The Easiest Debussy Piano Pieces (And the Most Difficult)

In today’s episode of PianoTV, I want to discuss the easiest Debussy piano pieces, and the ones to avoid until you’re very skilled. Debussy’s music definitely leans in an advanced direction, so beginner and intermediate students won’t find much here.

However, if you’re getting into advanced piano music and you’ve been wanting to learn some Debussy but don’t know where to start, this should be helpful to you.

I’ll be using the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) for when I refer to “grades” – ABRSM is similar, it just doesn’t go as high. I’ll also make a few comments on the Henle rating system, since some of you find that helpful.

I like to use all three of these classification systems because not every Tchaikovsky tune is on the RCM syllabus, or the ABRSM syllabus, or on Henle’s website.

Easiest Debussy: Categories

I find it useful to divide Debussy’s music into distinct categories, which we’ll discuss in turn:

  • Children’s Corner
  • Preludes
  • Deux Arabesques
  • Suite Bergamasque
  • Estampes
  • Images
  • Pour le piano
  • Etudes
  • Miscellaneous piano pieces

Easiest Debussy: Children’s Corner

Children’s Corner (1906-1908) is Debussy’s easiest collection, suitable for early advanced players. Even though it’s called Children’s Corner, these pieces aren’t meant for children – rather, they’re meant to invoke the vibe of childhood.

The easiest of the collection is probably Le petit Negre, and is the one with the most unfortunate title (“The Little Negro”). This jazzy piece is like an easier version of Golliwog’s cakewalk.

Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum is very well-known and well-loved, and is full of good humor. Jimbo’s Lullaby was inspired by one of Debussy’s daughter’s toys (an elephant), and it’s like a musical bedtime story.

Golliwog’s Cakewalk is really cool and jazzy, and full of crazy rhythms and dramatic contrasts. It’s a log of fun!

The Snow is Dancing is one of my favorites, but is deceptively difficult – it takes a lot of control to convey the really quiet volumes and the 16th note “dancing snowflakes”.

Le petit Negre (AKA The Little Shepherd): RCM grade 8 (Henle 3/4)

Jimbo’s Lullaby: RCM grade 8 (Henle 4/5)

Golliwog’s Cakewalk: RCM grade 9 (Henle 5/6)

Serenade of the doll: RCM grade 10 (Henle 5/6)

Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum: RCM grade 10, ABRSM grade 8 (Henle 6)

The Snow Is Dancing: RCM grade 10 (Henle 6)

Easiest Debussy: Preludes, book 1 and 2

The first book of preludes is slightly easier than the second, since the second collection features Debussy’s more mature writing style. They’re both still quite the challenge – for advanced players only.

One of the easiest pieces in this collection is “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”, around a level 9.

Book 1

La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair): RCM grade 9, Henle 4/5

De pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow): RCM grade 10, Henle 4/5

Danseuses de Delphes (Dances of Delphi): RCM grade 10, Henle 5

Voiles: Henle 6

Minstrels: RCM grade 10, Henle 6

Les sons et les parfums: ABRSM DipABRSM, Henle 6

La Cathedrale engloutie (The Engulfed Cathedral): ABRSM DipABRSM, Henle 6

La serenade interrompue: RCM grade 10, Hene 6/7

Le vent dans la plaine: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Les collines d’Anacapri: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

La danse de Puck: ABRSM LRCT, Henle 7

Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7/8

Book 2

Canope: RCM grade 9, Henle 5/6

Feuilles mortes: RCM grade 10, Henle 6

Bruyeres (Heather): RCM grade 10, Henle 6

Brouillards: RCM grade 10, Henle 6/7

La puerta del Vino: ABRSM DipABRSM, Henle 6/7

General Lavine-eccentric: RCM grade 10, Henle 6/7

Hommage a S Pickwick, Esq: RCM grade 10, Henle 6/7

La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 6/7

Ondine: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Les tierces alternées: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7/8

Feux d’artifice: ABRSM LRSM, Henle 8/9

Easiest Debussy: Deux Arabesques

These two arabesques were among Debussy’s first piano compositions, and still remain among his most famous. The first arabesque is slightly easier than the second, but requires some tricky polyrhythm (three-against-two) playing. The second is similar to a scherzo, meaning it’s really fast and requires quite a bit of dexterity.

Arabesque no. 1 in E major: RCM grade 10 (Henle level 4)

Arabesque no. 2 in G major: RCM grade 10 (Henle level 4)

Suite Bergamasque

Suite Bergamasque is less well-known as a whole, but an individual movement within is very famous in the piano world – Clair de lune. The suite is meant to represent music from an old French court, and ranges from silly to deeply moving.

Everything in this collection is a grade 10 RCM level.

Clair de lune: RCM grade 10 (Henle 5)

Passepied: RCM grade 10 (Henle 6)

Menuet: RCM grade 10 (Henle 6)

Prelude: RCM grade 10 (Henle 7)

Estampes

The three movements of Estampes are awesome – the first movement has an Eastern flair, the second movement has a Spanish flair, and the third movement depicts a vicious rainstorm. However, despite the awesomeness of these pieces, they’re all very difficult at an RCM ARCT level (the level beyond grade 10).

La soiree dans Grenade (no 2): RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 6/7

Pagodes (no 1): RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Jardins sous la pluie (no 3): RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Easiest Debussy: Images 1 and 2

These six compositions were written in Debussy’s middle period, between 1901-1905. These pieces are beautiful, but very challenging – all come in at an RCM ARCT level.

Hommage a Rameau(no 2) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 6/7

Reflets dans l’eau (no 1) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7/8

Mouvement (no 3) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7/8

 

Cloches a travers les feuilles (no 1) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (no 2) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 7

Poissons d’or (no 3) – RCM ARCT, ABRSM LRSM, Henle 8

Pour le piano

Written in 1901, this piano suite has 3 movements. The first two movements (Prelude and Sarabande) are around a level 10 difficulty, but the final Toccata movement is much more challenging.

Like many higher-level Debussy pieces, a certain amount of musical maturity is required to pull off these pieces. Someone who’s just starting might be able recreate the notes, but there’s so much subtlety of shading and texture here – advanced Debussy is very easy to play very badly.

Sarabande: RCM grade 10, ARCT DipABRSM, Henle 5/6

Prelude: RCM ARCT, Henle 7

Toccata: RCM ARCT, Henle 8

Douze Etudes

We won’t go into depth on Debussy’s 12 etudes, because they’re all around the same level (RCM ARCT) and they’re all very challenging, suitable for quite advanced piano players.

Henle categorizes them between level 7/8 and 8/9. For reference, the highest level in Henle is 9.

Miscellaneous piano pieces

Danse Bohemienne (1881) – level 9, but doesn’t require the musical maturity of some later Debussy works. Henle 5/6

Reverie (1890) – this is one of the most accessible Debussy pieces, and it’s very beautiful. Debussy himself didn’t like it, but I think he’s crazy. This would be a good gateway piece to try before attempting Clair de lune. RCM grade 9, Henle 4/5

Page d’Album (Album Leaf) was composed in 1915. This 2-page work is probably Debussy’s easiest piano piece (or close to). Not only is it technically simpler than some of his other compositions, it’s also less musically complicated (straightforward rhythm, less intricate texture, etc). RCM grade 8.

Easiest Debussy Summary

Now I’m going to take the easiest pieces from each category we discussed, so if you’re just starting out you know where to look.

Page d’Album (Album Leaf): RCM grade 8

Le petit Negre (AKA The Little Shepherd): RCM grade 8 (Henle 3/4)

Jimbo’s Lullaby: RCM grade 8 (Henle 4/5)

La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair): RCM grade 9, Henle 4/5

Reverie: RCM grade 9, Henle 4/5

Arabesque no. 1 in E major: RCM grade 10 (Henle level 4)

Arabesque no. 2 in G major: RCM grade 10 (Henle level 4)

De pas sur la neige (Footsteps in the Snow): RCM grade 10, Henle 4/5

Danseuses de Delphes (Dances of Delphi): RCM grade 10, Henle 5

Clair de lune: RCM grade 10 (Henle 5)

 

 

 

 

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

Leave a Reply