Lessons in Learning: Learning to Love the Étude

by Abby @ Quaver on September 12, 2013

in Music Matters

Welcome back Quaver guest blogger Jeannine Everett – violinist and all around student of music!

Today Jeannine is sharing her experience with the Étude:

When I studied music as a teen, Kreutzer was the bane of my existence. Kreutzer was a violinist and composer, a contemporary of Beethoven. He is most famous, however, for writing a series of 42 études that are considered the foundation of violin instruction.

Études are short compositions meant to isolate some element of mechanics so that the student can focus on developing a specific skill like string crossings, or finger placement.

That means that they tend to be a little—how do I say this nicely? Repetitive. Études take some small element, and make you do it over, and over, and over, and over.


Once upon a time I spent six months working on one Kreutzer étude. I’m not joking. Just when I thought I was done with it, my teacher would ask me how Kruetzer #9 was going, pull it out and make me play it. I’d roll my eyes and huff, “Do I have to?” I’m not sure who hated that étude more, me or my family, who also got tired of hearing it.

Then one day I was playing Dvorak. Glorious, triumphant, I-need-an-extra-two-fingers-to-play-this Dvorak. And right smack in the middle of it? Kreutzer #9. Instead of tripping over each other or falling behind, my fingers dropped onto the strings with almost no effort required.

At my next lesson, I told my teacher about it, like I’d discovered the wheel.

“These études are actually useful! Why didn’t you tell me?”

I knew in my head what an étude was, but now I knew it in my fingers. From that point forward, when we worked on an étude, we’d talk about what the étude was meant to accomplish, so that I could make the connection between the intellectual and the physical.

Now, when I’m learning a piece, I take it apart and practice parts of it like an étude.

I’ll think about what makes a passage tricky, and then go back to my Kreutzer and see what étude covered that concept and apply the same principles. Sometimes it involves altering the tempo, the bowing or the length of the notes, but the building blocks are there.

I’d love to say I’m done with études, but I’m not. In fact, when I started studying with my present teacher, one of the first things he did was pull out Kreutzer #9. He had to erase all of the markings from my original teacher, and the teacher after that. Études are still kind of boring. Knowing why I’m playing it, and how it can pay off, however makes it a little more bearable.

Helping your students see the connection between their exercises and music that they want to play can provide some helpful incentive and perspective.

It’s about a few minutes of really thoughtful practice, not an hour of mindless repetition. If only Kreutzer had an étude to eliminate eye-rolling he’d be a household name. For now, he’ll have to settle for my eternal (albeit sometimes begrudging) gratitude.

Do you use études with your students?

Are there other seemingly mundane tasks you encourage your students to embrace? How do you shift their perspective?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Tammy Thiele September 12, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Interesting Read. Thank you.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: