Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Use the Pedal in Debussy's "The Little Shepherd"

An easy approach to using the pedal in Debussy's repertoire

In this video, Robert approaches Debussy's "The Little Shepherd" from Children's Corner, by answering a simple question: "How can you achieve expressiveness in single notes on the piano?"

Released on July 1, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I'm Robert Estrin, and this is with a very special show from a viewer question about Debussy's "Little Shepherd" from the "Children's Corner" suite. This is one of my favorite pieces in the world. The poetic simplicity is just not to be believed.

Now, the challenge is the piano, compared to other instruments, doesn't have nearly the expressiveness on one single note. Or does it? How can you achieve expressiveness on single notes on the piano? That really should be the title of this video. I'm going to share some secrets with you today.

If I were to play the opening theme which is just a single line with no pedal at all, this is how it would sound.

Indeed, you don't need pedal for that. But, the pedal can enhance the note. The ways in which pedal enhances the note depends upon when you depress the pedal. For example, the very first note I played without pedal. There is just the sonority of the piano, pure and simple.

If I were to depress the pedal before I played the note, you'd get kind of an echoey sound, kind of a boom after the initial attack. However, if you're striving for a really sustained tone, you want to depress the pedal after the initial attack to help get a round sustained tone instead of that kind of big bulbous beginning and then the decay. This helps to make it more linear instead of the sharp attack and then the quick decay.

I know these are subtle differences. Hopefully, you have good speakers or headphones so you can hear.

Now, listen to the context of the whole first theme played utilizing the pedal. I will also depress the soft pedal, the una corda, at the end just to get another color.

I hope you could hear the subtle difference that the pedal imparts. Listen to it again with no pedal at all.

It's a little bit more lush, like seasonings in a great dish. That's what pedal can do for your music.

I hope this has been interesting for you here at I'm Robert Estrin. Thanks for joining me.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on July 2, 2015 @2:32 am PST
hi! my old piano is about 35 years old, has been standing for a while idle it is out of tune dramatically, and some keys do not play (I mean the key moves but no sound is produced. how does this sound? do you think it can be put into action again, or it should be just sold as scrap? thank you!
Robert - host, on July 2, 2015 @11:19 am PST
Sometimes work can cost more than the value of the piano. It's hard to say without specific information about the piano. You are welcome to email me at
Benedito on July 1, 2015 @8:35 pm PST
Thank you very much Robert.
Stephen Labash on July 1, 2015 @2:34 pm PST
beat 4 of measure 3 shows a hairpin crescendo from mf to p. Is this a contradiction?
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on March 6, 2019 @4:50 am PST
It only makes sense to me, Stephen, if the crescendo is from the grace note to the held note.
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