If you’ve played music for any length of time you may be familiar with etudes. What they are exactly is a two part answer, because there are fundamentally two different types of etudes. Even though they are both called etudes, these two different types are radically different from one-another. So let’s explore this topic and explain the differences in etudes and how they relate to your music.
Etude comes from the French word meaning, “study”. Etudes generally focus on overcoming specific technical challenges. One type of etude is strictly an exercise. There are famous Czerny and Hanon etudes that are famous exercises, but they aren’t pieces people generally perform. Their main purpose is to develop technique on an instrument.
Most Hanon etudes are simply a series of repeated note patterns. They are valuable for younger students to develop strength. Hanon Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises also contains the standard fingering for all major and minor scales and arpeggios, a staple for serious pianists. Brahms and Czerny also have etudes that are used for developing technique as opposed to necessarily providing great musical compositions. However, some Czerny etudes are quite enjoyable to listen to.
The other type of etudes are musical etudes. Chopin, Liszt, and others have created masterful pieces of music called etudes. These etudes explore different technical issues such as double thirds, sixths, octaves and other unique challenges. Yet, they are masterful works of music.
Musical etudes from Chopin, Liszt, Moszkowski, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff and others are sometimes extremely complex and can be daunting for intermediate students to attempt to play. But the good news is there are some musical etudes from composers such as Burgmüller that are very nice pieces of music which help develop technique, yet provide intermediate level students with richly rewarding music to play! There are musical etudes that range from student level to virtuoso. Mastering a musical etude can greatly benefit your development as a pianist and give you music to perform as well.
I hope this is helpful and if you have any questions about this topic or any other, please email me Robert@LivingPianos.com for more information.