Updated: Oct 6, 2022
By Luellyn Dollard
It’s that time of year again! Marching band, all those academic classes, and squeezing in time to learn difficult TMEA region/state etudes. Have no fear! You can do it all.
Not everybody is going to make it to Area or State, but most high school players can benefit from preparing the TMEA etudes. And frankly, if you can play the notes and rhythms accurately, even if it’s at 2/3 to 3/4 tempo, that’s often good enough to make District or the lower band in Region. You’ll be surprised how much better your playing gets from working on these! You get used to sharps in the key signature, your technique gets cleaner from your meticulous practice, and you get confidence from the practice of auditioning. Maybe you’re not in the top band at school and you’re not required to audition. Who do you think the band directors are going to pick for wind ensemble next year when two students are close in ability? The student who showed that they are willing to work, even when it’s not required, or the student doing the bare minimums?
One of the best things you can do to prepare for region auditions is to start early. Those etudes come out in July EVERY YEAR, and even though you’re busy learning the music to parts 1 & 2 of the marching show, you’re really not as busy as you’re going to be once school starts. So start early! Make it your goal to learn all the notes at half tempo (for the fast etudes) by the time school starts. If you didn’t do that this year, it’s not too late. Region doesn’t happen until December, so you still have 3+ months to learn it. It’s definitely doable.
Most years, at least one of the etudes is in a ridiculous key. 7#s, 7bs or something like that. (This year you got off easy with only 4#s!!!) These etudes are generally harder to read than they are to physically play. Learn the two octave scale that goes with the key and practice it first. That gets your fingers used to the motions you’re going to need and makes them more automatic. (You won’t forget to play G# after F#, because you’ve played the E major scale so much.) If it’s in a minor key, practice all three forms of the minor (natural, harmonic, and melodic). If the etude changes keys in the middle, practice that scale, too. So for this year:
Etude 1: 4 sharps, E major. E F# G# A B C# D# E, D# C# B A G# F# E (play 2 octaves)
Etude 2: 3 flats, Eb major. Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb, D C Bb Ab G F Eb
Etude 3: 2 flats, G minor. natural: G A Bb C D Eb F G, F Eb D C Bb A G
harmonic: G A Bb C D Eb F# G, F# Eb D C Bb A G
melodic: G A Bb C D E F# G, F Eb D C Bb A G
1 sharp, G major. G A B C D E F# G, F# E D C B A G
A lot of schools have you pass off a section of the etude every week or so. They usually divide each etude up into 3 parts, so in 9 weeks, you’ve played them all for the band directors. THIS IS NOT YOUR LEARNING THE NOTES SCHEDULE! If you wait until the pass off week to learn the notes for that part of the etude, you will not be comfortable with the etudes by the time region auditions come up. Think of those pass-offs as a focus for the week. You put extra effort into that section of etude, but you’re working on all three etudes a little bit every week. When you’re just learning the notes, it’s fine to focus on a third of the etude at a time, but always be working on a third of all three etudes.
We’re all super busy, so here are some tips for finding time to practice.
Get to school half an hour early and practice in a practice room (not in the rehearsal room, because you’re way too popular for people to leave you alone - they want to chat with you.) This doesn’t work on 7am marching rehearsal days, but you can get there early on the morning they give you off.
Bring a lunch, eat it quickly, and use the half hour left to practice (if this is allowed at your school).
Practice during your “off” period if you have one.
Practice for 15 minutes when you need a break from homework. This also has the benefit of clearing your mind of the frustrations of math before you move on to English.
Practice for 30+ minutes after school instead of waiting in traffic.
A few fun facts about each etude:
Etude 1: What the heck is that x next to the F in measure 6? That is a double sharp. A sharp symbol (#) raises a note one half step. So it stands to reason that a double sharp (x) raises a note two half steps. Therefore, an F double sharp is a G natural. There are no double flats this year (bb), but when you see them, they lower the note two half steps. There are also quite a few enharmonic notes you might not be used to, like E# (F natural) and B# (C natural).
If you have a particularly hard time learning the notes with a lot of accidentals in there, it helps to memorize small parts, maybe a measure at a time. That way your muscle memory (and tune memory) kicks in and you’re not totally relying on your sight-reading ability.
Etude 2: Notice that measures 1-8 are the same notes as measures 18-25, so when you learn the 1st eight bars, you already know half of the etude. Yay! Don’t take this etude too fast, or the 32nd notes and the 6s on an upbeat will sound unmelodic and out of place. This is not the time to show off your lightning fast technique.
Etude 3: If you take this at the top end of the tempo, you will need to double tongue. At the bottom end of the tempo range, you can probably single tongue. This etude is difficult because there’s hardly anywhere to rest or take a breath. I take a little extra time to breathe - we’re not violin players, after all. If the phrase ends in an eighth note, there’s time to breathe without disrupting the pulse, but many of the breaths between phrases require a moment. For this reason, I like to practice this one with the eighth notes as the beat. When I can only play it at dotted quarter = 40, I put the metronome on 120. When I can play it at 60, I put the metronome on 180. Totally up to tempo is eighth note = 198 - 252. That way you can take time to breathe when you’re playing with metronome without having to add an entire beat. (You can add 1/3 beat - one click of the metronome set on eighth notes.) This is hard to explain in writing, but if you go to the end of this Etude 3 video, I play it at a practice tempo of eighth note = 126, and you can see what I mean between measures 16 & 17, as well as in several other places.
I’m just scratching the surface with these etude tips, so it helps a lot more if you can take private lessons and also go to some masterclasses on the etudes. On that second point, you’re in luck, because as a member of Austin Flute Society, you have access to free in-person TMEA masterclasses on October 9th. If you want to play for the masterclass instructor, you need to submit a recording of you playing your chosen etude (under tempo is fine!) Nine students will be chosen as performers, three for each etude. But if you just want to watch the class with no pressure of playing by yourself, you can sign up for that too! Click here to register for the free class, either as a performer or non-performer. The class is free for 2022-23 AFS members only. It is $15 for non-members. Your 2021-22 membership is ending this month, so use this link to renew or join. Here is a little bit more information about the event:
Date: Sunday, October 9th
Location: St. John’s United Methodist Church
2:30 - Registration/Seating
2:45 - Group Warm up with Isaac Medina
2:55 - Welcome
3:00 - ATSSB etudes with Isaac Medina
3:00 - Etude 1 class with Dr. Rachel Kaplan
3:50 - break
4:00 - Etude 2 class with Ann Kjerulf Knien
4:50 - break
5:00 - Etude 3 class with Alison Baker
5:50 - Thank you / future events - Reminder for Mock Auditions
6:00 – Dismiss
Happy fluting! Hope to see you there!
- Luellyn Dollard -