Some might say that studies (or études) have fallen out of favour with modern approaches to piano teaching. As a developing pianist, I don’t recall using books of studies in my own lessons, and now, as a teacher, I tend to use them as they come up, for example, in tutor books.
Perhaps it’s worth pausing to consider what a study (or étude) actually is. My Oxford Companion to Music defines them as:
‘Any composition intended as a basis for the improvement of the the performer.’Scholes, P. (1975). The Oxford Companion to Music. London: Oxford University Press. p.336
Some might say this is a fairly wide definition, but it captures something of the original intention of these pieces which grew in popularity during the 19th-century.
The book includes 30 studies, each of which covers an individual technical challenge. Almost as a bonus, the 30 studies in the book cover every major and minor key, and each has its own individual character:
‘With their tuneful melodies and modern sound, these studies amount to miniature recital pieces.’
There is perhaps, when considering pieces such as these, a fairly blurred division between studies and what we might refer to as repertoire pieces. Just as with these pieces, each repertoire piece we learn also presents its own technical challenges to overcome. In that sense, I would say these are as much enjoyable pieces to learn, as they are technical studies.
The first piece, ‘Petite Danseuse’ is, as expected, in C major. There are a number of technical challenges presented here, but I would imagine that staccato playing was at the forefront of the composer’s mind. The right hand combines staccato quavers with ‘normal’ semiquavers, whilst the left hand requires a sustaining minim in the lower voice with staccato chords above.
The second piece, ‘Leaky Gutter’ follows the pattern, and is in A minor (although, the Gs are not sharpened which may cause some confusion for pupils). Right hand glissando playing seems to be the main technical challenge in this piece.
The composer states that the pieces are of ‘moderate technical difficulty’. Some of the early pieces in fairly straightforward keys would suit players of around Grade 4 level, whilst some of the later pieces in more complex keys are, whilst short, pushing Grade 7 level.
This is a useful book of pieces which not only reinforce specific techniques, but which also refresh and refine theoretical knowledge. As I said above, they are as much pieces to be enjoyed as part of the repertoire, as they are to be used as technical studies.
My only criticism is that the book would have been greatly enhanced had there been a programme note for each piece highlighting the specific technical challenge covered. Many of the pieces include numerous technical challenges, and in my view, it’s not always clear which is intended as the main one. It would also offer both teachers and players a quick reference guide to the book when searching for pieces which cover specific techniques. Perhaps the composer or publisher might offer this as a download in due course?
Overall, this is a useful and in many ways, innovative volume of pieces which would suit intermediate to advanced players. It is, as expected from Bärenreiter, expertly presented and typeset, and at about 38p per piece, excellent value. You can hear audio samples of the pieces and see examples of the sheet music on the publisher’s website here.
Modern Piano Studies by Jakub Metelka, is published by Bärenreiter, ISMN 979-0-260108-76-9 BA 11559, £11.50
I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.