One of the most popular series on the Online Academy is my exploration of Burgmüller’s set of studies, the Easy and Progressive Études, op 100. What makes these little pieces so special? Pitched at the elementary-intermediate level player, they fulfil all the requirements of what a study should be:
- Descriptive titles that inspire the imagination
- Technique that serves a musical goal
- Short and to the point
- Useful as a way to learn harmony, as well as form and structure
The problem with many of the didactic études served up to young pianists through the centuries is just how dry, boring and repetitive they are. Instead of inspiring players to practise, they have deadened their spirits. I’ve noticed how many youngsters are drawn to Burgmüller’s op 100 – they still sound fresh, and are immediately engaging.
In my series I take each étude in turn, giving a detailed teaching note and a video walkthrough that highlights the learning outcomes and offers advice on the technical aspects as well as how we might practise. We’ve recorded the whole set, and are busy releasing them one by one each week. So far we have reached No. 11, and you can find details of the series by clicking here.
The studies are progressive in their difficulty, ranging from approximately ABRSM Grade II at the start to approximately Grade V by the end. A good New Year’s resolution might be to learn the whole set over the course of the year – you will amass 25 studies you can draw on as part of your daily practice! Once you have learned them, you might choose three or four to practise for a week or so at a time before moving on to others.
In this post, I’ve pulled out an aspect from each of the first 5, illustrated with a snippet of the video (full videos last between 15 and 20 minutes).
1. La candeur
La candeur (Openness) in C major is a gorgeous little study featuring five finger positions that need to be treated expressively. In this excerpt I talk about how to appreciate the harmonic underpinning, and how to achieve a skillful chord legato in the LH.
Here I look at the importance of discovering the musical character, and then investigate the drop-roll movement as well as the importance of mobilising the hand. I also show how we align each finger with the arm via a flexible wrist for optimal coordination.
3. La pastorale
Here I look at how we achieve a cantabile touch to produce a singing line, using stroking rather than striking fingers, and the importance of actually singing melodies in our practice.
4. La petite réunion
This is surely one of the best elementary studies in double notes! In this video, I offer a few ideas on technical development of double thirds on white keys to be practised before this study is learned.
What is an appoggiatura and how do we play one at the piano? There’s also another little harmony lesson in this excerpt – how to recognise augmented and diminished triads and how find out what they might mean expressively.
The full versions of these videos along with walkthroughs featuring other works from Burgmüller’s Easy and Progressive Études is available for once-off purchase here or with an Online Academy subscription. Please click here to find out more about subscription options or click here to view the series index if you are already a subscriber.
Many editions of op 100 make significant changes to the text (mostly with regard to phrase and articulation markings). The very best edition is the Wiener Urtext edited by Naoyuki Taneda.