Why You Should Be an Etude Believer (and an Etude Practicer)

Jan 18, 2023

By Anne Sullivan 

"And your étude for this week…”

When I was a young student, hearing my teacher say those words made my heart sink. An étude meant boring. dull and possibly difficult work that seemed unrelated to the music I wanted to play. As a piano student, I hated the Hanon book. And as a young harpist, I loathed the LaRiviere. Needless to say, I have since changed my mind and études are an important part of my daily practice.

Why did I change my mind? Simply because I saw what practicing études did for me and I see what it does for my students. I’m a believer. If you aren’t yet a believer in the benefits of étude practice, consider what I have learned about études.

       1.They are all about helping you read faster, learn faster and play more fluently. Études contain patterns that are idiomatic for your instrument. As you practice the étude, your fingers learn how to play the pattern smoothly and well. Your mind begins make associations between the way the pattern looks on the printed page and how it must be physically executed. This forms a more or less “automatic response” so that when you come across that pattern in another musical context (like a “real” piece), your brain recognizes it, sends the appropriate signals to your fingers and you play it.

  1.   Études are an in-between step. They are a testing ground for your technique. Once you have developed a basic comfort level with a particular skill, you can try it out in an étude. This is why études sometimes feel boring and repetitive. That’s actually the point. It’s one step more complicated than an exercise but one step easier than a piece of “real” music. This makes it easier to practice the skill without so many other complications. It’s like a test drive for your fingers.
  2.   Études are what you decide they are. If you think of them as boring and dull, they will be. If you think of them as useful and helpful, they will be. The choice is yours! 


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