Piano Teaching Tips from E. L. Lancaster – Etudes Can Be Artistic Recital Pieces

E. L. Lancaster

The French word etude simply means a study. Students often regard etudes as boring exercises that teachers think are necessary to develop proper technique. Typically, etudes are relatively short and focus on one specific aspect of technique. Czerny etudes conjure up this image and it is hard to imagine attending a recital featuring Czerny etudes. However, etudes such as those by Chopin, Debussy, or Stravinsky are different. While they do typically focus on one technique, they are artistic pieces in their own right and are frequently performed on recitals.

Like Chopin etudes, the Artistic Etudes in the Technique Books of Premier Piano Course make beautiful recital pieces. While they do reinforce technique tools introduced in the course, they also focus on an artistic concept that requires students to think about style and interpretation. “Midnight Adventure” from Premier Piano Course Technique Book 4 is a perfect example of a piece that helps students develop rhythmic freedom and flexibility in their playing.

The tempo marking of “Midnight Adventure” is “mysteriously.” While students often think a mysterious tempo is slow, this piece should not be too slow. The mysterious quality is heightened by the changes in tempos and especially the accents that appear throughout.

Students should first learn the left hand alone through measure 26. While learning the left hand, a small crescendo on ascending lines and a small diminuendo on descending lines will help shape the phrases. Build slightly to the top note of each ascending line (marked with an arrow on the score). After the crescendo in measure 10, cut back a little to be able to build up again to the forte in measure 13.

In measure 27, the melody shifts to the RH. Students should practice the LH of measures 25-26 (starting mp with a small crescendo) and immediately move to the RH of measures 27-28 (starting mf with a small crescendo to the f in measure 29).

The RH chords in measure 1 and similar places should not be too loud. Avoid holding these chords into the measure that follows. Lift for the rest (Also lift the LH in measure 32). The accents that follow in measures 4 and 5 should be played very strongly. Each RH accent is followed by a staccato note. Think of the two RH notes as a two note slur (strong-light). Students will want to isolate and practice measure 3 through the second beat of measure 4 hands together to develop the coordination necessary for these measures. Practice measure 7 through the second beat of measure 8 in a similar manner.

Three other places can be used to enhance the mysterious quality, highlight the rhythmic freedom needed to perform the piece effectively, and provide a dramatic ending. First, hold the fermata in measure 16 for a long time. Use less weight on the LH of measure 16 to get softer sounds on the diminuendo. The poco ritardando in the previous measure also enhances the mood. Measure 17 is identical to measure 1 except that it is played an octave higher and softer (mp instead of mf).

Secondly, the cadenza serves as a build-up for the exciting ending. Start the cadenza slowly and gradually increase the speed of the eighth notes until reaching the quarter note B. Take plenty of time on the final four quarter notes in the cadenza.

Finally, the accelerando (starting in measure 32) sets the stage for a strong ending. Play the final chords with strength and conviction.

Enjoy teaching this exciting etude and explore other artistic etudes in Technique 4. You’ll find that the other artistic etudes in the book will also make interesting recital pieces while reinforcing playing chromatic passages with ease, changing tone by weight transfer, choosing the high points of phrases, and playing expressive jazz.

I do hope that your 2013 is off to a great start both personally and professionally.

E. L. Lancaster
Premier Piano Course Co-Author
Senior Vice President, Keyboard Editor-in-Chief




10 responses to “Piano Teaching Tips from E. L. Lancaster – Etudes Can Be Artistic Recital Pieces

  1. No video? I can’t enlarge the score with the red marks, so that wasn’t as helpful as you no doubt intended. The instruction was great, thank you! But I would love to see the lesson demonstrated and discussed on video so you could “show me” what you recommend. I also would appreciate being able to enlarge the pages of the score to full screen size so I could see them.

  2. Thank you for such practical posting. I just had a mini workshop, and material I can use over and over.

  3. Loved the notes on the page! Helped a lot for seeing the musicality, and reminding me of how to approach it with kids.

  4. Thanks for the great etude – with your notes, it is like you are here instructing! Those notes are such a great help – wonderful reminders of all the technique I am supposed to be remembering to teach (but sometimes gets lost!) We’ll use this for the October recital – perfect for Hallowe’en

  5. Dr. Lancaster, please continue doing this things; is a great thing for us. I wish you did it for advance pieces Baroque and classical.

  6. Thank you for Ledger Lines. I have enjoyed the comments and ideas. That’s a great thing about teaching. We can always find new ideas or review previous ones. Many of your teachers/composers have done workshops in our area so it is great hearing more from them. Dennis Alexander will be here soon.

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