Classical music is, well, classic. Many beginning pianists dream of someday being able to play Fur Elise or Mozart’s Variations on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Once they start to see the complexity of the pieces, though, beginners can sometimes feel discouraged and decide to give up classical music altogether. It does not have to be this way! Often times, by taking time to study the underlying patterns classical composers used we can unlock the joy of being able to play classical piano music. Furthermore, learning some easy classical piano pieces can improve technique and assist with learning many other genres as so much of today’s music uses classical music patterns as its foundation. With so many composers and styles to explore, where should a pianist begin? Below is a list of eight easy classical piano pieces with melodies even beginners can start learning.
Satie’s Gymnopédie, No. 1
This beautiful piece by Eric Satie is featured in numerous films and TV shows. What makes this an ideal classical piano piece for beginners to start with is its relatively short length, about three minutes long, and its repeating left-hand chord pattern. Start by learning the right-hand melody. When you are ready to learn the left-hand, first practice the low notes in the first beat of each measure to help you see the pattern. Then study the chords that fall on the second beat of each measure. When you are ready to practice with your hands together, a good intermediary step is to play only the first beat of the left-hand while playing the right-hand melody. If you encounter a left-hand chord that is too large to play with one hand, see if you can use the right hand to help you play the top note of the chord. Here is a video of some beautiful paintings you can view while listening to a recording of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D
One of the most recognizable classical pieces to learn is Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It is often played at special events, such as weddings, and its chord progression is featured in many popular songs from today. Canon in D was originally composed for strings but has been transcribed for piano. The piece features eight chords that repeat in the left-hand, while the right-hand starts with a simple, pleasing melody and then increases in complexity as the piece progresses. If you are struggling to play with your hands together in a passage, remember that the left-hand is still based on those first eight notes and you can play just those individual notes while you are building confidence in playing with your hands together. Each time the melody begins again in the right-hand, compare it to the first time the right-hand began playing to see the similarities and differences. This will help make it easier to process the fast passages that appear later in the piece. Here is one simplified arrangement you might enjoy learning.
Chopin’s Prelude No. 7 in A Major
If you are looking for a short classical piano piece, Frédéric Chopin’s Prelude No. 7 in A Major is perfect. It blends beautiful harmonies and a lilting melody to create a sense of contentment and suspending time. While the harmonies are intricate, the left-hand uses a similar style to Satie’s piece, mentioned above, in that you can study just the first beat of each measure of the left-hand to help you see the pattern. There are four chords to learn, which are then repeated a second time. When playing hands together, there are a few places where the hands overlap. Depending on your hand size and shape, you may decide to roll a chord by playing the notes from the bottom to the top, creating a harp-like effect. Or you can redistribute notes between the hands so it feels more comfortable. Here is a recording of the famous pianist, Arthur Rubinstein, playing this piece.
Schubert’s Ave Maria
Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria was originally composed as a vocal solo, accompanied by piano, and is often played at special events, like weddings and funerals. This beautiful classical piano piece has a very peaceful, soothing sound. You can often hear this performed as a duet between piano and cello, piano and violin, or piano and voice. If you choose to learn a duet version, the pianist plays a series of repeating arpeggios throughout. There are piano solo transcriptions, as well. This link shows an example of a simplified version for piano only: https://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0098361. Regardless of the version you choose to learn, when playing repeating arpeggios it is a good idea to pivot the hand to reach the upper notes in these arpeggios to reduce tension. Here is a video showing a pianist accompanying a cellist. Listen for the repeating chord pattern throughout.
Grieg’s Morning Mood from Peer Gynt Op. 13
When considering easy classical piano pieces, Romantic composer Edvard Grieg’s Morning Mood from Peer Gynt Op.13 is a good choice because of its use of patterns. The theme is meant to evoke the rising of the sun for the fourth act of Henrik Ibsen’s play of the same name. The left-hand features two rolling chords, while the right-hand consists of a steady succession of notes going down and then up. Each time the melody repeats, it might move to an octave higher or change just one note at the end of the phrase. Here is a video showing a simplified version for a solo pianist.
Debussy’s Clair du Lune
The first section of Claude Debussy’s timeless Clair de Lune can work as an excellent classical piece to start learning. The piece has an ethereal quality and is mostly played very softly, or pianissimo. It has been used in several movies and thus is a popular choice when wanting to learn an easy classical piano piece. The original piece is for advanced pianists, but the beginning theme can be adapted, as in versions such as this one published by Alfred Music (https://www.alfred.com/clair-de-lune/p/00-12891/) or this version by Piano Pronto (https://pianopronto.com/sheet-music/clair-de-lune-easy-piano/.) The video below shows three different simplified versions available for purchase at PianoPronto.com.
Beethoven’s Ode to Joy
For easy classical piano pieces, one need look no further than Ludwig Van Beethoven’s immediately recognizable theme from Ode to Joy. The chord structure is simple, given that you can play just three types of chords to accompany the main theme. The right-hand melody consists of quarter notes played over a span of five notes, which means that the piano fingering for this piece is intuitive and easy to remember. Here is one example of how the theme can be simplified.
Bach – Minuet in G Major, BWV Anh 114
Minuet in G Major is an ideal piece for the aspiring piano player. This piece can be quickly memorized as it has a lot of repetition. Its use of five-note scales throughout the right-hand makes it intuitive to learn. If you compare and study just the first note of each measure, it can help you train your right-hand where it needs to move during the piece. Here is a video showing how the piece is played on the piano.
By studying the patterns found in classical pieces such as those listed above, you will be increasing your ability to see patterns in other types of music, too. Your ability to play scales and arpeggios will improve. In addition, these will be pieces you can perform at any special occasion and will captivate your audience.
To make learning classical music even easier, use the Tonara music education app to help you achieve your musical potential. Talk to your teacher about how you can get connected on Tonara to help you track your progress and share your journey with other students.