I’m trying to learn the 1st Gymnopedie from Eric Satie from this sheet music: http://hz.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/a/ac/IMSLP136037-WIMA.8862-Satie_Gymnopedie_1.pdf

While the first page is rather easy to read and remember, I’m really struggling with the left hand on the second page. I can’t read fast enough to keep up, even at a slow tempo, and I can’t see a pattern to make it easier to remember.

I tried finding a relation to the intervals, or anything related to the key (it’s in D major, right?), to no avail.

Is there anything I’m not seeing that could help me remember the chords?

EDIT: I get it that it’s important to learn how to read. But I’m just starting out, so please accept that I may have difficulties reading the piece at speed. Surely you also were a beginner at some point. Also, while reading is nice, eventually I’d like to be able to play pieces without sheet music with me. I believe remembering is as important as reading.

  • 4
    In the long run (and even in the short run) it might be better to learn to read faster, rather than trying to memorize everything you want to play. Let's face it, this piece isn't anywhere close to being "fast" or "having lots of notes to read!"
    – user19146
    Oct 7, 2017 at 17:54
  • 3
    @alephzero Agreed on the reading, although with Satie it’s not the speed so much as the unconventionality of his harmonies that make it tough to read. They’re not super difficult, but they’re complex enough to throw an inexperienced reader. At least this isn’t one of the Sarabandes, where he deliberately used difficult key signatures. Oct 30, 2017 at 20:50

4 Answers 4


I had a similar problem wrapping my head around that portion of Gymnopedie #1. The left-hand chords are quite complex if you think of them as single chords full of inversions and extensions. Instead, I recommend approaching the left hand as slash chords instead – analyze the bass note separately from the rest of the harmony. That helped me greatly in seeing the functional harmony and voice leading, which then makes it much easier to chunk the information and remember it.

  1. A very simple (but hard solution) is, to learn the notes without piano. Sit down for half an hour and try to remember each little dot on the sheet and imagine how you play it on the piano.

  2. Learn each voice independently from the others. You can also try to sing the different voices. For the voices in the chords: Most of them have three notes. Thus these chords can be seen as three voices, which in total gives you 5 voices.

  3. Try to figure out how many different chords are there in total. A lot of the chords are the same. This means, the problem probably lies in the particular sequence of the chords, and not so much in the notes themselves.


This is an old post, but it has many visits, so I'll venture an answer for any future visitors.

...I’m just a beginner having a hard time reading stuff fast.

This should be addressed first. This piece looks easy, but obviously the harmonies are not. Also, in terms of touch, dynamics and balance, it isn't easy to play well. It might make sense to work on some easier pieces first. If you wanted to stay with Satie, look at the Ogives, they are easier, shorter, and will provide an introduction to Satie's harmonic style. Also, there are tons of short, easy etudes and character pieces from the later nineteenth century at imslp.org which might be good alternatives.

About the Gymnopedie #1. There isn't a simple pattern like it's all roots by descending fifths, or sequential harmony. But I think it can be broken down into segments to aid memorization and reading.

From m. 22 to the end I identify 4 main phrases:

  • one 5 bar phrase
  • a second 5 bar phrase, last three bars are the same chords as the previous 5 bar phase, and both 5 bar phrases work over a long D pedal in the bass.
  • third phrase is ending #1, 5 bars with a 3 bar II V I cadence
  • fourth phrase is ending #2, 5 bars with a 3 bar II V I cadence, the second ending involves a mode change to minor and an E pedal in the bass.

So, we do have some repeating elements, even if they are not super obvious patterns. There are two pedals involved, and the 4 phrases utilize repeated material for their endings.

m22.           /---------------------\
Am    | Em7/D | Em7/D | Dm9   | Dm7   |
      --D pedal -----------------------

m.27           /--same as mm.24-6 ---\
Dm7   | Dm9   | Em7/D | Dm9   | Dm7   |
D pedal -------------------------------

m.32 ending #1                         /---II V I--cadence--\
Em    | F#m   | Bm    | A/E   | F#m7/E| Em11  | Am7   | D    |
\--root pos. triads--/ \---inverted---/

m.40 ending #2 switch to minor mode    /---II V I--cadence--\
Em    | Dm    | F(maj)| Am    | F(maj)| Em11b9| Am7   | Dm   |
\---E pedal--------------------------/

That still seems complicated, but we could try to abstract it further to find the harmonic "anchors" and then what is harmonic elaboration.

The tonic is D. Mm. 22-31 essentially juxtapose Em and Dm over a D pedal, which is a lot of dwelling about the tonic. Mm. 32 to the end then elaborate the cadences Em Am D(m) with the important mode switch to minor that effects the chords preceding the cadences.


  • 5 bars juxtaposing Em and Dm over a D tonic pedal
  • 5 bars juxtaposing Em and Dm over a D tonic pedal
  • 5 + 3 bars Em... to cadence Em Am D major mode
  • 5 + 3 bars Em... to cadence Em Am Dm minor mode

...that allows use to see just the stuff for roots E, A, and D which of course are the important tonal degrees for tonic D. The details that have been abstracted away should be understood in relation to this tonal foundation.

When I learned how to play (pretty poorly) this piece I spent a month memorizing it phrase by phrase. But I hadn't done this harmonic structure analysis, so I promptly forgot it soon after moving on to the next piece. I can't say this harmonic structure analysis will actually be helpful for memorization, but if I were to work on this piece again, I would approach it this way. Not just to aid performance, but to study composition and emulate Satie's style.


In addition to other good answers: while have a good basic knowledge of scales and chords (and keys!) is very effective in reading Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, "even" Debussy and Stravinsky, for Satie it is not the best approach, I think.

... because, as others have noted, the real structure of the piece, though there aren't zillions of notes, is hard to describe in other terms! That is, there seems to be no obvious "reductionist" description of what's going on, in terms of (standard) scales-and-chords. "It is what it is." :)

So, yes, it is harder to remember, and probably there are no genuine shortcuts apart from playing it over-and-over (to get muscle memory).

But the difficulty of "reading" it shouldn't dishearten you too much, because it is crazy to read, if you're not fairly experienced. :)

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