The first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata is a goal that many of my piano students have, especially the adult beginners.The piano grade system is often used as a benchmark for determining how standard it is.

So what would the grade be?.A player concerned only with playing the notes correctly would be able to play Beethoven's first movement of the Moonlight Sonata around grade 6 level.

I will explain why it is grade 6-level and diploma-level, as well as how long beginner students need to learn the first movement of Moonlight Sonata:

Why the Notes of Moonlight Sonata First Movement are Grade 6

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In Moonlight Sonata there is a famous opening

There is no grade syllabus for this movement of Moonlight Sonata.Considering only playing all the notes correctly, the standard required would be about grade 6.

Overall, the tempo is slow, and there are often only one or two static chords per bar from the left hand.

The key signature of this movement (C sharp minor) is problematic, and there are several accidentals (additional sharps or flats) scattered throughout it.Nevertheless, the adagio sostenuto tempo is easy enough for the listener to think through them without too much stress.

Consider a second movement of Beethoven's piano Sonata in C, WoO 51 - part of the ABRSM 2009-2010 piano syllabus set for grade 6.

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Set for ABRSM grade 6: bars 16-17 of Beethoven's Sonata in C, WoO 51, 2nd movement

You can see that this similar movement, intended for Grade 6, uses the right hand triplet pattern from Moonlight Sonata.The tempo is also Adagio, similar to the Adagio Sostenuto of the moonlight sonata.

Why the First Movement of Moonlight Sonata is really Diploma Level

Being able to play all the right notes is one thing; however, to perform this movement on a musical level, we require a higher level of musical training and awareness.

Both the ATCL and ARSM Piano Performance diplomas (at the time of writing) include the Moonlight Sonata as the whole sonata, not just the first movement.Although the other movements are technically more challenging, the first movement is also considered diploma-level repertoire for many reasons.

It has to do with the voicing in the right hand; the melody line is mainly playing with the fourth and fifth fingers (notoriously weak fingertips for nearly all of us), while the remaining thumb, second finger, and third finger play arpeggios simultaneously:

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AKA bars 16-18.You can hear the right hand's weaker fingers playing the tune

The weaker fingers of the hand produce a melody louder than the arpeggio accompaniment, while simultaneously making it legato.A practice session of many hours is necessary to develop the fingers' intricate control.

Second, keeping the triplet quavers going continuously is challenging.Due to the fact that they never pause in the middle until the last two bars, any change in the pulse is really noticeable.Rubato is a bit limited in this movement; you are essentially on a triplet quaver treadmill from the beginning.

A third reason that this movement is really tougher than grade 6 standard is the need to control the left hand.The tone needs to be controlled, even, and the left-hand octaves may need to be played quietly.Because they are so low in pitch, and doubled up, there is a risk that the right hand melody will be overwhelmed.

An intermediate player might be able to play the left-hand octaves with a lot of tension but still get close to the desired sound.

How Long does it take Beginners to learn Moonlight Sonata 1st Movement on Piano?

All that being said, it is often those who are relatively new to the piano who are keen to learn this piece, and they should be supported in doing so.Students often wonder how long it takes to learn this piece.

When does it take?.Piano students will take varying amounts of time to master the first movement of Moonlight Sonata, based both on prior experience as well as how much practice they do every week.

It is okay to take a day off after doing your practice sessions - they are not required to be consecutive!.Do not forget, however, that regular practice brings the best results, no matter how short the amount of time you spend practicing.

Practice session no.Bars/measures to practicePractice right hand, left hand, or both together
11 to 5Right
21 to 5Left, recap right, both
35 to 15Right
45 to 15Left, recap right, both
51 to 15Both
615 to 23Right
723 to 31Right
815 to 31Left
915 to 31Recap right, recap left, both
101 to 31Both
1132 to 38Right
1238 to 42Right
1332 to 42Left, recap right, both
1442 to 51Right
1542 to 51Left
1642 to 51Both
1751 to 60Right
1851 to 60Left
1951 to 60Both
201 to 60Both
2160 to the endRight
2260 to the endLeft
2360 to the endRecap right, recap left, both
241 to the endBoth

Similar works to Moonlight Sonata

It is possible that you might also enjoy Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata in C minor Opus 13 if you like the first movement of Moonlight Sonata.In terms of difficulty, the notes themselves seem to be around grade 6 standard, but to play it well, you need to possess a more advanced understanding of music.

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Sonata Pathétique by Beethoven

In addition to being an Adagio, this movement is also similar in length to our Moonlight Sonata movement.Instead of the four sharps in the key signature, there are four flats.The pulse is also close to being continuous, like the continuous triplets of the Moonlight Sonata.

Pathétique's most similar passages compared to the Moonlight Sonata movement are those in which the right hand carries both the melody in the top line and the triplet accompaniment in the middle line, just as in the Moonlight Sonata movement.

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Pathétique Sonata 2nd movement: right-hand melody and triplet accompaniment.

The Pathétique movement still has a major key in spite of all these similarities.Nevertheless, it is a longing, sorrowful piece, not too dissimilar from the Moonlight Sonata.Take a listen: