Mary O'Brien didn't know how many hours of work she would trigger when she told me somebody has asked "Which are the best studies?"
Everyone's immediate response to this is to make the same answer 'the one that is necessary or right at the time' although any serious student of flute should endeavour to master as many books of studies as possible. Quantz in his treatise advises that students should play pieces made up only of difficult passages, runs and leaps.
Everyone has their favourite studies – I like ones that challenge me sufficiently, but not too much, and are also attractive to the ear.
The studies that I give to students are chosen to enhance or develop a particular skill as needed by that individual. Sometimes just a line or two from a study will suffice.
Perennial favourites of mine, pieces that I find very useful include:
1. Popp Kleine Anfangeruebungen op.258 page 1 – great for warming up
2. Moyse 24 short Melodic studies no.1 – tonguing exercise for early grades
3. 76 Graded Studies no.15 – excellent for developing speed in young students
4. 125 Classical Studies no.49 – speed, articulation, flexibility for early intermediates
5. Drouet Etudes no 2 - fun, speed, legato, even fingers for intermediates
6. Briccialdi Studies no 5 - flexibility and fingers for advanced students
7. Bitsch Etudes no. 7 – introducing contemporary ideas to the more advanced student
But the question of 'the best studies' intrigued me and started me thinking...
So over the following weeks I started playing every study that I could lay my hands on - and there is a huge selection to choose from. Days ran into weeks, weeks ran into months. Soon I had played in excess of 1500 studies, restricting myself to the purpose-built 'traditional' style etudes and ignoring the myriad of modern jazz-style and new-techniques variety (those would warrant a separate article). I started looking closely at the studies until slowly I began to develop a set of criteria and to made a database of what each study offered. One of the things that really struck me was how many of the studies employed a range of the flute that was at odds with the difficulty of the key signature.
Studies really are only those difficult bars that we all mark up with a pencil page for extra practise. The earliest study books are made up of short hand-written exercises. The first study in Quantz's Solfeggi is just 9 bars in length and the second consists of a single bar. It was only later, during the 19th century that there arose a desire to organise these difficulties into art-forms. The Etude took on a life-source of its own and became the lengthy article that we think of today. Some composers adopted a melodic approach, producing pieces that are difficult to distinguish from unaccompanied concert items – much as Chopin did with the piano. Others wrote pages full of every conceivable version of the same problem and covering every possible key and configuration – almost like buying up every ticket in the lottery. The study by Prill that I have included in my final selection contains every note of the flute's theoretical 3 octave range. Moyse didn't content himself with individual pieces, he published whole volumes on single aspects of technique. In fact, I believe that those Moyse books, especially the Art de Sonorité, should be considered as a bed-rock for every serious student. That student also should undertake to familiarise himself with the works of all the major teachers. However, it has to be said that vital as it may be to secure the results that these 'play-this-phrase-every-which-way' books have to offer, it does take dedication to commit to playing them. And these days the majority of flute pupils do not have that degree of dedication. I think most of us prefer to play something that offers a satisfactory musical result as well as serious skill results. I remember Sebastian Bell at the start of my lessons with him recommending to me the 25 Etudes by Drouet "because they are real music".
It's not how the piece is written, it's what you do with it that counts: As I told a student recently, 'Don't think about learning this study, instead think about how you can use the study. Consider what skills you can find in it to develop.'
The process of short-listing 'the best' took a long time. First, out of the 1500, I made a short-list of a mere 148 studies that all seemed to fulfil my criteria, then I started teaching those studies to my students. By introducing them in the lessons, I quickly discovered which were going to be attractive and helpful to pupils and which immediately proved too difficult or unattractive. In that way I whittled down my list to a shorter, more manageable 50 studies and eventually to the 21 listed below.
Interestingly, most of my previous favourites did not meet the criteria. However, it has resulted in me discovering a lot of new favourites which are being published in two books. with playalong accompaniments.
My criteria for selection are:
1. Attractive and rewarding to play
2. Contain the skills essential to rise to the next level
3. Be in a key one step more difficult than the previous level
4. Allow for the possibility of continual development
5. Offer specific skills of fingerings, tone, articulation, dynamics, breathing, scales, flexibility, intonation, rhythms
For convenience my selection is divided into grades (along the lines of the ABRSM)
AND THE WINNERS ARE: silence...roll of drums... focus on each contestant's face...
no.1, Die Technik des Flötenspiels op 71, Terschak
p. 27, Nouvelle Methode, Mahaut
p. 22, Eureka Method for the flageolet, Winner
p.30, Instructions for the German Flute, Monzani
p.60, Eureka Method for the flageolet, Winner
p.44, Solfeggio pour la Flute Traversiere, Quantz
no.22, 24 Etudes op.110, Kummer
no.1, Kleine Capricen op.37, Anderson
no.20, 24 Etudes op.33, Anderson
no.9, 32 Etudes op.129, Kummer
no.17, 50 Etudes Melodiques op.4, Demersseman
no.17, Etudes Mignonnes op.131, Gariboldi
no.18, 24 Etudes op.110, Kummer
no.12, Eighteen Studies for the flute, Berbiguier
no.12, 24 Grosse Etüden, Anderson
no.20, Vingt-cinq Etudes Celebres, Drouet
no.1, 26 selected studies, Altès
no.13, Die Technik des Flötenspiels op 71, Terschak
no.18, 24 Etuden, Prill
no.14, 30 Capricen, Karg-Elert
no.14, 30 Virtuoso Etudes, Köhler
I am grateful to the following students who helped me in the selection by 'test-driving' the short short-list : Heather Baker, Hannah Fitzgerald, Hannah Johnstone, Amelia Powell, Molly Smith, Ruth Walker, Deborah Wood