Joe's Blog

Repertoire: Debussy: “La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune”

October 13, 2021

J.M.’s lesson back a month or two.

measure 1: Opening chords:

We shouldn’t be able to distinguish by ear the line of demarcation between the notes played by the fingers of one hand and the notes being played by the other hand. We want a perfectly homogenized chord.

Look for the crease in the skin along the underneath side of the thumb, that lies across the diameter of the thumb from the first knuckle. Find the same crease on the other thumb. Hook the thumbs together at these spot. Allow the two hands as a whole feel yoked together like a pair of oxen. While in this position pull the hands (and arms) away from each other in opposite directions. This will provoke a direct sensation of the fusion of the two hands into one mega-hand. Mow play the opening chords of the piece. Not only will the two notes of each hand be blended better sound-wise, but there is also no longer any way for my ear to tell one hand from the other by their sounds. Every sound of the four notes in the chord is perfectly blended and balanced with the others.

beginning on the sixth beat of measure 1:

The place where the notes in the right hand suddenly double their speed into thirty second notes. “Clean out your ears” after listening to each thirty second note. Remember that each note counts. Counts for more, rather than les, than the slower notes that preceded them in the first measure.

For instance, the second note (af6) sounds just as distinctly with regard to its pitch as the first note of the series (g6) with regard to its pitch. And so on through every twist and nuance of the passage, until the notes pour into the bass.

During its entire course downwards, don’t loose track of where you are and of the unique contribution the current note makes to altering the quality of the sound of the passage.

Every time the left hand punctuated with an eighth note the series of right hand thirty-second notes, I tapped on the currently playing finger of J.M.’s right hand, to ‘remind’ it that there was a note to play even though the right hand was distracted at that moment by what the left hand was doing, either by the latter’s playing at the same time as the right hand, or being in the process of searching out the location for its next eighth note ‘punctuation’ point.

Measure 3: The cs1 in the bass:

When you lift your finger prematurely off a key, it is usually accompanied by sense in your playing of loosing interest in the sound of the note. In the case of the cs1, a loss of interest both its rich resonance, and the ‘lowness’ of its pitch. The sound should spread in waves over the entire pitch-space from bottom to top. The sound should “rEpand”* (spread, light up the atmosphere around it to the very horizons).

Measure 4: beats 5 and 6:

Feel your shoulder blades moving apart from each other. This will connect the the chords just in the left hand with the chords that are in both hands.

measure 7: first note:

This note is a portal into a new universe, it is a ‘surprise’ in an almost  cosmic way: the clouds parted and in the gap lay a new reality.

measure7: the chords

Don’t favor certain notes, in loudness, or in temporal alacrity.  Sometimes you play a chord as if the notes nearest each other in the two hands should sound first and the notes in the pinkies should sound last.

Try it first so that your left hand lies neutrally on the obverse of palm of the right hand. the former acts to settle the latter down onto the keyboard: it tells each finger of the right hand that it plays together with the others.

Now reverse the roles of the hand.

measure 7: the chords

Briefly, cross your hands so that the right hand is to the left of the left hand  on the keyboard. Just take in that sensation for a moment or two, then play the measure as written.

measure7: the eighth note chords

Whenever a series of eighth notes succeed upon a series of sixteenth notes, as in the middle of measure 7, don’t loose the flow that connects one note (or chord) to the next. It is as if you are a painter whose brush, overladen with pigment, smears colors from one place on the canvas to an adjacent place. In the same sense, take the sound of one chord and smear it around. Don’t think of each next chord as if it is a “new” sound, but more as if it is a distorted or smeared version of the previous sound, which somehow has persisted in spite of the changes wrought upon it.

measure7: last chord followed by the first chord of m8:

When you play the former, feel like it already “contains” the latter (even though the latter is octaves away in the bass). You have taken it and ‘smeared’ its sound pigments down into the deep bass. The object is to ‘complete’ the first chord.

measure 8: the left hand chord: f3-bf3-d4-f4:

We took the second finger of the left hand “out for a walk” before playing the chord. We did this by holding the other three notes of the chord down, while flexing and un-flexing the index finger. as it glided over the full longitudinal axis of the d4 key. This form of “practicing” just in advance of making a sound, provides greater control over that finger when it sounded its note in the chord, and so adjust it sound-wise with the other notes of the chord.

measures 10-11:

‘Smush’ your hands down on a flat surface, as if they were a single lump of dough. This will tend to unify the two hands into a single mass. It is then a matter of sub-dividing this unity into two, virtual parts. A part that is more to the left and a part that is more to the right. you can shake your torso and shoulders about as a way of shifting emphasis between the left part of your mega-hand (chords written for the left hand) and the right part of your mega-hand (chords written for the right hand).


Don’t sense the connection between one chord or note and the next as a physical analog to the sound effect you are aiming for in the connection. Although it is OK if you consider that sensation, if it is in addition to  sensation coming through your ear, and both are present.

measure 21 – 24:

I took hold of the top of her torso and shifted it, shook it, back and forth, made circles with it, to stimulate the motions needed for each hand to make through this passage.

m24: last two chords:

As Ives does in the midst of last movement of the “Concord” Sonata, the most consonant chords (from a traditional point of view) are, given the harmonic milieu of, the most “dissonant” sounding.


Joe to JM: Today I have shaken you, yanked you,** expanded the size of your hand and especially of the thumb ***

* The uppercase ‘E’ in rEpand is meant to suggest the French accent ague .

* *I pushed from the left side of her left hand as she played an upward arpeggio. I pushed faster than her hands wanted to move, because only
in that way do the necessary muscle groups kick in and are forced to do what is necessary to play the arpeggio seamlessly.

*** when the thumb wants to move to further from the pinkie (as for octaves with J.M’s smaller sized hand), it is not the part of the thumb from the finger tip to the second knuckle that leads the motion of the rest of the thumb, but as if one glomped on the mound of flesh on the palm that is adjacent to the thumb’s second knuckle to its ‘third knuckle’ near the wrist. That mound of flesh is propelled outward and away from the rest of the palm. The tip comes along for the ride. Before trying this J.M. could, with some effort span an octave; now she was spanning a ninth.



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