Burgmüller’s Op 100 Studies on the Online Academy

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.

2. L’arabesque

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.

5. Innocence

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. 


A Balanced Approach to Exercises and Studies

This week I was working with a student who expressed a certain frustration that they were unable to control the two-against-three cross rhythms in Rachmaninov’s D major Prelude, op 23 no 4, especially the second section from bar 19.

All was fine when I suggested experimenting with playing both hands at the same dynamic level, but the trouble started when the left hand duplets needed to retreat into the background so that the top melodic line could project. By focussing the listening onto the right hand, the left hand took on an unpredictable rhythmic life of its own. 

Rachmaninov prelude op 23 no 4

My student asked if there were any two against three studies they might practise in order to address this problem. Of course, there are hundreds, but my first response was to take something they already knew, the common-or-garden scale, and adapt it to fit this particular situation.

By practising scales with the left hand in 2’s (pp) and the right hand in 3’s firmer (mf, say) in the same tempo and with the same sort of feeling as the Rachmaninov extract (and with the possibility of some pedal), we don’t have to worry about reading any notes or dealing with any other challenges presented by the actual passage. Instead, we can look at our keyboard and use the long-familiar scale as a vehicle for creating the particular sound and coordination needed for the piece.

Using exercises and studies

The developing pianist might practise exercises and studies to help build technical skills; the advanced player might use them for warming up and to keep in shape. For myself, when I need to be in shape for performance, I will do some daily chord exercises and also something for double notes (usually thirds).

“Finger” technique is a problematic concept, because we really don’t want to practise anything that isolates individual fingers from the arm (an old-school concept), but we can certainly use Hanon off-label to choreograph certain movements in these easy-to-remember patterns of notes (innocuous in and of themselves). 

For example, the movement of the thumb in this adaptation of Hanon No. 1 may be useful to experience the sensation of arm alignment behind the 5th finger in a player who is aiming to fix the problem of keeping their thumb extended:

exercises and studies adapting hanon

How about using Hanon exercises fingered only with the thumb and 2nd finger (then thumb and 3rd finger, etc.) to develop some flexibility of the thumb? And it should go without saying that these exercises need to be transposed. 

To return to the subject of polyrhythms, one of my favourite types of “finger” exercise is something along these lines:

exercises and studies for polyrhythms

If we think of the hand as being made up of two teams (a team of three fingers versus a team of the remaining two fingers) we can adapt the exercise. There are several possibilities: try with thumb and 5th playing the duplets and 2nd, 3rd and 4th playing the triplets. In addition to playing both voices legato, we can practise the triplets legato and the duplets staccato, then reverse this. We may of course do this with both hands together, but this is not really necessary – each hand alone is just fine. 

I am certainly in favour of a balanced approach to exercises and studies that address specific pianistic problems, but too much of a focus on these risks taking valuable time away from the study of real music. The well-established book, Pianoforte Technique on an Hour a Day by Tankard and Harrison assumes we have several more hours available to us daily and that the technical skills we are supposed to acquire from practising the exercises can be transferred across to real music (not everyone would agree that this is necessarily the case). It’s surely preferable to pick a few of these exercises, varying them regularly, and spending a certain percentage of the practice time we have on any given day. Less is definitely more when it comes to regimes like this!

Lastly, if you would like to know more about my approach to exercises and studies, then please join me on Saturday 13th March for an interactive online workshop on using technical exercises and studies effectively (please click here or see below for further information).

Using Technical Exercises and Studies

In these interactive workshops, Graham Fitch shows how several technical exercises and studies can be used effectively to improve your technique. The workshops follow a hands-on format with demonstrations of exercises interspersed with short-supervised breakout sessions for you to try them out. 

The workshops are a more practical follow-on from our introductory workshop on using exercises and studies effectively. Although you don’t need to have attended this workshop in order to participate, you can find out more about it and purchase access to the recording and resources here. 

Click here for more information or to book your place!


Expanding Your Repertoire with Quick Studies

In this week’s post, Ryan Morison discusses how quick studies can be used as an effective tool to broaden your repertoire and develop good habits and skills when learning new pieces.


I recently wrote a blog post about one of my main piano goals for 2021 which is to broaden my active repertoire. A tool that I have found to be invaluable for the purposes of achieving this goal is quick studies.

Quick Studies image
Photo by Jordan Benton from Pexels

Quick Studies – What & why?

Quick studies are an often overlooked, but incredibly beneficial way to grow your repertoire. They also help you develop and hone the skills required to new learn pieces faster.

The concept is very simple: you reduce the amount of time you have to learn a piece e.g. often one or two weeks rather than months. The objective is to do this without compromising significantly on the quality of the musical result.

Tips for quick study projects

The following are some tips and suggestions that I have found which may be useful if you’re considering embarking upon similar projects:

  • Not too difficult – Don’t be overly ambitious in choosing pieces. Select works that are realistic given your abilities and the shortened timeframe. It’s far better to choose something easier than too difficult. One way to measure difficulty is to use examination syllabi as a guideline e.g. select pieces one or two grades below your current level (this worked very well for me!).
  • Not too long – Shorter is better, especially if you’re not quite sure if a piece is at the right level.  Personally, I found that pieces approximately three pages long with some repetition worked well. I also checked my selections by doing a run through and keeping a tally of difficult spots. These were places that I couldn’t sight-read and therefore would need to practise. A few tricky spots is fine, but if literally every bar has something challenging then the piece probably isn’t suitable.
  • Lay good foundations – The things that caused me the most problems down the line were errors with fingering and other sloppiness in the earlier note learning stages. Just because you have less time doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow a systematic approach, in fact it’s the opposite! This free email course gives a great process to follow for the early stages of learning a piece and can be applied to quick studies.
  • Be consistent – Consistent practice, even for short time periods, is far more important than the total time spent practising. I used regular “micro-practice” sessions targeted at specific problem areas which helped me make great progress despite having very limited time. This blog post gives some useful tips for short practice sessions.
  • Be disciplined and focussed – Simply playing through your piece daily and hoping that things will improve or correct themselves is a sure recipe for failure. A much more disciplined, strategic approach is required. This might include highlighting problem areas upfront and adopting a plan to tackle them systematically (Graham Fitch refers to this process as Quarantining).
  • Set goals and milestones – Working towards defined milestones e.g. recording for yourself, a lesson, playing for others is an excellent way to give your practising structure and focus. There are so many opportunities to do this, even in current circumstances. For example, over the last year I participated in various online meet-ups and even an online masterclass (click here if you’d like to see a video of my performance and feedback session!).

Many of these principles apply not just to quick studies, but to learning new pieces in general. Because of the time pressure of a quick study, they become even more pertinent. This makes quick studies incredibly effective for building and reinforcing good habits that apply well beyond the project at hand.

I recently concluded my first quick study project and found it to be such a positive undertaking that I’ve since started several further pieces in this manner (If you’d like to find out more, I’ve documented my experience in the form of a “video journal” on my website). I highly recommend the quick study approach and if you’re looking to improve your ability to learn new pieces, encourage you to give it a try!

Further links & resources

  • How to Start Learning a New Piece – Click here to sign-up for a free email course designed to guide you through the early stages of the process and show you principles and practice tools for efficient and effective learning.
  • Repertoire library – Our repertoire library on the Online Academy now features resources to help you learn and master over 250 pieces (and growing!) of all levels. Click here to view an index of works covered by grade, level or composer.
  • Quarantining – Click here for a blog post on quarantining with links to further information and resources.
  • Examination Resources – Click here to view our Guide to the ABRSM 2021 & 2022 syllabus or click here to view an index of all of our resources and guides for piano examinations

Tips for Using Technical Exercises & Studies

A well-developed technique is essential for realising your musical intentions at the piano. Many pianists and teachers consider the use of technical exercises and studies to be a good way to improve overall technique or to work on specific aspects thereof.  

technical exercises & studies

Why use technical exercises & studies?

  • To warm up before practising
  • To build and maintain technique
  • To tackle specific trouble spots in pieces 

Tips for using them effectively

While practising technical exercises & studies can be very beneficial (and many great pianists swear by them!), it can too often become mindless, boring and unproductive. Such practice is not only a waste of time but can also expose you to an increased risk of injury.

As with many things, it’s not what you do but how you do it that has the biggest impact. The following are some tips and suggestions for using technical exercises and studies more effectively whilst avoiding boredom and tension:

1. Play them in different keys – Although many exercises are written in C major e.g. Hanon, they are often intended to be played in all keys and doing so enables you to derive greater value from practising them while making them more interesting.

2. Use different rhythms and accents to add variety – Different rhythmic patterns or placing accents on selected notes can also be a good way to add variety while building speed and accuracy (click here for more information on an online workshop on practising in rhythms and accents).

3. Use different touches – Another way to increase your productivity and maintain focus when practising exercises & studies is to use different touches e.g. leggiero and martellato. In this excerpt from his “Jailbreaking Hanon” video series, Graham Fitch demonstrates use how Hanon No. 24 can be used to develop different touches while maintaining a free wrist and using rotations to avoid tension:

4. Incorporate natural movements – Hanon’s instruction to “lift the fingers high and with precision” is a relic of a bygone era. Instead, the exercises can be used as a blank canvas to experience and develop more natural, coordinated movements of the finger, wrist and arm.

In this excerpt from his video on using Berens’s The Training of the Left Hand (Op. 89), Graham Fitch demonstrates how a circular choreography can be used to improve strength and increase velocity in Exercise No. 11:

5. Do as much as you need to – Far too often, duration and excessive repetition are seen as desirable when it comes to exercises and studies. However, in many cases you do not need to play the full exercise in order to derive benefit from it. By playing only as much as you need to, it makes it easier to practise in a focussed manner and reduces the risk of injury.

An alternative approach?

Another alternative (or complement) to using exercises and studies is to invent exercises directly from your pieces. By creating your own exercises for awkward spots in your repertoire, you can avoid separating the study of technique from music making and improve your technique in a highly efficient, creative way. Click here to read a blog post or click here to find out more about an online workshop we ran on this subject.

Further resources & links

  • Jailbreaking Hanon – Click here for more examples and information on Graham Fitch’s video series which demonstrates his approach to using Hanon’s exercises creatively and adapting them for various purposes. 
  • Berens Training of the Left Hand (Op. 89) – Click here to view video walk-throughs of selected exercises and studies by Berens showing how to use the studies effectively to develop left hand technique.
  • Online workshop – In this online workshop, Graham Fitch presented a range of exercises, studies, repertoire and practice techniques designed to improve left hand skills. Click here to purchase access to recordings and workshop resources.
  • A Cello Suite for the Left Hand – Click here to find out more about our study edition featuring an arrangement of JS Bach’s Cello suite No. 1 in G major for the left hand.