Learning The Sonatas (now updated with instruction videos)


As you may have noticed, I have not written posts since quite some time. This is because I have diligently been working on a video channel. This video channel will include the following:

– Videos of performances and instruction videos on both the music and the technical/pianistic aspects of the sonatas. These videos are approximately an hour per movement, sometimes (as in larger works as the Appassionata) almost two hours.

– Series on piano technique, with a different technical aspect in every video. There are six episodes per series, I just finished filming the first one, which includes:

How to sit at the piano
Arm and hand placement
How to move the fingers
About the thumb
Playing a scale (1)
Playing a scale (2)

– Performances, documentaries and also instruction on other pieces  than the Beethoven sonatas, for example The Goldberg Diaries going through my way to learn Bach’s masterpiece.

If you are interested knowing when this channel will launch, just fill in your e-mail and I will let you know! I am working hard on this, and is very excited about it for sure!

All best,



I have started to make instruction videos for piano playing in general, and I am also starting to go through the Beethoven Sonatas in longer videos where I go through the music in terms of background, interpretation and technique. The first one is on the first movement of the sonata Op. 2 No. 1, and it is 114 minutes. For the more advanced ones, I have used three HD cameras plus camera people in a nice concert hall, and I also record the sound separately to make it good.

As it is a lot of work, these videos cost a few dollars but I think it’s not too bad since you would spend many times that amount on one single piano lesson, as opposed to less than ten bucks on these videos. The shorter videos are free, as well as the performance videos.

Here is the trailer for first one, on the Sonata Op. 2 No. 1

Link to “On Sonata Op. 2 No. 1 Part one”

First movement on the Pastoral Sonata:

Link to “Web seminar/lesson on Pastoral Sonata 1st movement”

On how to use the wrist appropriately in piano playing:

Link to “Role of the wrist”

Free videos:

Instruction on how to sit at the piano and positioning of the hand:

Second part of piano instruction videos: In this video, I go through how to use your arm weight properly:

Third part of piano instruction videos: In this video, I go through how the fingers should move properly.

It was suggested to me that I write something about how I learned the 32 sonatas, and Christina asked if there are exercises needed to play such different pieces as the sonatas are. It’s a good question. I’ll try to start to write about learning the sonatas, and as long as comments, opinions and questions keep coming, I’ll write more and more.

Someone commented on the question of which sonata to learn when, and it’s a good one. I will quote it here:

For non-professionals, which sonata should one tackle first, technique permitting? Schirmer’s Bülow-Lebert edition of the sonatas offers a suggested list in order of difficulty or at least ‘a succession in which their study may profitably be taken up’. For those who haven’t seen it, it goes like this:

1st grade – Op. 49, 2; Op. 49, 1; Op. 79; Op. 14, 1 & 2; Op. 2, 1.
2nd grade – Op. 10, 1; Op. 13; Op. 10, 3; Op.10, 2; Op. 28; Op. 2, 3; Op. 26; Op. 31, 3; Op. 22; Op. 7.
3rd grade – Op. 27, 2; Op. 27, 1; Op. 31, 2; Op. 2, 2; Op. 54; Op. 78; Op. 90; Op. 81a; Op. 31, 1; Op. 53; Op. 57; Op. 101; Op. 111; Op. 110; Op. 109; Op. 106.

I wonder how some in the list depend for their positioning critically on the metronome markings adopted? For instance students often start with Op 2, 1 (they want a taste of the impassioned Beethoven) but how many can play those trills in the 1st movement at half-note = 112? Lighter keyboards in Beethoven’s day notwithstanding, the piece doesn’t sound right to me if played at much less than that. Anyway thank you for having highlighted this issue in your notes on learning the piece! Most reassuring for some of us!

Some of those choices I don’t understand. I think, for example, op. 2:1 is WAY more difficult than op. 10:1. In the second grade, I think op. 7 and op. 2:3 are just so much more difficult techically than many of the pieces in the third group.

And yes, many students or amateurs like the passion and drama of the first sonata, but it is a difficult one. The last movement, played in tempo, is very awkward to play.

What I would say is “to have patience means you get somewhere faster” in the learning of the sonatas, and start with the op. 49, then perhaps play some movements of the more dramatic ones.

To play something that is much too hard can develop tensions and actually injure the hands as well as creating troubles with the neck etc.


The parameters which decides learning something well or…less good, I guess, are quite simple and practical. We want to use the minimum of time to learn a maximum amount of music. Right?

The learning process of the musical content is quite hard to define, and you can’t really use a “method” to get to understand the music as much as possible. However, since learning any piece requires a certain amount of physical, and therefore also mental, automation, one has to see to that the learning process is such that the automation does a minimum of damage (though sometimes automation can be a good thing) to the imagination.

My way of learning was in many ways a result of the fact that I had to play a full Beethoven-recital in Lund (Sweden) once a year. The normal program consisted of four new sonatas. As I was busy doing other things during the year, I normally had quite a short time to bring them all to life at the same time.

This happened to be a blessing. I would say to students, and their teachers: instead of playing one Beethoven sonata per semester, take two month and work with at least three different ones at the same time instead. They feed off each other, both musically and technically, and you will learn the sonatas faster this way.


The first thing to do is to asses if the pieces are too difficult technically. You’ll have to take away the extreme sonatas such as Hammarklavier and Appassionata from this thinking, though.

I would say that if more than 40% of the piece would be something that you would have to put an extra amount of practicing into…then play more scales and other pieces because 1) it’s going to take too long to learn the sonata 2) the constant drilling of passages will probably have a negative effect on your musical imagination for the piece.

Sorry to sound boring, but this is why we practice technique. To not have to think about it later.

Now, by being able to play 60% “right away” I mean that: as soon as the brain knows what notes there are and tells the fingers, that means you can play it. Naturally, it takes a while for the signal system to work up reflexes for the passages, but that should be enough. One can instantly start to work on things such as touch and articulation.

Once opening the score, start memorizing immediately. It is not fun, it’s actually very tedious, but it will force you to analyze the material, it will make you memorize it without using any muscle memory (and that possibility will not come back!) which in turn will be your real, so-called “back-up memory” when the stress in a performance might make your brain’s signals to the fingers go haywire.

I use a personal way of memorizing, trying to find as many patterns as possible. I always try to learn the exposition and recapitulation side by side, to take note of the differences and memorize them right away.

I would say this is the longest and most boring work to do, but it will pay off in the future, both for the learning process and in performance.

45 thoughts on “Learning The Sonatas (now updated with instruction videos)

  1. I don’t play the piano, but I am an instrumentalist. Memorizing music is the hardest thing for me. Taking music theory classes have helped a lot when recognizing patterns in music. What other suggestions would you have for memorizing music?

    Also, in what amount of time did it take you to memorize all of the sonatas?

  2. At the end of the day, I think every performer is anguished over memorization. You are absolutely right in that theory is a great help, perhaps he best one.

    I try to organize my memorization when I learn the piece. As I understand it, the brain works best if it gets smaller segments repeated in a short time (like one day) than trying to cover the whole piece with less repeating during one day. So I set a pretty short part as a goal to memorize per day, maybe one page even. Then I know, that the next day, I will have forgotten some of it. So before I go to next part, I re-memorize the part from yesterday, and I notice that I get it a LOT quicker now…and I try to do this every day, always start the day with re-memorizing the old stuff.

    I also try to play the pieces in my head now and then, on the subway, or just before falling asleep etc. If you travel, sit with the score…

    Those are some things, I’m sure more will pop up. I normally memorized and learned four sonatas in six weeks. But that was a little tight sometimes…

  3. Thanks for the memorization tips. I always need help on that now – since I don’t have as much time to practice as I used to. Lostinidlewonder suggested copy/enlarging pieces and putting them on the wall around the house, too – to look at when you’re trying to remember what comes next. It might encourage photographic memory – although i don’t think that will ever happen to me no matter what I do. I find myself relying pretty much on my ‘guesstimates’ of where notes are in the piano in relation to what I hear in my head. If I fudge something it is because ‘i have become Beethoven.’ Who will know? Well, the judges will know. But, who is judging me at this point? I should say gladly that I hope I never am juried again and simply end up playing for people who haven’t a clue if I played the right notes or made up my own ending, skipped a page, doubled a section, or invented a new chord.

    Don’t you think that relaxing helps a lot? I mean, if you are thinking about ‘every note must be perfect’ – it’s different than just saying ‘I’ll play with my heart.’

    As far as exercises for Beethoven – if one really wants them – who would be better than Czerny. Mr. Spectacles, as I call him. Yes. A couple of hours on that – and you’ll be able to not only play Beethoven but that dratted composer Weber, too. I’m sort of half and half on Czerny. I mean, it’s supposed to sound ‘musical’ and has a lot of technical help – but w0w – you can waste a lot of time that way. Especially, since time is money nowdays.

  4. Was looking at the Opus 2 #3 and a word suddenly came into my head. Flute. Flute music. This is flute music. Not having played the flute for over 20 years ( i actually quit piano for a year in 7th grade to play flute – but became too lightheaded and went back to piano) anyways – you hear all the upper register at the beginning of this sonata. Measures 14-15-16 – high high notes. I think this sonata should be played very light, fast, and brilliant. I mean, who can play thirds, anyways – heavy?

  5. That is a new idea to me – copying the score and putting it around the house! Why not?

    And yes, not being too nervous about it helps a LOT. But it is easier said than done, of course. I was being interviewed together with Ola Salo some months ago, and he said something that I thought was great: that people will just be happily entertained when you mess up a little…and he compared it with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. We all love Donald Duck because he messes up. “Who would like to read a story with only Mickey Mouse in it?”


  6. You’re great. The first ‘real’ person who doesn’t get all ‘uppity’ if someone agrees or disagrees. To just have a cool conversation. You know – I think the world of Neeme Jarvi. When he filled in for another prominent conductor for the Philadelphia Orchestra, I was mad at the ticket sales people because I hadn’t heard of him and didn’t know who he was. Then, within seconds of watching him and his unusual style of conducting – I became entranced. He was as good and as unique as Ricardo Muti – of which I had actually never seen either – but heard on recordings. Two different styles – but uniquely appealling on different terms.

    Jarvi can mold the music at will within seconds. But, he has this unusual style of capturing the beat within very rounded and fluid movmenets. He isn’t a dictator – but he’s tight. I always liked that tightness – but never saw it with someone so entirely relaxed. I think he does a little wiggle now and again -and practically looked like he did a complete turn around at one point. Like he needed a little exercise on stage and just took it – when the orchestra was going full tilt and didn’t need a beat on every single beat of the measure.

    Neeme Jarvi, imo, is a great. GREAT. Just great! And, very much impressed my understanding of what conducting can be. He is into the ‘world of sound.’

  7. Nobody has ever told me before to memorize the score BEFORE I could play it … I have always thought I’ve to teach my hands to make the right movements before I try to get in my head/spine, so to speak. Ha, this sounds fun, thanks a lot for the advice!

    I adore what you wrote above: “the constant drilling of passages will probably have a negative effect on your musical imagination for the piece” I have destroyed sooo many pieces in this way!

    About Ola’s comment on messing up … I don’t quite agree, maybe you know that already. It is about messing up in the right way. As a good example – the release concert of “An Arkeology” in Malmö this year. Wonderful event. Per’s piano chair was squeking. There was this old-fashioned microphone which had a too short wire … Ola had to crawl (literally) up to the stage, looked like he was recently unpacked from a suitcase and made a terrible “speech”. And all this was so charming and nice, creating a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

    But if the pianist (Per) had played like a beginner that night, it would not have been that charming. Ola is a guy who can stumble on stage and mess up his clothes, he can even get hoarse – the audience will love it anyway, but he must not lose the specific spark and joy that is his true characteristic as a performer. And Per may have a bad piano and make some errors when he plays, but he must never fail to give the music a good interpretation. Per is supposed to be a great musician and Ola is supposed to be a charismatic performer, and if you can keep this “contract” with the audience we are just happy to see you “mess up” in other ways.

    So what we love about Donald Duck is not just his way of messing up, but also his marvellous tantrums – and the point is that he is very good at them. If Mickey Mouse messes up and get a tantrum, on the other hand, it would be just embarrassing.

    1. I think there is a difference – I do not mean at all that one should be all relaxed and accept bad performances, but I think if you WORRY about it too much you will play less well. The best performances I had was when I could find that perfect level of non-worry but without getting into the comfortzone when you loose focus.

  8. I grew up in Alaska, so this is a common experience. If you don’t have something – make due with something else (ie too short wire). However, here near Philly – it’s winner takes all. If one wastes another’s time – yes, people are looking at their watches – somebody will up and leave. Well, at least that’s Carnegie hall. You should see their faces. It’s a half an hour before the scowls leave. And, that’s for a famous pianist. They’re like counting beats, notes, and whatever! What for? I don’t know?

    Pogorelich played and it was beautiful Scarlatti played to perfection – but he does put in a lot of his own personality and thoughts and interpretations. Not so much ‘it has to be played this way….’ We have modern instruments – so my argument is why not use them?

    One of Beethoven’s sonatas (Opus 10 #3) has an obvious place that if Beethoven had had a bigger keyboard – the rh would have the octaves doubled. It just sounds wierd any other way to me. Like someone cut off the notes at the top. If you played it just like the music says – it would be like ‘who’s retarded now?’

  9. I guess you make the best performances when you feel that the audience consists of friends. I don’t know what it is like when they feel like “enemies” (I hope nobody has got very much experience of that!) but an indifferent audience must be a nightmare too.
    And I also think that you can “make friends” with your audience while you perform; you don’t have to know each other in person before. It is a special talent that an artist either seem to have – or not have. I don’t know you, Susan, but I know that Per has got it, and so does Ola Salo.
    I also suppose that a foundation for this talent is that you as an artist are not afraid of your audience, that is, that you are not afraid of messing things up from time to time.

    When I’m in the audience, watching an artist I really like, I feel connected to that person. I think “that could be me” – but of course it is a better version of me in that moment, someone who plays/sings/performs much better than I can. Sort of expressing a dream of MINE. That is why live performances can be so magical, even though the quality nearly always is better in a recording … but there might be a sense that the musician is creating this moment together with the audience, that we are all part of it although most of us are quiet … and in such mood you can, of course, allow yourself to be relaxed and funny, even silly, and yet totally focused. I suppose that is what you refer to as your “best performances”, Per. Right?

    Sorry for slipping out of context. Too bad Beethoven is dead, because I would loved to have HIS opinion about this topic as well!

  10. You can be sure, if i could, I’d come and hear Per and Ola Salo. Me? I play in old folks homes. The only problem is the quality of pianos there. I hate it when there is a sticky note or the pedal doesn’t work. This reminds me of a church I also played in in Santa Barbara which was actually meeting in an old mission. The piano was so broken down that it was not only out of tune, had sticky notes, but it had twelve pedals. I was thinking – ‘ok, which one do i choose?’

    At least at home I can practice – and yes – audiences matter. My cat is my best audience. She is better than the children. They come in and ask me questions like I am watching TV or something. My concentration is actually best when noone is around. How’s that? Put a studied musician next to me – and I’m like that pianist who got panic attacks and never went on stage again. He’s listed in Arnold Schoenburg’s book ‘The Great Pianists’ – now, who was it? I can’t remember.

    In between students – I like to practice and just play for myself. Someday, though – I want to play a piano concerto for an audience of highschool kids or something and actually remember the whole thing (without the score). This is my goal. To increase my memory to where it was before the panic attacks started. I think it was at the hour mark of my first bachelor’s recital. Nearing the end of Lizst’s ballade in B minor. surprisingly, my instincts kicked in over ‘what chord am i playing now?’ Not sure that was good or not – but at the time i was too worried about what the audience thought or didn’t think.

    Now, I really do believe that one can make mistakes and be completely alright on stage. No hyperventilation, coughing attacks, turning bright red, putting one hand up and feeling around for the score, blinding lights, mirror image of hands on the piano distracting. Believe me, I’ve had all the problems one could have on stage. One time, my leg wouldn’t stop shaking and because both hands were on the piano – i couldn’t put a hand down to stop the leg from shaking.

    I am simply not scared of my audiences now. In fact, if one were to yell out ‘your playing *’s’ – i’d simply say ‘ok. you come up and play it.’ You see, i think music is all about being oneself. If you are yourself – nobody can be you. You have a unique way of looking at the world and it is completely correct according to the way you see it – balanced of course with a bit of rational thought. And, i’ve never really played for hostile audiences anyways. Usually, they are small and consist of mothers and fathers and children or a group of people eating dinner. My husband and I like to play and sing – and combine the two instead of having an ‘all piano’ recital. That way – i can get a break here and there. And, i rarely play without music because my practice time is limited. Susan

  11. btw, at home I have a Kawaii studio upright that has lasted years and years, stayed in tune well, is slightly stiff (still), and has been an excellent practice piano. Having a good instrument to practice on really does help. But, should one come across a bad piano, one can adapt as best as one can. For instance, if I knew now what I dealt with then – I’d learn as much as i could about piano tuning. I might have been able to tune up the piano at the church ahead of time – put a little oil in the right places to make the pedals not squeaky, etc. I used to rely so much on other people – but typically nobody really cares about your problems as much as you do. And, you don’t want a lot of distractions when you are performing.

    Benches can be another distraction. Who has not played on a bench that wiggles from side to side as you put your weight on one or the other side. Or…a bench that is one leg short of falling down. Creaking as though it is going to collapse into a pile of timbers. I mean, if one has a good piano – should one be forced to play on a bench that looks much older? I say, bring out a chair. Give yourself a chance.

    About the Opus 10 #3 – i hope this isn’t a set up – or, i’d have just called myself stupid.

    1. Of course, we’ll get to the op.10 no. 3, and I know what passage you are talking about. There are some more passages like this, some of them are not too easy to decide whether to go with the score or think that Beethoven would have continued upwards if he had the notes on the piano. The op. 10 No. 3 one is pretty clear, though, for me too.

      The matter of being able to adjust to different pianos is HUGE. I will get back to that in the post, because it’s so important!

  12. I have no idea what you are talking about when you mention op.10 no.3 and I don´t play the piano but still I love to read your comments folk. So please , go on with it! Now and then I pick up something new! To take part of this makes my life more joyful anyhow.

    1. That is great to hear Marianne. Just as I wrote on the first page, if there is something that you don’t get at first, just keep on reading! The op. 10 no. 3 sonata has a passage that is adjusted so that it could be played on Beethoven’s piano. Later, he keyboard expanded, and one has no real need to adjust it anymore. It’s OK to play it either way, though…

  13. The very first sonata I learned was the Opus 79 in G. Interestingly, the Verlag edition calls it a Sonatina or Sonatine – even though it was composed in 1809 and Beethoven was well into his Sonata series. At the time I learned this Sonatine, I was thinking that Beethoven was a hard rocker. What I mean by that is that when he said ‘forte’ he meant FORTE. Now, I realize it’s all in context. You don’t have to sound like you’re stomping down the hall in the first movement and about to shoot the photocopy person or watch all the papers come out of the xerox machine as Jane Fonda did in ‘Nine to Five’ – in the Vivace. Vivace doesn’t mean you have to lose control.

    I used to take everything to extremes. The tempos, the dynamics, everything. Now, i DO think of Mozart sometimes when I play Beethoven. Not too much, because I do think the pianos were sturdier in Beethoven’s time and you could get more sound out of them. But, pounding takes away any sense of tone in a piano. Basically, what I was told by my last teacher is never play so loud (esp. in the bass) that you hear a buzz. The buzz takes all the ‘goodness’ out of the tone.

  14. Sorry to talk so much! I do want to hear what you say, Per, about dealing and adjusting to different pianos. It’s really difficult if you are playing someone else’s piano and not sure they really want you to tune their piano. And, yet, who wants to play on an untuned piano? I say, sneak in there at some point and at least tune the treble. That’s where it can get dismally abysmal.

    OK. Here’s where I stand on tuning. I like mean tuned pianos for Mozart – but can deal with a so-so bass in Beethoven. Why? Because Mozart, imo, is ‘thinner’ than Beethoven. You can get away with a lot in Beethoven because he makes the music so utterly nonchalant in the bass and people get distracted by the alberti bass being thicker and bassier. Mozart – unless everything is finely tuned – you have a complete disaster.

    But, if you have a terrible treble with Beethoven – just like with Mozart – the runs go nowhere. Who wants to make a run up to a high note that is flat? It’s worse than announcing – ‘i am a mediocre pianist.’ Why not just tune the thing when nobody is looking and give yourself a chance at stardom.

    1. I will get it to it, promise. I have a video where this comes up in a Q&A at a festival too…if only the days had more hours!

  15. Speaking of finely tuned treble pianos – I started looking at the Leichte Sonata, too, because as you know the Sonatas are not grouped in Verlag according to their compose date – but rather their publishing date (i think). The Opus 49 #1 was composed in 1795/98 which is around the time of the first three sonatas. I always wondered why i really found it easy and light and enjoyable to ‘warm up’ on and just play around with.

    You think more about tone with this Leichte Sonata because it is still following some of the Mozart trends that Beethoven was taking in from Haydn. He was showing him step-by-step the different methods that Mozart used – but allowed Beethoven to just adapt them and make them his own. Gradually, in the later Sonatas you see less and less of the ‘turns’ at the beginning of motives (as with measure/s 14 and 15). This was a bit of CPE and Mozart there – but gradually it gives way to stopping any attempt to be ‘refined’ for the sake of appearances. He becomes more interested in feelings. His own feelings. Solid. Basic. Representing as many people as he can (brotherhood of man). He doesn’t want to represent only the aristocracy but also the common man.

  16. Another give-away that the Leicht Sonatas are so early composed is that in the second one (Opus 49 #2) one movement is entitled ‘Tempo di Menuetto.’ Now minuets became freaky to Beethoven soon after – and he replaced them quickly with Scherzos.

  17. Question: ‘Why are the Leicht Sonatas not called Sonatine’s too?’ I wonder this especially because they only have two movements each. This seems more on the Sonatine side – and yet they are called Sonatas. Perhaps the description Leicht Sonata was Beethoven’s own idea?

  18. However, in the Opus 31 #3 there is a ‘minuetto and trio’ and this was composed 1801. Still, it doesn’t go on and on like Mozart repetitious minuets – but moves into more of a theme right away. A long phrased line of four bars. I’m no minuet expert, but with the repeat he puts in here – he’s obviously telling Mozart that if he’d had any sense he’d have saved himself time and effort and just put in the repeat signs when he got to the end of the first refrain and went to the second.

  19. Here’s some information from BBC on the Opus 79 and it’s companion pieces:

    Presto alla tedesca

    This Sonata, together with its predecessor Op. 78 and the G minor Fantasy, Op. 77, formed a package of new works that Beethoven promised to the London-based publisher, pianist and composer Muzio Clementi in 1807. Beethoven had long admired the Italian-born musician and had even been influenced by him in his early piano sonatas, and it took a while for him to pluck up the courage to meet him. But there was an instant rapport, and Clementi agreed to take on a large body of Beethoven’s music for the British market, commissioning the three piano works for a sum of £60.

    Op. 79 was published as a Sonatine or “Sonate facile”, though as usual there’s sophistication behind the straightforward front. The first movement is in the style of a German folk dance popular at the time, effectively a predecessor of the waltz. It is followed by a gentle barcarolle-style Andante in G minor and an ear-catching rondo finale.

  20. PS In my first message after Marianne’s – i meant to say ‘published’ and not ‘composed’ in 1809. The works are given in order of publish date – but this was apparently given to the publisher as early as 1801.

    It is a good first Sonata and works the basic technique necessary to obtain speed and accuracy as well as understanding of beat/timing. That it was commissioned by Clementi is interesting – as one can almost ‘feel’ the inspiration using slight imitation of that publisher/composers own style.

  21. For those who speculate, as I do, about the real relationship between Clementi and Beethoven, it does make one wonder ‘why the delay – and why 1809 as a publish date?’ Wasn’t 1809 when Beethoven was having some personal difficulties. Did Clementi finally acquiese to helping him after some kind of jealousies. And, why does this particular fantasy seem a bit suspect to me? I mean, it looks a little half-baked from the standpoint of being composed soley by Beethoven. I could be wrong – but it just seems bland on this first page compared to what Beethoven did with the concertos (which later, btw, Clementi had access to the fourth concerto and didn’t publish that for a few years either!).

    Was Clementi, at this point in 1809 attempting to help Beethoven, finally – make some money? Did he have true compassion for his situation health-wise and mentally? Did he use some kind of alternative method by adding on this g minor fantasy to give himself some posterity? Some say this was a piece Beethoven composed to guide Archduke Rudolph in his piano lessons. But, the simplicity of the opening is somehow less than divine. Not that Beethoven has to be divine – but it seems more like Clementi than Beethoven to me. Does anyone have any insight into this?

  22. For non-professionals, which sonata should one tackle first, technique permitting? Schirmer’s Bülow-Lebert edition of the sonatas offers a suggested list in order of difficulty or at least ‘a succession in which their study may profitably be taken up’. For those who haven’t seen it, it goes like this:

    1st grade – Op. 49, 2; Op. 49, 1; Op. 79; Op. 14, 1 & 2; Op. 2, 1.
    2nd grade – Op. 10, 1; Op. 13; Op. 10, 3; Op.10, 2; Op. 28; Op. 2, 3; Op. 26; Op. 31, 3; Op. 22; Op. 7.
    3rd grade – Op. 27, 2; Op. 27, 1; Op. 31, 2; Op. 2, 2; Op. 54; Op. 78; Op. 90; Op. 81a; Op. 31, 1; Op. 53; Op. 57; Op. 101; Op. 111; Op. 110; Op. 109; Op. 106.

    I wonder how some in the list depend for their positioning critically on the metronome markings adopted? For instance students often start with Op 2, 1 (they want a taste of the impassioned Beethoven) but how many can play those trills in the 1st movement at half-note = 112? Lighter keyboards in Beethoven’s day notwithstanding, the piece doesn’t sound right to me if played at much less than that. Anyway thank you for having highlighted this issue in your notes on learning the piece! Most reassuring for some of us!

  23. I would not put op. 7 as “second grade” or “medium easy” – I would definitely put it as one of the hardest ones. Is the Moonlight really more difficult? Of course not!

  24. I am working on a pedaling technique for the Beethoven Sonatas. It involves sometimes raising the pedal halfway, then right down again. Does anyone else do this?

    I am also finding that when you magically find the right tempo for a movement everything else falls in place. Do others agee?

  25. Please keep writing . I am a new learner . I got what I was looking for , the correct place to begin with . I have no teacher as such to teach me . Thanks ..

  26. Hello,

    I only started playing the piano just over a year ago at the age of 25; I had to teach myself to read music, and as best i can music theory. I have managed to learn 2 sonatas – No 14 & No 30 – if not mastered closer than I ever dreamt possible.
    I’ve sacrificed a social life in order to acheive this, and I don’t regret it. The reason I chose these pieces; well, for No. 14 it was made available to me easily; for No 30 simply, I heard it performed and fell in love with it.

    I don’t have a method for learning, other than a painstaking repetitive determination – it’s been frustrating beyond belief, learning whole passages only to forget them and have to relearn them, which has resulted in a 5 month battle with the three movements of No. 30, Now, I am preparing my mind for the “appassionata” before I dive head first into it.

    I wish I had started young, alas I fear I will never be great technically, but I will continue to devour as much of the Beethoven sonata cycle as I can – I may go insane first, as I feel my brain melting some days whilst juggling pieces by other composers on top of the sonatas – and if the “appasionata”, doesn’t finish me the “hammerklavier” will…


  27. Hello
    Thank you for your guidance.
    Actually I’m going to go to Juilliard university, and play one of Beethoven Sonatas and I tried the first one but I’m not comfortable with it, and whatever it take I did but I can’t play that, I believe that is too hard for me.
    Which sonatas do you suggest me?
    I have played just Moonlight 1st mov from Beethoven’s works.
    Best regards

  28. hello…i have a question about one of the sonatas…it’s no.17…i’ve actually been playing the piano for 4.5 years but in my piano exam the jury told me that i have the technique of a pianist playing for about 6 years…and for that exam i played mozart’s sonata no 5 in g major,chopin’s valse no3 in a minor and bach’s Bb major prelude and fugue of the first book of the well-tempered klavier…except for some czerny etudes these are the hardest pieces i have yet played…do you think it is too soon for me to start the storm(no.17) sonata of Beethoven?how about the appasionata?well i’m quite sure that the appasionata is quite harder but i’d like to know your opinion on this as well…oh and i’m 17 by the way…

  29. I also started with opus 2 no 1 and now I progress to opus 2 no 2. But -i only play part of them. I find your recommendation here above very useful and will try it. -I will keep you inform of my progression. Blessings

  30. Excellent information.
    I recently finished Moonlight Sonata 1st mv and I am now working on “perfecting” it as it is a deceivingly easy piece because to play it correctly you need to work on your technique more than you might think.
    Before that I learned Fur Elise…so as my new piece I was going to do No.3 2nd movement until I was told that is too much of a jump.
    So then I considered No.1 but now reading your article, I am thinking on going with No19 (Op49) 1st and 2nd movement.
    Now I see you recommend working on at least 3 at a time. In fact, I have been usually working on 2 as it seems to let me brain learn faster than focusing on one over and over. As a side warmpup..wishful thinking piece I play part of Moonlight Sonata 3rd movement as it is my long time dream to play it good.
    So, is it ok to select Op49 1 and 2 as two of the 3 pieces you recommend to work with and add one more to that?

  31. so logical, but yet nobody told me this and i m ashamed i haven t think of it myself. memorise it as early as you can, this is the only way to be sure you re not using muscle memory. best advice i ve got for years. thank you for sharing, you literally made me a better pianist.

  32. Magnificent site. Plenty of helpful information here.
    I’m sending it to several pals ans also sharing in delicious.
    And certainly, thank you to your sweat!

  33. So would you agree with the order for level of difficulty other than the one you specifically mentioned? I want to learn one that would be labeled as late intermediate to more advanced.

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