How to Play Gymnopédie No. 1 on Piano (Easy Classical Piano Lesson)

Lisa Witt  /  Beginner Songs / May 14

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Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie is such a beautiful song to play on the piano!

In this tutorial, I’ll teach you how to play this lovely classical tune. We’ve simplified the original sheet music for this tutorial, but I’ll also show you how to play it so it sounds more like the original.

This is a lovely, relaxing tune that sounds great at a slow pace, so it should be friendly for beginners. Try not to speed up, though!

<<Download the free sheet music here!>>

👓 Key Specs

Some things to keep in mind when playing Gymnopédie No. 1 on piano:

Black and white photograph of Erik Satie, composer of Gymnopédie No. 1 on piano. Middle-aged man in suit with thoughtful expression, scraggly beard, and glasses.
Erik Satie circa 1920 — a thoughtful and dapper French dude.
  • We’ll be in the key of D major, which means that by default, all Fs and Cs are sharped. As a warm-up, you can play the D major scale a few times to get into F# and C# mode
  • But watch out for naturals! When a note gets natural’ed, it means all instances of the same note in that measure also get “cancelled out.”
  • The time signature is 3/4, so get into a waltzy 1-2-3, 1-2-3 rhythm!
  • Adding pedaling will make a big difference to this piece. Learn how to master pedaling here.
  • Phrasing and expression are also super important! Check out the third exercise of this tutorial for a rundown on expression and dynamics.

The A Section

We’ll start with the left hand. It’s a pretty simple pattern, rocking between what’s essentially a G major triad (G to B-D) and a Dmaj7 chord (D to A-C#).

When you’re ready, add in the right hand melody. Start sloooooow.

In the original piece, that bass note is an octave lower. You can play the Gs and Ds an octave lower if you prefer. Just keep in mind that this will require a little more focus as your left hand will be reaching across a larger distance.

📜🎹 HISTORY BITE! Erik Satie was a bit of an eccentric. He only ate foods that were white, filled his apartment with 100 umbrellas, and didn’t even consider himself a musician, among other things. The French composer was somewhat of an outsider in his own time, but his work has attracted more attention through pop culture in recent decades.

The B Section

There are a few chord changes in the B section, so go slow!

You’ll also run into several naturals. Remember the rule with naturals: once a note gets a natural in a measure, for the rest of the measure, it’s also un-sharped (or un-flatted).

And watch out for that low D I’ve notated — trust me, though, it’s worth it!

A sketch of Erik Satie at the piano.

“When I was young, people used to say to me: Wait until you’re fifty, you’ll see. I am fifty. I haven’t seen anything.”

Erik Satie, A Mammal’s Notebook

🎹 Get a Head Start on Classical Piano ✨

Love classical music but not sure where to start? Head over to Classical Piano Quick Start, four free lessons designed for beginners taught by Victoria Theodore. Victoria is a classically trained pianist with degrees from Oberlin College and Stanford University, and has played with Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder. Start your classical journey with Victoria today!


Tying It All Together

For a demo of how the song sounds as a whole, watch me play through the entire piece at the end of the video.

This is a pretty simple song, but you can do a lot with it. When you’re first learning, break it up into little sections to make it less overwhelming. Then, when you’ve mastered the song, add in your own dynamics and phrasing. Interpret it with your unique take.

Happy practicing!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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