Have you ever considered using piano etudes as sight-reading material? In this article, I go through the reasons why etudes are great for sight-reading.
Lately, I’ve been sight-reading piano etudes by composers like Félix Le Couppey and Henri Bertini, and it made me realise that some of these etudes are fantastic for sight-reading.
Let me give you 8 reasons why piano etudes are great for sight-reading.
1. Easy keys
Piano etudes tend to be in keys that have 0 to 2 sharps or flats, sometime 3 or 4 sharps or flats. They rarely go beyond that, unless you look at advanced etudes by Chopin and the like.
2. Repeated rhythmic patterns
The etudes are generally based on one or several rhythmic patterns that repeat throughout the whole etude or for a portion of the etude. This means you can develop the ability to recognise patterns and learn to hold them in your memory as you sight-read through the etudes.
3. Straight-forward rhythm
The rhythm is usually straight forward and consistent. You’ll find etudes containing groups of semiquavers (16th notes) throughout, or triplets throughout but rarely will the rhythm change unexpectedly like it often does in pieces.
4. Consistent articulation
Each etude is based on a certain technique that requires a particular touch such as legato, staccato, and so on, which means that the articulation is often consistent. Anytime something repeats or is consistent, it gives you extra mental space to take in other elements of the score.
5. Scales, arpeggios and chords
Most etudes are built on scales, arpeggios and chords or some type of melodic pattern. Being able to recognise these patterns is key to developing your sight-reading. You also get to become more familiar with playing in different keys, much more so than just by practising scales, arpeggios and chords.
6. More notes in one hand
Etudes often focus on one hand at a time which means that one hand will have more notes than the other. This is good for developing the ability to read both staves and focusing on one staff more than the other. Moreover, the pattern that the etude is based on will often move to the other hand so both hands get a go at playing the pattern.
7. More predictable than pieces
Because the etudes are based on rhythmic patterns and familiar melodic patterns with consistent articulation, they’re more predictable than pieces, making them easier to sight-read than pieces, while still being challenging enough to sight-read.
8. Your weaknesses are more obvious
By sight-reading etudes, you can also find out which areas of your playing might need more work. You’ll notice that some etudes are easier for you to play than others and this will largely depend on your current playing level. You could then decide to put the etude aside for you to work on to develop your technique.
List of etudes to sight-read
Below is a non-exhaustive list of etudes that you can download for free. I’ve listed them in the order of difficulty from beginner to early advanced. The grades in brackets refer to the grades according to pianosyllabus.com. Note that the level of difficulty refers to the difficulty in playing, not necessarily in sight-reading.
I recommend selecting etudes that are one or two grades below your current grade to start with.
Beginner to early intermediate (Grades 1-4)
L’Alphabet Op.17 by Le Couppey (Grades 1-3)
Practical Exercises for Beginners Op.599 by Czerny (Grades 1-4)
Late beginner to late intermediate (Grades 2-6)
25 Etudes faciles et progressives Op.100 by Burgmüller (Grades 2-5)
100 Progressive Studies Op.139 by Czerny (Grades 2-6)
Early intermediate (Grades 3-4)
L’Agilité Op.20 by Le Couppey (Grades 3-4)
25 Etudes faciles et progressives Op.100 by Bertini (Grades 3-4)
Early to late intermediate (Grades 3-7)
Le Progrès Op.24 by Le Couppey (N/A)
24 Etudes Op.29 by Bertini (Grades 3-7)
25 Etudes Op.47 by Heller (Grades 3-7)
24 Etudes primaires Op.10 by Le Couppey (N/A)
Etudes mélodiques Op.45 by Heller (Grades 4-7)
30 Etudes progressives Op.46 by Heller (Grades 4-7)
Late intermediate (Grades 5-7)
18 Etudes Op.109 by Burgmüller (Grades 5-7)
The School of Velocity Op.299 by Czerny (Grades 6-7)
Late intermediate to early advanced (Grades 6-8)
12 Etudes Op.105 by Burgmüller (Grades 6-8)
Have you ever sight-read etudes? How do you find them? Comment below.