About Etudes--using them well

Edited: August 31, 2023, 9:49 AM · Hi all!
We've had discussion recently about what etudes to use. I wanted to hear from some of you, though, on *how* best to teach with them. I'm not new to using etudes, but I didn't grow up on them and don't know that I've ever been in a setting where I was able to see them used consistently and effectively. I'd like to hear your thoughts!
Again, not just which ones to choose but how you approach their study.

Here's my current working concept, and I'm definitely open to critique.
For reference, my target audience here is early to middle intermediate students--around Suzuki 3-6, Wohlfahrt and Trott type stuff

-An etude should be within grasp for a student to sightread and learn well over the course of the week. Notes, rhythms, and general musicality should be expected but that should not be the "hard work" of the etude.

-The purpose of the etude should be clear in the lesson and the student should have the understanding and physical technique to execute it. We might want to overview particular challenge spots.
(A particular etude might be useful for multiple concepts but usually we would focus on only one at a time.)

-My expectation for the next lesson would be that the etude itself sounds accurate, comfortable, musical, and that the technique points are significantly more secure. If there are specific challenges that can be worked out, the same etude might be reassigned. Otherwise, if the concept is ready to be applied it goes into rep; or if it just still needs more general strengthening, I would probably apply it into a parallel or review etude, or scales, or improvisation exercise.
(I think etudes serve very well for review, and for revisiting to layer or extend concepts, but I think continuing to sit on the same etude just for general improvement gets boring and counterproductive pretty quickly. I would love feedback on this particularly, since this is one of the things I'm really not sure how others handle!)

Thanks all!

Replies (6)

Edited: August 31, 2023, 11:08 AM · "Etude," is a word from the French language where it means "study." I think the use of etudes in music is corrective in the sense that etudes are used to correct or add skills that the player should learn or improve to become a better player.

Of course, some "etudes" are actually fun to play and even to listen to. (I think those are the best kind but you can't always have everything.)

The biggest problem might be finding teachers who are sufficiently familiar with the etude literature to be able to link students' obvious deficits to the ideal etudes. I am not familiar with the training the best teachers have had but I suspect the best players who also teach were students who did not need to work on etudes that much. Perhaps some of their studies involved exposure to much of the etude literature (perhaps they could read right through whole books of them). Certainly, mine did not. My brief exposure to a splendid teacher (and performer) in a masterclass 40 years ago indicated that she had a deep knowledge of necessary etudes. (Since her teacher had been Heifetz, I suspect she had had to play very, very many etudes.)

August 31, 2023, 2:21 PM · Adrian, I don't have experience at high enough a level to know, but I can imagine that being the case! Right now I'm actually playing through Wohlfahrt as part of my own practice routine--an etude a day--just to build a better familiarity, plus it's a nice palette on which to work out some of my persistent technical weak spots. I feel like I would have to teach pretty thoroughly through it, though, to understand the etude rep from a student perspective; the things that I might take for granted from my own playing.
August 31, 2023, 6:46 PM · One thing we found, especially early on, is that breaking down etudes into smaller components was really helpful. This is easy in some cases (ie Schradieck and Sevcik), unnecessary in some (most Trott, Sitt), and more difficult in others (Mazas, some Kreutzer). My kids' teacher, who does seem to know every etude in existence, often gives them a lot of little exercises and partial etudes each week instead of one big etude. We find this works better, especially for younger kids. Doing 5 minutes each on 4 short exercises or partial etudes is way easier than 20 minutes on one long etude.
August 31, 2023, 7:02 PM · Etudes are good for working on technique, but dwelling on an etude, like, learning really all the notes so you could perform it, is perhaps not so efficient.
Edited: September 1, 2023, 6:04 AM · Susan: so does the teacher just assign, say,the first 2 lines? Or specific sections? Or more like 4-6 lines for a bigger musical unit?

If more of the first, do you still feel there is significant advantage in the etude form over simple focused exercises?

September 1, 2023, 6:44 AM · The teacher will usually give a shorter section of the stuff that is easy to divide up, like Schradieck. Usually 2-5 lines. For the more melodic/musical etudes, it is usually a longer section. How long depends on the etude and the kid's age and ability to focus. Sometimes half a page and sometimes a whole page.

When they are older (high school) she will give them whole etudes and caprices.

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