I'm an adult piano novice learning Satie's Gymnopedie No. 1. The edition I'm working with has no pedal markings. You can see the score here:


For most of the piece, there is a bass note on beat 1, a sustained chord for the left hand on beat 2, and a continuing melody in quarter notes in the right hand.

Clearly a pedal is required to play the entire lower staff in the left hand. But what is the best way to pedal the piece? My choices as I see them are:

  1. Use the sustain pedal each measure. This will make the bass line work, but it will also sustain the passing notes in the right-hand melody, which seems less than idea.

  2. Use the sostenudo pedal each measure. This will make the bass line work but will also sustain the first note of each measure in the right hand, possibly giving them undue emphasis.

  3. Use the sostenudo pedal and play the right hand behind the beat. This would resolve all of these issues, and might be consistent with late nineteenth century French performing practice, but sounds a little louche to modern ears.

Any personal opinions? Or can a more experienced pianist tell from a recording how professionals pedal this piece?

3 Answers 3


You just play all the notes at the right time and do what pianists call "legato pedalling". Ask one to show you. Much easier to demonstrate than describe. Any recording of Gymnopedie will show you what the result sounds like.


This is an exquisitely beautiful piece; Satie probably wins the prize for millihelens per note. Anyway, I don't have a grand and can't practice the middle pedal, but it only sustains the single bass note, whereas if you hold down the right pedal through each bar, all of the harmonics of that bass note will sound sympathetically through the whole piano, giving you the rich sound you need. Then it's all about balance; making the chord on the 2nd beat so gentle it just reinforces the harmonics that are already there. Then you play the tune on top.

Except for two places, 3 bars from the end of the piece, and the corresponding bar in the middle, the harmony never changes within a bar; so those are the only two bars where you need to change the pedal in the middle of a bar. Then you might worry about smudging the tune: but if you look at the third bar of the tune for example, which goes B-C#-D, the B is repeated in the 2nd beat chord, so it must be OK to keep sounding, the C# is going to clash with the simultaneous D anyway, so it must be OK to sound with the following D. In short, you don't need to worry about it. As I said, I think the key problem is one of balance, keeping everything pp, yet making the tune ring out above the harmony. I would use both pedals throughout, I think.

Disclaimer: sorry, I don't know what really good pianists do.


In general, you are allowed to sustain notes with the pedal even if this violates the length of note written in the score, provided the result is artistically satisfying. There is no need to be mathematically rigourous.

The melody is in a high register, which naturally has a shorter sustain time, so is less affected by the sustain pedal (the highest notes on the piano have no dampers at all). The "blurring" of melody notes by the pedal might sometimes imitate the effect of a reverberant acoustic, which can be aesthetically pleasing.

Another possiblity is to explore the idea of "half pedalling" : see the discussion here for example: http://www.abrsm.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=47244 For example, in the 3rd beat of the 7th bar, a fast rise-fall movement of the sustain pedal (with the chord being held by the left hand) will damp the C in the melody while not fully damping the G in the bass. This procedure should probably not be applied indiscriminately in every bar.

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