"Just Being At the Piano", authorsden, Beethoven, Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, Classical era, classissima, classissima.com, Creative Fresno, El Cerrito California, El Cerrito piano studio, Fresno California, mind body connection, MTAC Baroque Festival, Music Teachers Asssociation of California, New York City High School of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano practicing, piano student, piano teacher, piano teaching repertoire, piano technique, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, Pianostreet.com, pianoworld, pianoworld.com, publishers marketplace, publishersmarketplace.com, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, Steinway and Sons, Steinway grand piano, Steinway piano, teaching piano scales, teaching scales, technique, Theory, video performances, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

Piano Instruction: Teaching Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, Movement 1 (VIDEO)

Beethoven didn’t attach “Moonlight” to this first movement of his very popular C# minor Sonata. (Music critics often invented these tags that stuck over centuries) The composer, himself, said his opening was like a fantasy, “quasi una fantasia,” and he took particular care to compose his Adagio Sustenuto movement in alla breve, which meant that each measure should be played in two, not four. (Think of two groups of triplets, as taking up the space of one beat, and then another pair of triplets comprising the second beat)

How I approach the composition when learning it from the ground up:

Start by playing every chord in the key of C# minor using the Harmonic Form (raise B to B#)

Listen for the quality of each chord: Major, Minor, Augmented, Diminished

Identify the Neapolitan chord in this Key:
Lower the second degree by a half step to D, and build a Major Chord on it. (D Major, D F# A)

Practice playing the Neapolitan (D F# A) to the Dominant (G# B# D#) to tonic, (C# E G#)

Invert these chords for smoother, easier voice leading between them. A characteristic of Beethoven’s first movement, is the smooth passage of broken chords from one to another though chord inversions.

Layered Learning: (There are more practice steps indicated here than in the video)

1)Isolate and block out chords for each triplet from the beginning to the end of piece. You can use pedal. (GOOD FINGERING IS A MUST!) Use a supple wrist, and play with a nice flow from chord to chord. Think in big groups of TWO right from the start.

Try to name the chords and their function, whether Major, minor, or diminished, etc. and if, tonic, Sub Dominant, Dominant etc.

Look for SECONDARY DOMINANTS where there are MODULATIONS to other keys besides C# minor. Identify the KEY CHANGES and how they occurred. (Notice the voice leading between chords–what notes remain the same–which ones move away–and then come back or not, etc)

2) Isolate the Bass line, and think again of underlying groups of TWO beats to each measure.

3) Play the bass line (Left Hand) and the block chords above (Right Hand)

4) Isolate the Melody (This can be tricky since fingering has to synchronize well with the alto voice below with the broken chords)

6) Play the soprano line with the bass line.

7) Play the soprano line with block chords in the alto voice (Create a nice balance–with melody resonating over chords)

8) Play the bass, alto chords, soprano line all together (Be aware of voice balance–ring out the melody)

8) Finally Play All Parts as written. Think again in groups of TWO for each measure. (Balance awareness, once again, between soprano, alto and bass)

BACK TEMPO is always a good idea. Gradually bring the movement into tempo when ready. A piece ripens with time.


Various esteemed pianists, perform this movement at different tempi.
Check Murray Perahia, Wilhelm Kempff, Vladimir Horowitz, Daniel Barenboim as reference on You Tube.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.