Brahms - The Sandman


Brahms - The Sandman is set for the ABRSM Grade 2 piano exam (2011-12).

It is thought that Brahms arranged this folk tune for the children of his friends, Clara and Robert Schumann. The Sandman is a folklore character who is said to sprinkle sand in the eyes of children to make them go to sleep!

Pupil Match & Suitability

Younger children especially will enjoy the lyrical qualities and gentle nature of this piece.

It may not be the best choice for older children, although if sensitivity is an aspect being developed, then it will be a good choice.

It demands good chord playing and the ability to handle different textures and parts.

Style & Tempo

It has a singing style and the mood needs to be suitably lyrical and linear in its feel.

Undue crotchet emphasis and any suggestion of accentuation will not be welcome !

Phrasing & Articulation

Hairpins are indicated in the score and this follows, naturally, the melodic flow.

Think about the importance of longer note values and listen to the version as it is sung (see the tab in background).

Tone & Texture

Making this into a beautiful performance relies a lot on creating a nice singing RH tone supported by a much gentler LH accompaniment.

Listen to the two different versions here. First a rather unsubtle version where the LH is far too loud and the second which has a much nicer balance between hands.


There are two main aspects of piano technique here:

1/ playing neatly with chords together

2/ achieving evenness of tone

3/ good balance between hands


Fairly straightforward.

Smaller hands will need to play the RH chords (bar 9 & 10) most probably with a only 4th and 5th fingers at the top. To use a 3rd finger in bar 9 on the C is likely to cause uneven tone. Better get it even than to worry too much about lack of legato.


Whilst at this level pedalling is not necessary, its subtle inclusion could help to warm the textural sound.

Begin just by using it on longer cadence notes (e.g. bar 13 and bar 16).

It is best not to worry about its inclusion elsewhere since the number of passing notes are likely to cause blurring.

If you have a good student who is capable of managing a legato pedalling to cover the inevitable gaps between crotchet RH chords in bars 9 & 10, then this would be possible. However it is not a priority.

Teaching Strategies

Work on the musical aspects first. This way your student will know what they are listening out for in their practice.

Spend plenty of time working also on the LH detail, since a well sustained LH does help to convey the musical story well.

Practice Tips

Practise slowly - especially when more complex coordination involves thinking ahead !

Know where and which fingers to lift in bars 3 & 7.


The kinds of things which go wrong in performance can often be to do with forgetting where you are within the music.

This is especially true when it involves two lines which are the same, as here in lines 1 & 2. 'Getting lost' in performance can often happen.

The answer is to practise the performance and to remind yourself after line one where you are and then again after line two.

Practise going into the new material of line 3 from the end of line 2, and be sure (if playing mostly from memory and watching the hands rather than eyes on the notation) that your student knows where they are on the page when, and if they happen to look up.

Final Performance

Brahms - The Sandman is set for the ABRSM Grade 2 piano exam (2011-12).

An excellent performance of this piece will expressively characterise the tranquil music in a gentle tone and in flowing phrasing. The word 'dolce' springs to mind here - imagine a lullaby being sung to these words:

The flowers have long been sleeping beneath the pale moonshine
Their tiny heads are nodding upon their stalks so fine
The rosetree bends her dreaming head and shakes her petals red
Slumber, slumber my own sweet baby dear.
(from the Peters Edition songbook)

A good performance will be fluent and the tone will be gentle enough to reflect the character of the music, with some grading to shape the phrasing. The RH lines will usually be legato although this may not be so well controlled as in an excellent performance.

A sound performance will be mainly secure in notes and rhythms, with reliable continuity. The pace will be suitably moderate and the sound, whilst not necessarily singing in tone, will be fairly quiet. Subtle dynamic contrasts will be probably be needed.

^ Top