

I find etudes fun myself, and there are many out there to try after you "run out" of the essentials most violinists do (Dont "prep", Kreutzer, Fiorillo, Gavinies, "true" Dont, etc.) Vieuxtemps has many that few players touch, and he was too good of a composer to make them too boring. There's many others of his time and afterwards just as well.

Etudes are not as essential as scales, but help a similar purpose in providing technical challenges often beyond what the standard repertoire offers, which makes the playing of actual pieces a matter of just learning the music. Another good benefit for the "etude explorer" is that it keeps him/her reading music and new fingering patterns, further developing sight reading fluency and preparing the mind for whatever it may get musically thrown its way later.

Music can be used to learn technique, but I wouldn't try that for 100% of the student's technical equipment. Do bear in mind that often playing difficult repertoire is the only way to play more difficult repertoire, so at times it's worth to challenge someone to strive to conquer a difficult work step by step, slowly, as long as this is done within reason and not to the detriment of said pupil.

I agree Suzuki is modernly taught with supplemental material, so while a more or less "strict" adherence to the pieces in the book is recommended, there are many things Suzuki students do "on the side" to keep reinforcing and gaining technique.

There's some Wieniawski & Vieuxtemps "etudes" that could be used as concert encores, but I doubt most audiences care for these violinists' etudes as much as they do for, say, Chopin's piano etudes. The violin-composer tradition does rarely get any respect nowadays, at least in our modern concert scene (music school recitals tend to be more diverse.)

October 31, 2018, 11:55 AM · "Etude" is French for "study," etudiant (or "l'etudiant"), French for "student."

So the usual purpose of a study/etude in music is tor re-enforce a rather specific or limited technical issue or pattern. It has been my impression that a really professional violin teacher will have an encyclopedic mental recall of literally all studies from their own experience (quite possibly all there are) and be able to direct l'etudiant to pertinent ones for any problem.

As you gain experience and are honest with yourself (and have a large enough library of "sheet music") you can probably understand what you need and find it.

Violinists whose age designation (in years) requires at least 2 digits ought to be able to understand why their teacher is assigning specific etudes. The teacher should explain what the etude is about. When I was age 10 to 12 I recall not appreciating the etudes I was assigned.

October 31, 2018, 1:28 PM · In one of Heifetz's televised master classes back in the '60s(?) he told one of the students to go away and work on Kreutzer 4, to deal with a perceived bowed staccato problem which Heifetz felt needed addressing. Note that those master class students weren't in their early 'teens; they were advanced students on the verge of great things, which I'm sure most of them achieved in due course.
October 31, 2018, 1:42 PM · I wonder if that is what led me to K-4 all those years ago!
October 31, 2018, 2:47 PM · Interesting thread. I think that ultimately, the question is a personal one and the answer different for everyone. There is no question that etudes have some value and help prepare technical issues. I have always found them helpful and, in the past, normally worked on one at almost any time, although now I use parts of my orch music for that purpose. That said, once you have a certain grounding in fundamentals, the Bach S&Ps function as an excellent repertoire for more advanced technical grounding if you have a teacher who can lead you through them from easier to more difficult. It sounds as if OP has two teachers who disagree. This could be a problem.
October 31, 2018, 3:34 PM · I think the *actual* question you're asking, OP, is "should I teach myself or should I let my teacher teach me?"

In my opinion, Etudes are like patches for holes in the wall. It's best to only use them when there's a hole. Otherwise, we waste a lot of extra time and energy patching areas that were fine to begin with.

The exception is when a teacher *predicts* that a hole will appear in the near future, and they may have you study that Etude in advance so that the hole is already patched when you encounter it. But, that requires a teacher that is able to foresee specific problems in advance, based on their analysis of your current technique.

October 31, 2018, 7:28 PM · The whole idea is to develop building blocks of your technique in stages.... Hefietz once allegedly stated that one should be able to sight-read a concerto before studying it in detail. I agree that one should not "practice" or "learn" technical element in a concerto or a sonata. It should already be there at one's disposal already if any music is to be made.
One starts with a scale, then develops and expands on a certain aspect in (hopefully) interesting etude... before even venturing into a music piece. That is why sight-reading is somewhat on the auto-pilot; our brain pulls the element and applies it (on semi-automatic mode), with our eyes looking forward and anticipating.... none of the above is able if one does not grow up on a steady diet of scales and etudes. This does not mean that one should study each and every etude from an edition.
October 31, 2018, 9:47 PM · Etudes generally have a melodic and harmonic structure. Exercises do not; they are generally fragmentary and have no pretense to being anything than highly isolated technique.
Edited: November 1, 2018, 4:43 PM · I have only a teacher, and never have been taught under different teachers at the same time. She has taught me from the beginning of E, A, D and G, up to now. She recommended Suzuki at first 3 yrs ago, but I consulted her a certain idea of Sinozaki because I had an impression Susuki seemed a kind of aggregation of pieces not welll considering degrees of its difficulty. Worst than all for me. I heard and felt Sinozaki well organized various kind of etudes borrowed from Wohlfahrt, Hrimaly, Sevcik and Kayser. I feel now it also well distributed pieces among the exercises considering its difficulty and technical relevance. Best than all for me. So I am studying the last of 6 Sinozakis. She recently acknowledged the system of Sinozaki.

So, my question is about that of Etude first or Pieces first, that said, which way would be more efficient and effective to get an ability to play much of concerts and pieces I want to. To speak frankly, I have an idea that pieces are maybe for expressing one's emotions and idea not for technical exercise. Thus I became to have a belief that one may need to be trained through such studies as prepared for that purpose. 

My hope is to hear about people's thoughts on whether my philosophy has a valid ground or not.

Thank you.

November 1, 2018, 12:35 AM · It is not an "either or" proposition. I lean towards a balance-both etudes and challenging parts of a piece as exercises, rather than only etudes for technique, or only the musical works themselves (leaning more towards scale/etudes, but never fully so.)

The Suzuki approach's pieces were carefully selected over many years, and make more sense than it seems when you don't know it that well. You also work technical material and even other pieces as needed while doing Suzuki books. That said, a teacher may need to modify a bit the Suzuki approach when used to teach adults (to be fair, as every good teacher should with any method-teaching "by the numbers" rarely goes eell, because wverybody is different-and yes, even the Suzuki books can be taught both systematically and tailored to each player's needs.)

Any other good method works as long as the teacher does his/her job, but that doesn't mean the Suzuki approach must be "missing the mark" due to this. It's definitely a proven approach when carried out effectively.

There are many challenging passages one could practice ahead of time as a sort of preparatory exercise for what's to come. A common example would be, when someone is learning/developing fingered octaves, to use something like the 17th Paganini Caprice passage to help develop further confidence and fluency. Many would think such a thing is blasphemy, and that you can indeed practice them without said caprice; that's fine-no need to debate about it. But I feel it's good to practice certain passages, even if only a few measures, as a "practical, musical platform" of what you are already working on in your scales/exercises/etudes (and it may inspire some players as well, because not everyone enjoys dry passage-work drills.)

Another issue to consider for the very busy student is that etudes take a chunk off your practice time, so for some (if not many) players, mastering all etude books out there should not be top priority (scales, however, are hard to justify ignoring for obvious reasons.)

So enjoy your etude-work, but do not let it be the "be all-end all" of your practice time-we all need to work on pieces, as they develop our musicianship beyond what just etude and scale work could (which of course doesn't mean our scale work should be carelessly unmusical.)

November 1, 2018, 3:02 AM · My teacher doesn't do either as such. He sort of guides you on pieces within/slightly beyond your current standard and does technical things as they are discovered
Edited: November 1, 2018, 3:17 AM · I agree with Erik; and my piano teacher, clearly, was much like Jake's teacher. I like Lydia's definitions.

Jake's point is interesting - the best way to improve beyond a certain point on a piece is to work on a slightly harder piece. But I've seen countless guitarists on Delcamp swearing you should play one piece until it is "perfect", and I got sick of explaining the concept of diminishing returns (not to mention the meaninglessness of the word 'perfect')

Edited: November 1, 2018, 7:28 AM · I agree one cannot obtain perfectness in a place beyond his and her control. I guess it may be a waste of efforts, say, inefficiency and actually no effect. The diminishing returns explains it.
Edited: November 5, 2018, 3:49 AM · Studies in themselves don't "improve" anything: it's the way we practice them that counts. And Good Practice Methods can be applied to real music too!

I don't find that analytical practice of real music spoils it: I am then not "in" the music itself, but concentrating on what happens between each well-formed note, where two thirds of our technique lurks..

A bit like a painter adding eyelashes to a portrait? And enjoying doing it!

Scales are like rainbows: not "art" but so beautiful!

I have no time for fake music.

November 1, 2018, 7:06 AM · Some observations about studies:

Most teachers will say things like, "Play these studies with even pressure", but never explain that's not how you play music. There is the danger of producing technically proficient students who have no sense of phrasing and musicality.

Many of these studies say, "Now play these in all keys". Few do. Same with bow articulations.

Many of these study books fall down after a few pages and the 'composer' seems to put a bunch of filler. Often they are badly written.

It's not so hard to make up your own studies. Improvise, noodle around a problem you encounter.

Teachers hand out studies out of laziness and lack of imagination (sometimes...).

When you practice studies it is for the sake of playing music not for the sake of playing studies. Apply it to the music as quickly as you can!

Just playing studies can be soul destroying!

November 1, 2018, 9:06 AM · Agree with Adrian.

Etudes are problems to be solved. Ideally, students would get some kind of instruction or coaching on an almost daily basis (as athletes do.) But without that, etudes provide a decent substitute, provided there is clear explanation and instruction from the teacher.

But exercises, etudes, scales shouldn't always be played "musically." Their primary purpose is to train control. Because of the asymmetrical nature of both violin and bow, our first goal, before trying to play musically, is to learn how to compensate for that asymmetry: that is, we must be able to play with absolute evenness. Evenness is control. Intentional unevenness is musicality.

Edited: November 1, 2018, 11:56 AM · I've had a teacher who taught technique more with music and another (my current teacher)with etudes and scales then cap it off with a musical piece that was pertinent to the technique being worked on. I do not want to generalize, but in my situation I found I was gaining much more from the second method. Yes the teacher is really good and that makes all the difference. But I believe etudes give us an opportunity to practice a particular skill in different situations (on different strings and positions) in an extended piece so that we are closer to mastering it. Just doing it a few times in a music piece might not be enough.
November 1, 2018, 1:25 PM · "Just doing it a few times in a music piece might not be enough."
Of course not. We have to hone specific skills very many times.
Edited: November 1, 2018, 6:52 PM · Jeewon,

The point I tried to make is that, necessary though it may be to learn to play with evenness, I don't think every student gets the memo that this is just for the sake of an exercise and not how you will be playing music. I was certainly never told that and judging by how a lot of people play that is also the case. There is also the danger of it becoming a habitual way of playing.

Edited: November 4, 2018, 4:34 PM · If you use the Suzuki material without being educated as a Suzuki teacher you won't know how to actually work with the material. In that case you will need a lot of supplementary material, and I mean a lot, in order to make ends meet. If you are an educated Suzuki teacher you will probably still use supplementary material but not to the same degree.

The Suzuki melodies have "teaching points", things you need to practice before starting on the actual melodi. The Suzuki teacher knows those "teaching points" by heart. Some of those points are included in the printed material but there are many more points than that. The advantage of practicing those things is that the pupil knows that it is for the purpose of being able to play the melodi which means he or she feels there is point in praticing them.

In the Suzuki method you also use the old melodies to learn new stuff, like if you want to practice spiccato then you can take a melodi that is suited for that like Perpetual Motion or Etude both from volume 1. The student can already play them by heart so he can fully focus on the bowing technique. You can also take old melodies in order to practice playing in different positions, like playing Long Long Ago in G-major in third position or in F-major in second position. The pupil will fairly easily be able to tranpose the melodies.

So the system is based upon that the teacher knows the "teaching points" and that the pupil can play the tunes by heart. A big advantage for the student is that (s)he gets quite a big repertoire that can be played whenever there is an opportunity to play a piece of music in some event. Some brush up can be needed of course, how much is different for each person.

So you can say that "etudes" are built into the system.

By the way when talking about music reading, the Suzuki teacher will use other material.

I think above works especially good for young children who love to play the same tunes again and again, while older children might be more inclined to do new stuff.

Etudes are especially good for those pupils that have a very hard time practicing small bits of a tune and prefer to play a piece from start to end. Many pupils like to do that but can also practice small bits of a tune, but some pupils only practice small bits of a tune to a very small degree no matter what the teacher says. Well, then an etude is great because it is a piece of music where you often just by playing it one time through get a lot of practice on whatever area is covered in that etude. Like a trill etude covering trills with different fingers as opposed to just practicing trills with different fingers. The ladder might only be done a few times so playing the etude results in much more trill practice.

Edited: November 5, 2018, 3:47 AM · Thank you Lars, I couldn't have explained it better myself!

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