What Nobody Told You About Erik Satie Gymnopédie 1

Create an AMAZING Piano Sound Easily in This Slow Dance Following my PIANO TIPS!

by Lars Nelissen // updated: March 20, 2023

How to play Erik Satie's Gymnopédie 1 & Create an Amazing Piano Sound Easily?

erik satie gymnopedie 1 portrait of erik satie

Portrait of Erik Satie (1866-1925)

Click and Read the Video Script

Gymnopédie number 1 from Erik Satie. The Gymnopédie, these are really pieces for working on the sound. They are technically really not difficult. But we're going to explore some nice fingerings there to make it sound better. Because really the whole MAGIC of the piece lies in the sound. And not so much in any pianistic difficulties, so we're going to explore the piano sound. We're going to explore how to use the piano pedal which is quite straightforward in the piece. And we will also discuss the character of the music.

It is a Spartan dance of naked Youth, and it's a dance of a sad character. A slow dance. And this is in the music; that's what Satie was imagining. It has something erotic about it, and at the same time, it should dance. It's slow, but it's not static; it must move. And we're going to look into that. So that the movement of the piece and the sound, these are the most important elements to work at. For the rest the notes are quite easy to learn for a beginner, so we're going not going to talk about that in this video.

First, let's look a little bit into who is Satie? Satie was born in 1866, so a few years later than Debussy. He was a contemporary of Debussy, they knew each other very well. Also Ravel knew Satie and Erik Satie knew Ravel. He was a little bit an awkward strange man, a little bit of a funny personality. And as a musician he more came about as a dilettante than as a professional. Erik Satie studied at the "Paris Conservatoire" for a while as a student of Émile Decombes, who was a pupil of Chopin. But he got expelled and Émile Decombes called him the laziest student at the "Conservatoire".

Later he got re-admitted at the "Paris Conservatoire" and became a student of Georges Mathias. Georges Mathias was another Chopin pupil. And he described Erik Satie's playing as insignificant and laborious. Satie called himself worthless. That's how he saw himself. So he didn't finish his studies at all, and he went to the Army and he got expelled as well in the Army.

In his twenties he started to write small piano pieces. "Les Gymnopédies" were part of those pieces and Debussy orchestrated "Les Gymnopédies" and that was very good for Erik Satie's career. Because suddenly he was recognized as a composer. Later Maurice Ravel played some of his early works. Which give him another reputation, and the rest of the reputation he probably got from the funny names that he gave compositions. He was a friend of Picasso. Pablo Picasso also designed the costumes for his Opera. Stravinsky liked Satie very much. And Debussy liked his early works, he found them promising. But later on he had some criticism on Satie's works. Erik Satie really didn't appreciate that and he he broke the friendship with Claude Debussy, one year before Claude Debussy died. And a year later when Debussy died, he even didn't attend the funeral of Debussy because he was still offended by Debussy's criticism.

Completely unsure about himself, and every criticism he took very hard, he felt offended by that. I'm just reading this: "My Many Years" by Arthur Rubinstein, an autobiography. And he writes about the first time he met Satie. It's funny, so I like to read it for you a little bit. It was a tea party with Sergei Diaghilev and Léonide Massine and Erik Satie whom we met for the first time. He was a small man with little hair left. Bearded and with eyeglasses which sat unsafely on his nose. When he spoke he would hold his hand in front of his mouth. Apparently to cover some bad teeth. And I didn't know any of his music. But he was generally credited as a master who had shown the way to "The Six" (Les Six). His 'titre de gloire' was the fact that Debussy took the trouble to orchestrate his Gymnopédies. His small pieces for the piano were better known for the witty titles and remarks in the scores, then for the music itself. He would call a piece "In the Shape of a Pear", or 'crescendo if you believe me' (si vous m'en croyes) or where a sudden pianissimo followed a fortissimo, he would ask the pianist to hunch over the keyboard (le dos voûté). On that occasion he struck me as a wit, full of vitality. Doesn't talk very highly of him, more like in a joking way.

Arthur Rubinstein didn't take him very seriously and many pianists don't take Satie seriously. So you will not find it in the concert program of many pianists. But nevertheless I think the music is very worthwhile when we want to work a little bit on the sound of the piano. In this respect we are going to also learn this first Gymnopédie. By the way, I have a link in the description for the score. In the score, I write my fingerings how I divide those chords in the two hands. I have my way to do that, so to enhance the best quality and control of the piano sound. So you can download it and you can follow me along a bit better. And if you're new to this channel? Don't forget to subscribe, because I make weekly new videos with different pieces, but also about other subjects about piano technique, to help people like you learn the piano better and faster and more efficient. Hit the Subscribe button and the Bell so you will be notified for everything. Let's get to it...

Until so far. I think this should be the tempo, not slower than this. I wouldn't play it...

I wouldn't even start to imagine how you would dance on such a slow tempo?

It's a bit too slow
I think, even for a slow dance!

"Lent et Douloureux", that means slow and with a sadness in it. But still danceable. It's dance! So...

Always one hand... and now I divide here.

That's one sentence.

I would not play like like many people do, like like this...

It's easier... it's easier that's true! It is a bit easier,

because you don't have to think much! But it will not give you the best control of the sound. The best control of the sound is to make here a little bit stretch; with the 1-3 and 5. See so

See... Open the hands!

2 and again 2

5... 2...

1... see...

And here soft. And then he writes forte, but the forte is only for this chord that comes in between.

And it should not be overdone.

When you listen to the orchestration of Debussy, these are muted trumpets that play these chords.

And this F sharp, which is connected over four bars, this will be revived every time when you play that chord on the second beat in each bar, so... Soft and then a little bit into the key, to get this...

a little bit pressing sound.
And not without any energy...

I would search really for the right sounds. This is a piece, if you work on it a little bit and work on the sound most of the time, you will learn something from it.

And the left-hand stays 'piano'. The 'Forte" is not, not like this...

not for the left hand. Absolutely not! That stays 'piano', only for the chords.

And pedal change every bar.

See, and then... pianissimo...

And imagine this dance; slow dance.

You have to imagine the dance to make it move!

And with three: 3 and 5. See... three, and three take over with five. We do this lot!

It has a better sound: three and then with five. It's a better sound than just directly with the five.

And playing five, two. Use a nice arm movement. It's always a round-arm movement.

Think about a dance, but it's also pianistically: round arm movements.

A little bit more serious...

And soft ending...

Feel the chords, these beautiful chords!
There are beautiful colors in every chord. It's very nicely done! That's why Claude Debussy orchestrated it, because it's interesting!

See I take this with three, five. See 3-5. And then...

I take it 3 and take it over with 5. And then I take this...

With three again I take it.

This fingering: 2-5 And here 2 in the left hand. And with the 4 I take it; and don't press the key again with the 4.

See and then...

This goes a little bit more forward with a Crescendo over 3 bars.

Yeah, I take a fingering, I go over the five with the four.

So: 2, 3, 4 with the 1 in the thumb on the F, 5, 4 over. Let loose, 3, 4, 5.

It gives freedom this kind of fingerings. I use this quite a lot. I learned that from my teacher Avi Schönfeld: to pass over, so not always using the thumb passing beneath to to reach another key. But sometimes we go over the five, or over, mostly it's from five with a four or five with a two like... See? You don't use the thumb here.

And the same...

No thumb, but arm movements!

Really search for the round arm movements! Every time round arm movement to get fluent from one to the other position.
And synchronize the left and the right!

I play this is 2-5 and again with the 4 over.

And this must be the right notes...

With the three. Here with the 3 to get this nice round sound.

The three you keep here. And you play...

while you're holding the three. See...

And D Major. See, that's the first half and it continues the same...

So this again. To get the nicest sound, here you play this with two fingers on each key. The D you play with 1-2 and the F sharp you play with 3-4. And the same here...

And again... In the score, when you download it, I will write it exactly.

And again... Pianissimo.

And continues like that...

See it as a dance!

See that's the same; it was a repetition of what we already had. Now...

Like in the beginning. And the pedal is:

Really per bar.

And prepare...

Every chord needs to be prepared. Especially...

this chord...

and this...

See how nice...

And the same, round movements!

And every time open, so that you can prepare. When you prepare; open the hand!

Make exercises like this:

The right pedal is per bar. It's very straightforward: pedal... See... pedal... pedal... Remember that when you do the pedal, that you always play... See, you can start with the open pedal, so you can have the pedal down. Also, use the left pedal (una corda) by the way.

For it's a nicer sound, it changes the color of the piano. So use the left pedal also. It's not cheating as some teachers say. That's just the biggest nonsense on the earth when you say it's cheating to use the left pedal to play soft. No, because you can also use the una corda pedal when you play strong. It changes just the color of the piano. It's not easier to play soft with the left pedal, but you can create a different kind of sound. So, pedal... pedal... First the note, and then pedal, so just right after the first beat you let go the pedal and press it back again. That's the principle of pedaling. Very straightforward! It's not yet Debussy this!

That was the tutorial on "Gymnopédie no. 1" by Erik Satie. If you like this video give me a thumbs up, so that other people know that this is good content!

They will watch it, and benefit from it too. And it will help my channel a little bit. If you're not subscribed yet, then hit the Subscribe button and the Bell, so that you will not miss out on any of my new videos. Because weekly I post new videos to help people like you learning the piano better, and more efficient, and getting more enjoyment with the piano. Here's the video I will recommend you to watch right now! And I see you next time!

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This video shows you the insides and the actual music and technique involved in Erik Satie's First Gymnopédie. How to play it more beautiful and appealing? We'll go deep into that!  

I go in into detail on fingerings (how to divide the chords over the two hands) and arm movements involved to make everything sound much better. Also, I shall unveil a little bit about the character of Erik Satie and where he stood in the musical world of his time.

If you just like to listen my performance of Erik Satie Gymnopédie 1, then you may watch the video below. This is the performance only.


My Story

Piano learning Lars Nelissen van Gasselt Piano Fantasy

As a young teenager, I started to learn the piano and fell in love with this instrument. Although I was a late starter, I knew that I wanted to play professional. So I worked hard and became a student of Rubinstein's pupil Avi Schönfeld at the conservatory. Only playing the piano for about four years when starting my professional piano studies, I needed a system to catch in my lost years. I was in luck, Avi Schönfeld, who we easily may call a genius in understanding piano playing, gave me that system that I needed so much. Here I am to share with you...

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