If you have studied or listened to piano pieces, you have probably run into different types of words that are used to describe a piece of music. Preludes, Nocturnes, and Etudes are just a subset of the many different types of musical composition. In this post, I will discuss the differences between them. Next time you listen to a Prelude, Nocturne, or Etude, see if you can distinguish the elements that make it what it is.
Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece. This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses. A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.
Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.
You can probably guess this one. Etude is the french word for study; so a musical etude is just that – a musical study used to perfect a particular technical skill. Generally etudes are quite difficult, featuring runs of quick notes, and arpeggios.
Those were just three terms that are commonly used to characterize a piece of music. For some examples of these styles take a look at the works of Chopin. He composed 24 Preludes: One in each key, major and minor, 27 Etudes, and 21 Nocturnes.