Saint Saens - The Elephant


In its original version, as this piece reaches its conclusion in a performance, there is often a spontaneous applause for the bass player - the Elephant! - who has 'clumped' his or her way through the piece with a sense of pomposity and humour.

Above all it is fun. It is benign. We must feel a certain tenderness and affection for the elephant.

He may be a large and cumbersome beast but he is a lovable and affectionate one. Someone to be looked up to - literally as well as metaphorically - as a curious beast of huge proportions and, in the animal kingdom, of gentleness and considerable intelligence.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This is what one particular young pupil thinks about this piece.

Always listen to what your pupils have to say. Notice the little things they do and say and the body language which they use to express their feelings about what they are doing. Notice and react to their attention span.

Clues are abundant. Words are only a part of their mode of communication.

This is likely to appeal almost exclusively to the younger age group.

Style & Tempo

Humour and imagination abound.

Treat the notes on the page as the starting point from which to explore and create something which brings a smile to the face.....

Phrasing & Articulation

There are indications in the score, but imagination is needed too.

Listen to the two rather different versions of the melody here.

(i) rather dry and uninteresting but in time!

(ii) using an agogic accent on the downbeats to bars 6 and 8

Tone & Texture

The most important point to bear in mind is the need to balance LH and RH with sensitivity.

The forte tone is best made up by creating a very projected (but not hard) LH quality and playing the RH no louder than mp or p.

A bold statement with lots of strong RH tone in bars 1 - 4 is fine, but be sure to drop the dynamic at bar 5.


It would be a mistake to think of technique just in terms of running around the keyboard at high speed.

Crisp chord playing and assured jumping around (RH chords) is very pianistic.


Establishing the right fingering from the outset is the most efficient use of time.

Correcting unhelpful fingering subsequently takes at least twice as long.

The LH poses few difficulties, thought RH chord fingerings need consideration in places, sometimes related to hand size.

Teaching Strategies

Fun, fun fun!

Children are under continual pressure to do well and are far more tested today than ever before.

Work out strategies for making the learning process just so much fun.

Fun = extra concentration, easily gained!

Practice Tips

Getting quicker is likely to be a potential problem, so devise plenty of strategies for rhythmic slow practice and awareness.


Anything can go wrong!

We often predict with good certainty but there will always be one student who does something out of the ordinary. This often 'throws' us off course.

Often it can be about what the student is thinking about at a certain point.

Once attention is focused on the wrong thing, each time that bit comes along again the focus is wrong. Correcting it takes thought and time to unravel, so be patient and always ask what the student is thinking about there.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will have humour and a confident control of the tempo which will have flexibility about it. Balance between hands will be sensitive.

A good performance will have character too although it may be a little rigid and perhaps shy to stray out of its rhythmic confines too much.

A sound performance will be rhythmic but may be a bit clumsy in its grasp of tone and balance, leaving the listener with a hankering for more finesse and a wish that it wasn't perhaps quite so serious!

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