AskDefine | Define etude

Dictionary Definition

etude n : a short composition for a solo instrument; intended as an exercise or to demonstrate technical virtuosity

User Contributed Dictionary



From the around the year 1837, from étude (meaning "study") from the word studium (meaning "spirit", "devotion" or "study").



  1. A song written as an exercise or for practice, rather than for performance


a song

Extensive Definition

An étude (a French word meaning study) is a short musical composition designed to provide practice in a particular technical skill in the performance of a solo instrument. For example, Frédéric Chopin's etude Op. 25 No. 6 trains pianists to play rapid parallel chromatic thirds, Op. 25 No. 7 emphasizes the production of singing tone in a polyphonic melody, and Op. 25 No. 10 covers parallel octaves.

History and function

Musical studies have been composed since the 18th century, most notably by Carl Czerny, but it was Chopin who transformed the étude into an important musical genre. Études can be in many forms and are sometimes grouped into larger schemes—Robert Schumann's Études symphoniques bears the title, in its second version, Études en forme de Variations.
Études for other instruments have been written as well, for example Rodolphe Kreutzer's études for the violin and Villa-Lobos' Douze Études for the guitar.
The études that are most widely admired are those which transcend their practical function and come to be appreciated simply as music. For example, Chopin's études are considered not just technically difficult, but also musically very powerful and expressive. In contrast, Czerny's are generally regarded as being only technically difficult. Thus Chopin's études are continually performed before appreciative audiences, whereas Czerny's are confined to the practice room.
Chopin's contemporary Franz Liszt wrote a set of twelve études that are among the most virtuosic solo piano compositions ever. These études, called the Transcendental Etudes, were meant to showcase "transcendental" technique. Ironically, extremely advanced technique is necessary to even approach these études, so the goal of developing technique is not achievable within these études.
There are also 53 études composed by Leopold Godowsky based on the Chopin études. These are perhaps the most difficult studies and pieces of the repertoire (the complete set of studies has been recorded by only 3 pianists).
An extreme case is found in the études that would scarcely qualify as music, being composed of repetitive figures intended purely as physical exercise. Of these, the best known are the 60 études of The Virtuoso Pianist by Charles-Louis Hanon (1873). Études of the non-musical kind are often called just "exercises" in English.
Some teachers have argued that études which are unmusical and serve only to develop the fingers are of no value, and may actually be harmful—Abby Whiteside is one example of a pedagogue who advocated the total abandonment of exercises in the Hanon and Czerny mold.

See also


  • Date for The Virtuoso Pianist is taken from The New Grove Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, online edition (retrieved Feb. 5, 2006).
etude in Czech: Etuda (hudba)
etude in Danish: Etude
etude in German: Etüde
etude in Spanish: Estudio (música)
etude in Persian: اتود
etude in French: Étude (musique)
etude in Korean: 연습곡
etude in Italian: Studio (musica)
etude in Hebrew: אטיוד
etude in Dutch: Etude
etude in Japanese: 練習曲
etude in Norwegian: Etyde
etude in Norwegian Nynorsk: Etyde
etude in Polish: Etiuda (muzyka)
etude in Portuguese: Estudo (música)
etude in Slovenian: Etuda
etude in Serbian: Етида
etude in Finnish: Etydi
etude in Swedish: Etyd
etude in Thai: เอตู๊ด
etude in Chinese: 練習曲

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Nachtmusik, absolute music, adaptation, air varie, aleatory, aleatory music, arrangement, article, causerie, chamber music, chamber orchestra, composition, descant, discourse, discussion, disquisition, dissertation, electronic music, essay, examination, excursus, exercise, exposition, feature, first approach, harmonization, homily, incidental music, instrumental music, introductory study, invention, lucubration, memoir, monograph, morceau, nocturne, note, opus, orchestration, outline, pandect, paper, paragraph, piece, preliminary study, production, program music, prolegomenon, research paper, ricercar, score, screed, sketch, sonata, sonatina, special article, string orchestra, string quartet, study, survey, term paper, theme, theme and variations, thesis, tract, tractate, treatise, treatment, trio, variation, work
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