Etudes Made Easy!
Fostering a systematic approach to learning music is of the most valuable lessons that etude study provides the developing student. This overarching idea is more important than the set of concepts presented within a single etude, the maturity and sophistication of the student's approach determines how quickly he or she can improve in every facet of playing, from technical to musical to tone development. For this reason, it is worthwhile to spend the time developing an approach that works for you. In this blog, I will present a strategy that I have found to be very helpful personally and in my own studio. For this blog, I will use Andersen's Etude No. 8 in f# minor, Opus 41. You can find the entire book here: http://imslp.org/wiki/18_Etudes_for_Flute,_Op.41_(Andersen,_Joachim)
Take a Look at the Big Picture
Take a moment to look through the entire etude. Sing through it in your head and make note of the form and phrasing. Label the repetitions and breath marks. I like to use symbols to remind myself of the form, like a star or bracket. If the piece has a more sophisticated form, I may use letters or descriptions, such as "love theme in A major". Here is an example of the Andersen No. 8/41 with these ideas highlighted.
Note that the opening material is presented four times, which makes up 50% of the entire etude! I have selected breath marks that highlight my initial intreptation of the phrasing, these could change as I practice the piece.
I tell my students to choose a hard measure, tackle it, and then work backwards. When we read through a piece of music, it feels like it is getting more and more difficult and increasingly foreign until we finally reach the summit of the musical mountain. Underlying chord progressions, the need for variety, and our own concentration and endurance all contribute to that feeling. A simple solution is to isolate a single difficult measure, conquer it, and then tack on the preceding measure, so on and so forth, building the piece like a lego house. It works for two reasons: 1. once the difficult measure is conquered, the preceding measure doesn't seem as difficult by comparison, and 2. we are repeating the most difficult passages many times, building confidence in them! Try it on the last measure of the fourth line. Play slowly and accurately several times. Observe the contour of notes, shape the phrase, and build confidence through the awkward double-sharp. Add on the measure before (or even a single note) and repeat several times. Continue the process until you have built up the entire phrase. Now take a deep breath, and play through the entire phrase one time. You will notice immediate improvement!
flutist, writer, traveler, teacher