Erin Spencer - flute expert

How to Approach ANY Etude

Useful tips for all flute students

In this video, Erin gives you great tips to approach any flute etude with practical examples from Kohler's Etudes Op. 66.

Released on July 1, 2020

DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi guys, this is Erin Spencer, back for another video here at Virtual Sheet Music. And today we're going to talk about how to approach any Etude. I am going to be using the Ernesto Kohler 25 Romantic Etudes to discuss this because they're a really popular, wonderful set of Etudes that I just haven't done yet. And they're available for free on so I know you will all be able to have access to them. The first thing you want to look for when you're looking at an Etude is what is this Etude working on? Etude means exercise. So any well-written Etude, which is hopefully all your playing, will have a very clear technique, musical skill, some facet of flute playing that they are working on.

So as a super obvious example, let's look at number 18, The Wind. This entire thing, except for a couple spots is chromatic scales. So I'm just going to go out on a limb here and say that this one is working on your chromatic scales. That's pretty clear, just from a quick glance at this one. And there are dynamics and other things involved. So you could also say it's working on being musical while you're playing your chromatic skills, which is an important skill for us all to have.

Some other examples from this set of Etudes that are easy to figure out what they're working on would be double tonguing, hello, it tells you when the name, and trills and appoggiaturas. Again, that's just what it's called. A lot of the other Etudes in the set though, have programmatic or more interpretive names. So those ones can be a little bit more difficult. So let's check a couple of those out. Let's look at At the Fountain, which is number six. This one is a lovely Etude, I have never played it before, I've heard a couple of people play it, but just glancing at it, the name doesn't tell me what the Etude is working on, but I see piano and legato notes together. I see forte and staccato notes together, and that transition happens throughout the entire thing. So to me, this Etude would be working on changing dynamics and character quickly. Let's play a little bit of the beginning.

I just played through the whole Etude and that interpretation feels to me that this is working on changing articulations, changing dynamics, changing character very quickly within the context of a piece. So once you know what an Etude is working on, naturally, that's what you should be focusing on while you're practicing it. Sure, we want to get all the notes right. We want to do all those great things, but you're going to learn so much more if you really hone in on what this Etude is trying to teach you.

Let's look at another one. The Spinning Wheel, number 15 is a very interesting one. I have not heard anybody play this one, but just looking at it, I can immediately tell we have some notes with the stem down and the stem up, right away. So that tells me we're having a melody and an accompaniment played by the same person. And that shows up throughout this Etude. So I'm going to play the beginning of it and see if I agree with myself that this Etude is probably working on bringing out the melody while still playing the accompaniment After having played this Etude. I definitely think there's a big element of melody versus a commitment going on, but within that, and very connected is switching registers and having flexibility. So that's another thing that I would add to my list to focus on, if I were working on this Etude.

Let's look at another, even less obvious example. We are going to look at number seven, In the Moonlight. So this one, glancing at it, there's nothing immediately that sticks out to me that happens over and over again throughout the whole thing, getting hammered into your head. But we start in the key of B flat, looks like we finish in the key of B flat, but there is a different key in the middle. So we have a key change going on. We have a tempo change. I see some grace notes. Sometimes it won't be immediately obvious just from looking at it, what the Etude is working on. So in that case, you can play through it or just sight read a chunk of it and see what feels hard. And a lot of times, what feels difficult or what you notice as being harder will be the thing the Etude is working on. So let's try this one. Again, I'm sight reading all these, so they're not meant to be perfect.

So what stuck out to me as being more difficult or interesting as I read through that, there are some pretty drastic dynamic changes in the piu vivo section. And I also noticed several times where I was supposed to diminuendo as I was going higher in my range, for example, measure eight, nine, 10, you're supposed to be diminuendoing, meanwhile, you have these big leaps up to high F and that's tricky. Then in the E flat major section, we have a lot of E flat major arpeggios. So that would be something this Etude is working on as well, to me. We have the E flat major arpeggios, we have dynamic changes and playing high, softly. So to me, that's what In the Moonlight is working on.

Your Etudes probably won't really have helpful names, like some of them in this set do. A lot of Etudes are just number one, number two, Etude in F major. So that's not very helpful. But the more you play Etudes and the more you really hone in and think about what an Etude is working on, the more obvious it will be to you. Consider articulation, consider dynamics, consider complicated rhythms, consider keys. A lot of etudes will go through every single key, but it doesn't mean that the key is what it's focusing on. It could be focusing on staccato in B major or 6/8 rhythms in B major. It could be a combination of things.

Once you have figured out what the Etude is working on, make sure you play it slowly with a metronome, get all the technique down correctly. And then after you have the fingers down, make sure you're playing it musically. Similarly to how we would approach a piece. We don't want every Etude to just be really boring to listen to, because usually if it's boring to listen to, it's also boring to play. So I don't want to be bored while I'm playing. I want my Etudes to be fun and interesting. And that's how I teach my students to play Etudes as well. I hope all these tips were helpful and I'll see you guys next time here on Virtual Sheet Music. Bye.
Automatic video-to-text transcription by
Post a comment, question or special request:
You may: Login  or  
Otherwise, fill out the form below to post your comment:
Add your name below:

Add your email below: (to receive replies, will not be displayed or shared)

For verification purposes, please enter the word MUSIC in the field below

Questions? Problems? Contact Us.
Norton Shopping Guarantee Seal