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Want to Play a Beethoven Piano Sonata? Read this First!

Updated on January 31, 2011

Would you like to play a Beethoven piano sonata but don’t know if you have the required skills? Well, even if you are not advanced enough to get through the whole thing, why not pick out a section of your favourite sonata and see what you can do with it? There is no reason why you should refrain from the pleasure of playing great piano music, just because your technique isn’t quite up to the mark. Here are a few ideas about where you might start with three of the most popular Beethoven piano sonatas: “Appassionata”, “Pathétique” and “Moonlight”.


This monument of western music should be immensely interesting to anyone to play, even if it’s only going to be a few notes. The place to start is the second movement, Andante con moto, which is composed in the form of a theme with variations. The first sixteen measures form the theme. Then there are three variations of increasing difficulty, before the theme returns (slightly altered, but not enough to be called a fourth variation). The theme should be entirely playable, even with quite limited skills. When you’ve mastered it, go on to the next variation and so on if you feel up for it.


The second movement could be an option here as well (or rather, if you don’t want to aim too high to begin with, the first 8 or 16 measures or so). But perhaps you would like to have a go at the dramatic first movement. Then I would suggest that you set your goal at mastering the first page (10 measures). This is pure Beethoven, with a lot of drama, beauty and passion. When you reach the double barline, instead of going on into the Allegro, just repeat the first c minor chord to complete the cadenza and give your Beethoven fragment a stylish and proper ending.

Moonlight Sonata

It’s very possible that you’ve already tried the first movement of this the most popular of all Beethoven piano sonatas. It’s an obvious place to start for less advanced pianists. But I would like to recommend the light and charming Allegretto as well, a perfect contrast to the brooding broken chords of the first movement that we all have listened to a million times. If you choose a tempo that’s right for you, I am sure you can make your way through this movement beautifully. It will be an excellent exercise for developing a host of different skills, such as proper voicing, octave playing, beautiful legato and sparkling staccato.

Remember that these are only a few of the possible routes into the wonderful world of the Beethoven piano sonatas. Only remember the main principle – that you are allowed to try out whatever you feel like – and I am sure you’ll find a lot of other little gems, just lying there waiting for you.

Feel free to add to the list of playable masterpieces in the comments section below!


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      WildIris 6 years ago

      My thirteen-year-old daughter is working on the Pathétique. Her hands are small, but I so enjoy listening to this sonata as compared to Beethoven's sonata #1. I had the pleasure of seeing Valentina Lisitsa (video #1 above)play the Pathétique. Inspirational!

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      Anne 7 years ago

      One idea for playing the Beethoven Sonatas if your techniques just isn't up to it is to play them very slowly, gradually increasing speed. It is pretty easy to play them slowly, and that way you can enjoy the harmonies, meolodies, and sonorities.

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      Marc P 7 years ago

      Thanks for this post. I learn in china..and teachers here are not likely to teach you even the first movement of the 'moonlight'...unless you are good enough to learn the second. This is why Beethoven is left for students who have over 10 years practice (3 more to go ! Sic). How ...pathetique ! Anyway, based on yr comments, i'll sneak in..and try the Moonlight by night ! thanks

    • Piano Street profile image

      Piano Street 7 years ago from Stockholm, Sweden

      Dear AJ, we concentrate on piano music, but of course you can approach other works by Beethoven in exactly the same way. I don't know what instrument you play, but I am sure you can find things to try out in the other instrumental sonatas or in the symhonies. Good luck!

    • AJHargrove profile image

      AJHargrove 7 years ago from USA

      Do you have good Beethoven examples for other instruments as well?

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks, for the interesting and exciting suggestions. I,ll have to listen to your videos later on. Baremboim is one of my favourite pianists, and conductors, and he has a great love for Beethoven. A real treat surely.