Welcome to the January 29, 2016 edition of Flute Friday.
Let’s talk etude books.
“Let’s not,” says the Ghost of Flute Lessons Past. Etude books often get a bad rap because they force us to confront our technical and musical weaknesses head on without the niceties of standard repertoire. For myself and countless others, etudes bring back painful memories of struggling to play clunky technical passages perfectly with the metronome and failing over and over and over again. First of all, we need to accept that failure is an integral part of learning. Simply stated, failure teaches us what not to do. Etudes provide us with a proverbial mine field of potential failures that expose the cracks in our musical foundation yet encourage us to develop creative solutions to tackle similar problems now and in the future. Etudes are your teachers. Etudes make you think beyond what you already know. Etudes provide the struggle and the struggle is what makes music great.
There are numerous etude books on the market, all addressing different elements of musicianship at different stages in the learning process. I even addressed one of these books, the Methode pour Flute by Henri Altes, in my culminating DMA paper. Listed below are five of my favorite, tried and true, etude books; The ones that I have remained faithful to throughout my career. You may not love them and you may have your own favorites but for those of you searching for new ways to improve your overall technique, these are excellent resources to consult as a starting point. Work on these in small doses in your daily practice or set up a block of time on a Sunday afternoon to take the plunge into deeper musical waters.
Trevor Wye’s Practice Book 1: Tone
I have raved about Trevor Wye’s Tone book many times on this blog. Although this is a book strictly addressing tone development, I feel that it has a seminal place on the list of favorite etude books. I use this book in my daily warm ups, beginning with the short, simple harmonic exercises on page 6 and alternating between the middle register exercises on pages 12 and high register exercises on pages 13-14. Memorize these pages. Require that your students memorize these pages. Create your own dynamics and practice sustaining your tone as you track intonation through volume changes. On days when you wish to spend a bit more time working on tone development, or wish to try out a new embouchure placement, review longer exercises in the chapters addressing the low, middle and high register. Finally, experiment with tone colors. The passage in this book addressing tone colors was the inspiration behind my Color Your Music blogs and conference presentations. Developing sound colors will revolutionize your sound palate and help you better develop a sound plan for larger repertoire.
Reichert 7 Daily Exercises
Taffanel and Gaubert’s Exercise #4 is a wonderfully versatile exercise to practice scales and articulation, but the Reichert 7 Daily Exercises provide a greater challenge, offering more rhythmic variety and flexibility for triple-tounged passages. This is my go-to etude book for practicing different articulations and experimenting with syllables such as “coo,” “uka-tuka,” “duc-ky,” “tut,” and guttural chirps. Create your own rhythmic pattern of the day and practice each exercise using only that pattern. Look up charts such as this one https://racheltaylorgeier.org/2014/02/28/you-say-potato-i-say-potahto/ and practice any strange or new articulations. Practice flutter tonguing each exercise. Place trills over each note to improve finger dexterity. The possibilities are endless. These short, melodious phrases in each key keep the exercises interesting and, dare I say, fun.
Karg-Elert 30 Studies, Op. 107
These are the Holy Grail of flute etudes. Required by most college flute professors (and upper level high school flute teachers), the Karg-Elert etudes begin as straightforward studies much like the Garaboldi or mid-level Anderson etudes, but quickly shift into difficult exercises introducing the concept of the split voice. How do we make 1 flute sound like 2? This is the question posed by the Karg-Elert etudes and the answer is embouchure flexibility. How strong is your embouchure? Can you quickly transition from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high while maintaining a strong sound and impeccable technique? Do not be fooled by these etudes – you will revisit them several times in your career and, like watching a Mission Impossible film, you will find something new each time your work on them. My best strategy is to practice these etudes by alternating the simple with the difficult. Begin with the first study and the final study, and work your way into the center of the book. This will break up the monotony of the final group of difficult exercises and prevent you from throwing in the towel when the going gets tough.
Groupings of Keys by Furstenau (ed. Marcel Moyse)
The Furstenau is a collection of etudes written in the manner of the French Flute School. If you are preparing the Chaminade, Faure, Taffanel, or any of the other works written for the late Romantic French Flute School and want to practice the idioms found in these pieces, the Furstenau etudes are essential for your preparation. These exercises feature sweeping cadential passages, broken chords in thirds, elaborate grace notes, and broken octaves found in many of the works from this period. They are the most passionate of the etudes on today’s list and my very favorite collection. Most of the exercises in this book are 2 pages long; Longer than many of the Karg-Elert etudes but shorter than the Anderson etudes. Not as challenging as some of the Karg-Elert etudes but tuneful, interesting, and virtuosic. You will want to revisit these etudes for years to come.
JeanJean Etudes Modernes
By far the most challenging etudes on this list. These exercises still give me painful memories of trying, failing, picking myself back up, and trying again. JeanJean forces us to struggle with many of the technical challenges found in contemporary works. These are longer than your average etude and should be practiced slowly, one at a time. They are technically difficult and not for the faint of heart. If you are currently working on a contemporary piece, these are a perfect complement to your daily practice. I recommend blocking out a Sunday afternoon to simply practice 1 etude. Begin by isolating and chunking the most difficult technical passages and working the tempo up gradually. Patience and planning is the most effective way to learn these rather difficult exercises.
I have left a few other important collections off of this list because I do not find myself replaying them as much as the books listed here. Some of these include the Anderson Etudes, the Hughes Scale Studies, the 24 Melodious Studies by Theobald Boehm (which is an easier alternative to the Furstenau), and many others.
What are the top 5 etude books in your own collection? How has practicing etudes improved your technical and musical ability? How do you most effectively address tricky passages in these works?