a beginner is learning to play moonlight sonata

Is Moonlight Sonata Hard to Play? – A Breakdown of Each Movement

April 14, 2022 Selin Gökova 6 min read No Comments

You’re definitely in for a challenge if you want to learn Moonlight Sonata on the piano. The complete movement of Moonlight Sonata is often considered one of the most complex piano compositions. Ludwig Van Beethoven completed the arrangement for ‘Mondscheinsonate’ or Moonlight Sonata in 1801, and to this day, it stirs an emotion that makes you want to learn the masterpiece. But, the question that is often asked is if Moonlight Sonata is hard to play.

Moonlight Sonata is not so easy to play, and it holds such depths of emotions that beginners can never replicate. The piece requires a lot of hand practice and prompt timing. Moonlight Sonata is a grade 8 piece, making intermediate or professional-level pianists better at learning this. The difficulty lies because the sonata has three movements, each requiring something different.

While the first movement focuses on separating the RH accompaniment from the melody, the second one requires you to play all the right keys at the right time. Lastly, the third movement needs to have a monitored velocity while playing it.

Let’s also be clear about why the moonlight sonata has three movements and is called a sonata. In classical times, a musical composition was quite lengthy and would usually be divided into smaller segments called movements. Moonlight sonata is 201 measures long or roughly 15 minutes, split into three movements. Each movement compliments the other in making the work unique.

And ‘sonata’ derives from the Latin word ‘sonare,’ which means ‘to sound.’ Sonata’s started gaining popularity in the early 1700s, and a new form of music appeared called the sonata form, which consisted of three segments. Later, multiple sonatas gained popularity.

The movements of Moonlight Sonata also have varying ABRSM levels; for instance, the first movement is a level 6, the second is a level 7, and the third movement is a level 8. So, there’s a unique skill set needed to ace each movement.

By the end of this article, you’ll know roughly how long it’ll take you to learn all the movements. Just a spoiler, you might even go deaf learning the complete piece if you don’t practice properly.

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How Long Does It Take to Learn Moonlight Sonata?

Advanced pianists believe that it can easily take a beginner pianist up to 6 years to learn the entire Moonlight Sonata. This is mainly because of how complex the third movement is. However, if you’re an intermediate player, then it might just take you a year or so since you’d be able to relax into the keys more easily.

But that’s not all. To learn the moonlight sonata, you will need a tutor that is great at piano, and if you remain committed to learning, then it might just take you three years. You’ll find that the third movement is the hardest to get by, and this is because it is a long and complicated piece.

The complete sections of Moonlight Sonata are considered a grade 8 ABRSM composition. Some other pieces on level 8 include Debussy’s Claire de Lune. Find out if Claire De Lune is hard and how long it can take you to learn.

How Hard Is Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement?

Every pianist describes the moonlight sonata’s third movement as one with many extreme technical difficulties. Since it’s a grade 8 in terms of difficulty, there’s some amount of experience that any player would need to have to learn to play the third movement.

But it’s important to note that beginners can’t play this straight away. This movement is more suitable for professional players that have been practicing for 4 to 5 years.

You’re good to go once you know these:

  • Chromatic Scales
  • Playing the Left hand Solo

The third movement is at grade 8 on the ABRSM levels, and this is the diploma level, so you can imagine how difficult it would be to play the third movement. However, certain tricks can help you play better.

You can try to play one hand more often than the other. And, yes pianists can master the skill of being ambidextrous. Learn more about if pianists are ambidextrous.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement?

To perfect and be able to play the moonlight sonata’s third movement, you would need at least 4 years of prior experience and dedication to learning the movement. If you are an intermediate player, it could take you around 2 to 3 years to learn the movement and do justice to it while playing.

The unique fact about this composition is that you’ll always discover something new to learn every time you play it.

This is why pianists often begin with the 2nd or 1st movements since they are less complex or lengthy and more accessible to learn than the 3rd movement.

How Hard Is Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement?

Many times, pianists are just looking forward to learning the moonlight sonata’s 1st movement. The difficulty you’ll face in this movement is going to be how you interpret it. You need to get the notes and the mood right from the beginning, and the crescendos and decrescendos will challenge your level of skill.

Now it’s considered a grade 6-7, but at the same time, it’s also labeled as a diploma level. In the beginning, the tempo is not that fast, so you might not struggle to play it, but the key C that has to be played is a bit more complicated.

The tricky part is creating an excellent musical performance from the notes you play. You need the proper training and be highly aware while playing to perfect it.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement?

The first movement of Moonlight Sonata is relatively simpler for pianists to learn. However, each player is different, and for intermediate players who have prior experience or practice more frequently, it would take around 3-5 months time to learn the 1st movement.

However, if you do not have any prior experience, it could take you up to a year to learn the 1st movement. Although, if there is someone that’s considered a diploma-level player, they’d be able to play the movement much more quickly.

How Hard Is Moonlight Sonata 2nd Movement?

The second movement of Moonlight Sonata is the easiest out of the three movements. The movement is known for its delicacy and for being a happier melody too. You just have to make sure that there is balance and harmony between the staccatos and the phrases.

The first movement is a lot more consistent, whereas the second one is divided into multiple short sections, and you have to be extra careful in getting the timings right.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Moonlight Sonata 2nd Movement?

Since movement 2 is considered the easiest part of the entire composition, it’s safe to say that it would only take a few weeks to learn the piece for an expert pianist. But if you’re new and are just starting, then learning the tempo and how to balance the keys could easily push up to 5 to 6 months.

So it comes down to how skilled you are, whether you are dedicated or not, and the amount of time you’re putting into practicing and learning the movement.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to set a specific time frame in which you can learn how to play all movements because every player is different. For example, you might practice every day of the week, while someone else would only practice a couple of days in a month.

I’m sure you can tell that Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven is so unique and famous for a reason now. It’s truly a masterpiece that requires a lot of focus and experience. Maybe the fascination is also tied to Beethoven’s condition, how he started experiencing deafness when this piece was created.

However, if you want to learn the moonlight sonata and all three of its movements to the best of your ability, you must sacrifice your time. Since every player is different and has varying experience levels, the time taken to learn moonlight sonata can vary.

If you are a beginner, then 4-5 years is the rough estimate that it would take you to learn this composition. But at the same time, if you’re an intermediate or an expert pianist, it could take you 6-24 months to master Moonlight Sonata.

Selin Gökova

Selin Gökova is a neo-classical composer and pianist from Istanbul, Turkey. Holding an ABRSM certificate on piano performance, she's been playing the piano and composing for ten years. Wandering Tunes is her side project where she combines her two passions: writing and music.

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Hi, my name is Selin. Playing the piano and composing are my biggest passions. I've founded this blog to share everything I've learned throughout the years about piano playing and learning. I hope you stick around! Read More

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