Clair de Lune: How to Create Beautiful Melodies

Piano Lessons / how to play piano / Clair de Lune: How to Create Beautiful Melodies

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to tell you how to create beautiful melodies. And what melody is more beautiful than Clair de Lune by Debussy? I’m going to show you how to approach this piece, but this will apply to almost any melodic music you play. There are countless techniques you can employ on Clair de Lune, but today I’m going to show you something I learned from many years of living with my wife, Florence Estrin, who is a magnificent flutist. The way she uses the air in order to capture the phrase and to have a melodic line that carries the listener is something that I’ve literally lived with for decades. I want to share it with you because it translates to piano playing.

Having experience with a wind instrument, singing, or even a bowed instrument can be enlightening for a pianist.

After all, you’re playing a percussion instrument and trying to get a melodic line is a great challenge. You can better understand what’s involved playing a melody on an instrument that’s capable of a sustained line. So I’m going to play Clair de Lune for you now, just the beginning part, and then I’m going to explain what I’m doing to create this beautiful singing quality to the melody.

Watch the video to hear the demonstration!

Clair de Lune is such a gorgeous piece. Being in rhythm on this is vital to capturing the mood. The worst mistake you can make with Clair de Lune is to take too slow a tempo and not holding the long notes long enough. The rhythm is not what you might think it is. If you count it, try to count with the very slow dotted quarter notes as the beat since the beat is divided into three eighth notes most of the time, but sometimes Debussy writes two eighth notes to the dotted quarter note. What I’m going to talk about today is creating a flowing line. It’s not just about giving more energy to higher notes, just like you would naturally do with your breath when you’re singing or playing a wind instrument. It’s also about elongating those top notes just a little bit. It’s like how you use a little bit more air on higher notes if you were playing it on the flute and giving a little bit more time on those notes. I hate to use the word time because it really isn’t a rhythmic technique as much as it is filling up the sound, akin to the air on a wind instrument or when singing.

Without doing this, you don’t get the same feeling of serenity.

Take a little bit more time with those long notes. It’s very subtle because if it’s done too much, it would create rhythmic distortion, which would ruin the melodic line. But instead, it’s visualizing in your mind the sound that would be created if this was played on a flute or was an aria sung by a great singer to get that flowing line. You want to fill up those high notes, like you would naturally do if you sang such a melody.

Try this with all the melodic music you play!

I want you to try this, and not just with Clair de Lune. It’s not just about getting louder towards the higher notes, but making sure you ride over the crest of the phrase. Enjoy those high notes a little bit longer so that they can live on and give a nice expansiveness to your musical line. Let me know in the comments how this resonates with you! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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Debussy: Clair De Lune – Performed by Robert Estrin, Pianist
Debussy: Clair de Lune Edited with fingering by Robert Estrin

6 thoughts on “Clair de Lune: How to Create Beautiful Melodies”


  1. Hi Robert,
    I am sitting on my chair in my garden…Debussy…Thank you for the helpful tip.
    I do not play flute, but understand the breath control .A violin cannot produce what a flute can do, so the flute was the best choice to explain what Debussy’s music has to bring forward .Another thought: what would the Gershwin Prelude no 2 in C# minor , the 12 bar blues one… righthand interval be like without leaning into the top note , highest , be It lends towards Debussy,,, I hope you feel the same !

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