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I've realized that a big skill im having trouble with is playing melodies that involve significant chord changes in either hand. As an example, I cannot get through Debussy Claire de Lune once it becomes primarily a chord driven melody (sorry, I don't have the music on front of me. it's the section after the introduction).

I can brute force my way through it, sure, but I've recently started really focusing my study on my weak points, and sticking with a piece I'm brute forcing isn't helping me in general.

What are some good pieces to gradually help me to get better at playing chords like the ones in that Debussy piece? To clarify, I'm looking to improve in my ability to read chords quickly, rather than memorize hand positions.

  • Note the the (broken) chords are accompaniment, not melody. The melody still consists of mostly single notes, mainly in the right hand. – user18490 Jul 12 '17 at 4:55
  • You're not stating whether you find it technically difficult (e.g., does your (left, presumedly) hand cramp up or hurt; or whether you have a problem reading the actual broken chords. The letter is made more difficult in Claire de Lune because of it's key, D-flat major. – user18490 Jul 12 '17 at 4:56
  • Usually my issue is that I can read music with at most 3 note chords and play smoothly. When the number of notes increases I have to stop at every chord, read it, and then continue. Even worse, since I can't read the chords fast enough I find that the only way to make it through such a passage is to memorize it. My goal is to be able to play more pieces from sight or at least while reading to reduce the time spent before I can play them smoothly, so this is not ideal. – Michael Stachowsky Jul 12 '17 at 11:37
  • "I find that the only way to make it through such a passage is to memorize it.": which in a sense, is what should happen. It's really hard to look up the notes every time you have to play them, especially since there are two staves to look at. One tip could be to learn to "feel" the broken chord arpeggios, by playing variations (just one hand first) of them first, in the relevant key(s). – user18490 Jul 12 '17 at 23:01
  • I think there is a difference then between learning a piece for performance and learning it to just play. I enjoy reading music and playing through it without getting spectacular at it. I am working heavily on sight reading now, and that's what I'm going for with the studies im looking for. I don't expect to be able to sight read that piece, of course, but to be able to play it without significant hesitation is a goal. – Michael Stachowsky Jul 13 '17 at 0:01
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The first thing to do is always practice scales. Claire de Lune is written in Db major, so always practice the key of D flat prior to practicing the Debussy's piece.

By practicing scales, you learn the language of music. In a short amount of time, you will no longer see just notes on the page, but rather also patterns and chord progressions.


Apropos your question regarding learning melodies involving chords:

If you haven't already, I'd recommend playing Bach's Prelude 1 in C Major. It is all broken chords. When you practice it, make sure you stop on each measure and label the chords. The point o

Block the chords (play the broken notes simultaneously), and then play them as written (i.e. broken and arpeggiated).

You will notice that Bach was using ii-V-I progressions way before they became a staple of Jazz music :)

For example:

  • the first chord in Bach's 1st Prelude is a C major triad
  • the second chord is a D minor 7
  • the third chord is a G7.
  • the fourth chord is a C major.

In the C Major scale: C is the 1st note, D is the 2nd note, and G is the 5th note.

So we have a I-ii-V-I progression at the very beginning of Bach's Prelude 1 in C Major.

I recommend learning the Bach Preludes. Bach was way ahead of his time. Most of the chord progressions that are widely used in jazz and rock music can be found in Bach's music.

Debussy is also fascinating. Miles Davis was heavily inspired by Debussy. I'd recommend learning Debussy's suite Pour le Piano if you want to dig deeper into an understanding of chords. Many of the chords used in that suite are straight up jazz chords. The last 6 measures of the 1st part (Prelude) are incredibly beautiful i.e.

  • A minor
  • Ab7+5
  • G7+5
  • C9
  • E minor 7
  • A minor

The 2nd part of the suite Sarabande is almost all exclusively chords. And the sonorities are fascinating.


The best way to learn chords is to learn scales inside and out. Chords are after all just scale tones played simultaneously.

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