Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to learn Etudes

See also etudes for flute that are free online.

How to work on Flute Etudes: by Jennifer Cluff


1.PLAY THE SCALES IN THE KEY OF THE ETUDE FLUIDLY: Decide which key or keys your etude is in. Then aquaint yourself with these keys by playing their scale first in the low octave, and then slowly, using longtones in the high octave to improve tone quality. Play with full, rich, free and ringing tone always, even when playing very slowly. You may breathe as you need to, adding pauses wherever required at first. (see Breathing in Etudes below**).

2. ELIMINATE FINGERING BLIPS: Correct any fingering difficulties by listening carefully for "blips" or lazy finger changes. Lower the flute down in front of your eyes and WATCH the fingers if necessary, and smooth the blip area. Which fingers are exchanging places? Which are moving together during a change from one note to the next? Finally practice the scale, all slurred, two octaves, remembering to add breath support (crescendo going up and down too!). This clears up any inherent difficulty you may have with the scale before the problem then bungles your etude up.

3.AQUAINT YOURSELF WITH THE MUSICAL MATERIAL & STYLE: Play the first few bars of your study to establish the musical style & materials that are in it. Have a look at the tempo marking (Allegretto, Presto, Moderato) to ascertain the character of the music. Let the first theme sound truly attractive and musical as it begins to emerge. Play it very musically with terrific phrasing. Look into the thematic material for great phrasing ideas. Experiment with your interpretations. Get a feel for the challenges and the composer's ideas.

Example: Drouet Etude no. 9 from 25 Famous Etudes can be simplified to two half-notes per bar during outlining stages (click on jpeg to enlarge):

Allow yourself to play through a basic outline of the etude, pausing on downbeats of any bar where you feel you're beginning to run low on air.

[See breathing notes** below on how to breathe when learning a study at slower tempos].

Don't bother getting all breathless and tight as you're first discovering the outline and harmonic motion of an etude. Instead, play tiny little sections beautifully and perfectly in half-notes or whole-notes. During outlining of the main tones in each bar, play especially MUSICALLY, even when holding whole notes, for example. Outlining is very good as a sight-reading exercise, and also begins imprinting the musical direction of the etude even before you've even fully learned the additional notes, which saves time and creates a deeper interpretation. (For more on outlining see: Interview with author James Boyk on Outlining in practice. )

5.TONE: Play with your ears focused on your tone at all times. If a leap to a high note suddenly creates poor tone quality on that high note, simply stop and do slow and careful longtones up to the highnote, memorizing the sensation of wind-speed and embouchure that you have when that particular high note sounds well, and when approached by step.

Next, with the sensations memorized, leap to that same high note and assume the same airspeed and embouchure position. If you do this the first or second time you ever approach this passage of music in the study, you'll be already training yourself to land each note of the work with fabulous tone. That will put you much farther ahead than "splatting" your tone on certain notes, and then having to discover later that you've taught yourself to "splat!" on those notes.

6.CIRCLE THE DIFFICULT PARTS FOR SPECIAL ATTENTION: As you work through an etude, gradually circle the toughest sections in that etude, so that you're well aware of which sections of the etude will require more careful work. Come back to the etude after a rest and make longtones out of the tough parts, first playing only two notes in a row, then a different two notes, and linking them together into groups of three, four, five and six notes. Create many new ways to work over the tricky bits, recombining smaller groups, creating new rhythms, and adding subdivisions and simplifications until the skill level improves. Return to erase the circles when those difficult sections are now easy.

7.FULLY EXPLORE DYNAMICS: Always play with full, rich, dynamic range, and experiment with their parameters in your etudes and studies. Can your fortes be richer and more ringing? Can your pianissimos have more core to the sound, and carry out into a large hall eventually? What can you do to improve your dynamic range?

If your production of dynamics has not yet been practiced that day, take a break at this point to do some of Fiona Wilkinson's vowel-dynamics as outlined in “The Physical Flute” or use Walfrid Kujala's method (see Jennifer Cluff's website for the terms “FULP” and “PLOT” for more info.). Then, return to the study and ease the dynamics into it working to make them beautiful in tone colour.

8.LISTEN FOR NEAT & PRECISE TONGUING: Pay special attention in one or more of your study-practice sessions on clear and concise articulations. If your tonguing has not yet had a clarity-searching session on a given day, spend some time tonguing repeated patterns on a single note, that relate to the articulation patterns in the particular study you're working on.

For example, if the study has a staccato high E3 that seems difficult to articulate clearly, try a whole note on E3 until the tone is clear and ringing. Then tongue four times on that whole note, keeping the tone equally rich and the air speed correct for a long, ringing tone quality. Then tongue twice on the pitch, then once, or as written.

Alternately, starting on B2 and tonguing four or more times per pitch, you can play chromatically ascending to high E3 and above, then return to the E3 and insure its quality of sound. If you take 4 minutes to do this, and then return to the staccato high E in your study, your body will have already perfected the correct embouchure, tongue strike and air-speed to assure you of a good E3 tone with crisp, clean articulations.

9.RETURN TO CIRCLED AREAS EACH SESSION: Each practice session you'll need to return to the etude and work on the circled (difficult) bits first. Starting with playing slowed down longtones, and then proceeding to speed them up slightly is a common method, but there are other interesting ways to create improvements as well.

When difficult sections are easy and fluid, play into them from the bars before. Also practice playing smoothly both in and out of these sections as well. Remember that at this stage you're able to speed up the tempo gradually, and can still pause on downbeats, gather your breath and faculties, and soar into the next section. Keep all sections musical, even though there are still pauses between larger sections.

10. ADD SPEED USING THE METRONOME:As the etude begins to be familiar and easy, click the metronome up one notch each time you run through it, and study the rise and fall of the phrases. Do not allow yourself to speed through at tempos that are simply too fast for accuracy (you'll only teach yourself how to repeat bad tone or mistakes, and that's not a good idea.) Sometimes you'll have to stay at a metronome speed for a few days until your body adjusts to the new techniques. Don't worry. You'll soon experience a quantum leap as your body learns and adjusts. It may take 3-6 days depending on the challenge the etude is offering you.

11. CREATE A FINISHED AND POLISHED ETUDE: Finally, as you approach the tempo you feel is most musical for the etude, start erasing any unecessary markings or breaths, so that you're left with the true number of breaths and "temporary pauses" that you can manage.
Eventually the goal is to eliminate almost all the added pauses, but in the meantime you can remind yourself to take deeper breaths at certain points by marking those places with a double-breath sign if you like. Go over extra-long phrases several times to see just how much breath you should have taken in to make it all the way through the phrase. If you need to reduce the out-going air, or reduce the dynamics from ffff to mf in order to conserve breath, mark this also.

The goal, remember, is to make real music out of the study.

Audio-record your final version and listen back to it, pretending it's a magnificent concerto, and you were to make the most gorgeous presentation out of it.

Find out if you can dance to the rhythm. Dancing around to recordings of your own pieces and etudes really helps you find out about hiccups that may exist in your rhythm and metre.

Find out if there are any weak areas in your etude from listening back to your recording. Circle them, and tackle them with metronome and subdivisions the next time you practice.

12.If you've done a recorded performance to the best of your ability on an etude, move to another etude that presents a similar or a varied challenge. Graded etude lists help. You can proceed through any etude book in any order and mix and match the etude composers for variety; ask your teacher for titles to hunt up.

Begin the new etude by determining the key, and by playing the arpeggios and scales of the new etude's key center, and perfecting the tone and fingering of that scale (ie: recommence at no. 1 above and repeat this list.)

And if you're proceeding by key, and you need an etude to go with your scales/arpeggios in Bmajor, for example, but cannot find one, go ahead and use one in B-flat major, and simply mentally transpose the key signature. This is particularly fun using Bach, Quantz, Frederick the Great and Galli exercises.


Since many studies have seemingly impossible expectations concerning breath marks and ease of breathing, here are some ideas about “easy breathing” for etudes:

The study of an etude can begin with super-slowed-down renderings of the etude, or a simple outline of the etude. The flutist needs to give themselves full permission to stop and pause on the downbeat of any bar or literally, on any note, at first. Yes have permission to pause on any downbeat WELL before running out of air completely. This way you can always play with impeccable tone.

I especially recommend that you stop and pause as soon as you feel like you’re running out of air.

This method of breathing naturally works brilliantlyl especially when you’re doing the slowest practice of the etude with the metronome.

The pause-note is then replayed as the beginning of the next section, bar or phrase, so as not to lose melodic and harmonic continuity.

The frequency of these "temporary" pauses relies on just how slowly the study is being played and allows the student to begin to comprehend how much air to take in, and how to conserve it through repetition and

This means that the flutist can continue to play in a slow tempo without becoming tight lipped, breathless or tense, and can find ways of working the study as accurately as possible EXCEPT for the final breath planning. The tone will always be full and rich, and the body free to relax.

As the metronome climbs in speed, these pauses are naturally eliminated since the air use is gradually improved and the "temporary" pauses tend to appear every four or eight bars, as opposed to every
one or two.

As the tempo increases further, over several days work, and the etude becomes closer to perfect in terms of dynamics, finger agility, articulation (tonguing) and phrasing, the final planning of the breaths is then worked on, using pencil markings to add to those breath marks already present in the edition.

This method eliminates the student's frustration with long and difficult etudes that seem to ask the flutist to breathe only every four or five lines, which we all know is impossible except at breakneck speeds; speeds that may never be reached in the earlier years of study.
It also allows the full attention to be given to producing a gorgeous, brilliant and rich tone; using your best possible flute tone is something that should never be sacrificed when learning new music.


Comments (9)
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jen. Excellent tips for learning any pieces or etudes.
Matthew Taylor

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 3:34:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jen,

I really appreciated that you put all the description with each step in learning an etude. I most certainly think there is at least one thing for every individual to learn from that post. I especially liked the "fakey pauses." And you are absolutely right about the fact that there usually are not too many places to breath in alot of etudes!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 7:38:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is such a helpful post. As a student, due to different time constrictions because of classes, tests, homework, and many other factors, we so commonly forget about how to accurately approach etudes and how they actually do carry into our other pieces and aid us significantly. I greatly appreciated, you writing this post because it reminded me of how important etudes really are and how I need to always approach them.

Saturday, November 28, 2009 7:42:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good post. Another one I'm making copies of to give to my students. I even learned a few new tricks (especially the "fakey" pauses!)

Friday, December 04, 2009 10:09:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks so much all you wonderful readers. I edited the above essay and changed "fakey pauses" to "temporary pauses", but fakey is such a fun word! Thanks!!! So glad to help! Jen

Monday, February 28, 2011 10:33:00 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Jen,
Your lessons carry through the years: 2016!
I’ve just come out of a chest infection which impaired my breathing power. I’ve printed how to learn an étude and given a copy to my private teacher “for her pupils” (she doesn’t like slow studying!) For me though, this is a real boost. I am following this step by step. I even learn my lovely scales by pausing after two or three notes to recuperate my breath. And my brain is telling me, “Did you hear that second note; I’d like you to correct the breathy and waspy part of it!” I laugh to myself as I do this again and find the tone gets better indeed.
Of course, all this takes time. But I do like your advice to add dynamics, even to a scale – after all we are going to meet this in Gariboldi or later in Mozart. You pointed to videos by James Galway where he pointed to studying the first few notes in a Mozart piece and study the value of each individual note. Then he rings those notes together and it is divine, purely enchanting and inspiring.
Thank you for all this, because I stand in front of my mirror and think, yes I want the sounds to ring beautifully too! Thank you! On my own I also do breathing exercises like: breathing at a quick count of ten, hold at a quick count of ten, then breathe out and count out loud as many ten as possible! Eventually, you can increase your breathing power. May you carry your music lightly and divinely too!

Thursday, February 25, 2016 5:13:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear Michael,
Thanks so much. What a lovely expression of all the ideas! Yay!
Also, what does that mean: My teacher doesn't like "slow studying"?

Thursday, February 25, 2016 6:56:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! It helps a lot!
I think those advices also apply to any other instrument. In my case, I practice piano and I was having trouble with some etudes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017 7:03:00 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Hahaha! Jennifer,
My teacher is an impatient one. She said yes to learning slowly. So I put a part of a piece which I was learning. I played that little bit slowly. She liked it, then she said, won't you play faster now! I resisted, but she insisted that I'd try. Of course, I didn't do it very well. I didn't say anything, but at home I just learn slowly!
By the way, I've just come across Louis Drouet 25 études. (I've switched exam board from the very stuffy Associated Board of the Royal School of Music for the active and student centred Trinity College London) For their exam i grade 4 they request the 8th study.
I like the Baroque period and they let me study pieces from that period. I didn't mind my arm twisted about Drouet because you said it's great fun and its a nice change from the "routine". Truly, these studies are a challenge, but as you say great fun, because he adds to a simple phrase, little variations which is gradually more difficult. He is such a teaser. he is like: "Ah mon ami you like this, how about this? he he!" A good teaser, teacher. Thank you, Michael

Monday, September 18, 2017 7:00:00 AM


Post a Comment