SkooveLearn PianoDownload on the App Store
Install Now
Best classical piano songs

Choosing the best classical piano songs to play

Since the invention of the piano in the 16th century, the piano repertoire and incredible variation of different piano music has grown and grown. The piano can be heard in all different scenarios, playing solo piano or playing piano music in a band or transferring piano synthesizers directly into digital pianos. However, the original intention of the piano was for a solo pianist to perform famous classic piano songs or piano pieces, which at that time were not classical pieces, but just amazing beautiful music written by famous composers from long ago, such as Johann Sebastian Bach.

Start your musical journey
  • Fall in love with the music - Learn your favorite songs; whether they're classical, pop, jazz or film music, all at a level that suits you.
  • Enjoy interactive piano lessons - Learn with courses that help you master everything from music theory, chords, technique and more.
  • Get real-time feedback - Improve your practice with rich feedback as Skoove listens to your playing and highlights what went well and areas for improvement.
1 month free trial
No credit card details required
Start your piano journey now!

The importance of classical songs in a pianist’s repertoire

Beginners have a lot of questions and may even be wondering “what is classical music?”

The importance for a solo player to learn how to play piano using some of the classical pieces out there cannot be overstated. Once you have an understanding of this, this will give you the fundamental knowledge to play more famous classical piano pieces as well as other types of popular music.

Among the best piano songs, classical pieces are always a reference point. They aren’t included in piano courses just because they are beautiful pieces to listen to. Often they are emblematic of a certain style of classical piano, or that they were meant to practice a certain set of skills when played solo. 

Often, composers’ writing would encompass a specific style or technique, and though Ludwig Van Beethoven wrote many famous piano pieces that you may know by hearing them, the skills contained within them are the true benefit to learning classical piano as a contemporary pianist. 

Many famous classical music piano pieces were written by composers specifically to introduce a musical concept or encapsulate a mood.

What makes classical music classical?

Classical music is a catch-all term that we give to piano pieces we consider older, or written before the 20th century, but the word can encompass quite a lot more than this. A composer might have written in a classical style sometimes, like Sergei Rachmaninoff, even though he lived in the middle of the 20th century. Classical music has taken on its own meaning based on styles of playing.

Even someone not familiar with the technical side of music might be able to tell the difference between something written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Claude Debussy or Bach. 

All these composers’ styles are instantly recognizable, especially to a pianist who has studied music and composition. Among these composers you will find some of the most beautiful classical piano pieces ever written.

Most common types of piano pieces

The best classical piano songs can be categorized based on different criteria and stylistic information. 

For beginners, it may not be totally clear how to find solo piano pieces for new musicians, because you don’t know what a piano sonata is, or how to tell if you can play a song called, “Piano Concerto in A Flat Major”, because the title doesn’t tell you much. 

In fact, solo piano pieces written by composers such as Ludwig Van Beethoven did not start giving their compositions descriptive titles until much later, which is why so many pieces written in classical piano are written describing the different keyboard instruments, and describing what key it is in, such as “Suite for Organ in Bb Major”. It is not descriptive in the way that some would use to describe solo piano pieces today, so it is important to understand a few different terms explaining common types of best classical piano pieces

The piano sonata

These were written to be performed by a solo piano, on a stage with many different movements. This is called a “Piano Sonata” and this type of composition often features some of the most challenging pieces of piano music ever written. Traditionally these pieces have a first movement, a second movement, a third movement and a fourth movement.

The piano concerto

The piano concerto is a type of music not meant for solo piano, but instead the piano concerto is meant to be performed on stage with multiple other musicians, often a full orchestra (but not always). These pieces always have a first movement, a second movement, and a third movement.

Etudes 

Etudes, or studies, are designed as study material, often introducing a single specific concept, such as arpeggio variations, or any number of different piano techniques. This way, as classical pianists practice the original etude, they will be also learning a specific and sometimes unique skill. 

Take, for example, the Etude by Frederic Chopin, op. 25, no 11, sometimes called The Winter Winds. This was written to help develop stamina, dexterity, and accuracy among pianists.

This popular classical piano piece is unbelievably difficult to play for almost any pianist, but pay attention to the pattern in the melody. Listen to the melody in this song and try to identify where exactly the pattern repeats itself in the right hand, and you will understand why even beautiful piano pieces written as studies are still important to learn. 

This song is not merely a beautiful melody, it is an instruction manual to truly break down the techniques of your instrument, written not only to impress, but to instruct other pianists at the same time. 

If you are looking to play the easiest classical piano songs, start with more simple pieces than complex etudes.

The eras of classical piano pieces

The best classical songs piano players can learn may be broken down into a few eras before the 20th century. The answer to what defines classical music is not as simple as you may initially think.

Early Music or Medieval Era (500–1400)

This is before the piano was invented, but many of the songs and melodies written in this era would persist and be translated onto the piano at some point in the future.

Renaissance Era (1400–1600) 

Some of the best piano classical songs come from this era. Following the invention and popularization of the piano, many new forms of music making would be developed at this time combining instruments and finalizing what would become the Western European music system.

Baroque Era (1600–1750)

The Baroque Era is what a lot of people think of when they hear the term “classical” music.

Though during his lifetime Bach was not a famous or successful composer, or even a pianist of note, he wrote a book called The Well Tempered Clavier. 

The Well Tempered Clavier was an instruction manual of sorts for the piano, where he wrote a prelude and fugue in the style of the day, but in every possible key in order to demonstrate that it with this new “Equal Tempered” tuning system, a composer could write in B flat minor just as easily as E flat major, or C sharp minor. 

Bach became one of the greatest composers of western musicians of all time after his death, with his piano work still regularly performed, studied, and referenced.

Classical Era (1750–1820)

The Classical Era is not all classical music, it actually refers to a time period where some of the best classical piano songs were written. Following the renaissance, music would, through the help of great composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig Van Beethoven, become something for the masses to enjoy.

Composers were now writing opera and piano concertos that were aimed at everyday people, not just the elite aristocrats. Music at this time also shifted from being purely about the reverence for a higher power, but instead about the beauty of nature, self perseverance, and heroism as in the case of Beethoven especially.

Romantic Era (1810–1910)

The Romantic Era was a time of many famous composers, and perhaps most of the famous classical piano songs come from this era. This is in no small part to the great composers such as Robert Schumann, Erik Satie, Johannes Brahms, and many others. This was the era of pushing musical expression as far as you possibly could, loading each measure with the most music and difficult passages, writing a sonata that was almost impossible to play. 

Exploring the best classical piano songs for beginners

Often the best classical piano songs for beginners are the songs written not for small composition or beginner textbooks, they’re the songs that were written by real composers in the time that they lived, that just so happen to be simple to play. There is no reason that the music you learn as a budding pianist needs to sound simplistic. Some great songs are relatively straightforward. Here’s a list of incredible songs that are as pleasing to the ear as they are to play.

Musette – Bach

A simple melody written by Johann Sebastian Bach in the 18th Century. The counter melodies written in Bach’s music are constantly adding depth and layers to his music, and even the simplest performances can sound impressive.

Tips on playing the song

    • Identify the perfect 5th intervals in the left hand and hold them for the whole measure
    • Notice the pattern in the right hand descending in the same way for the first two measures
    • Notice that the rhythm in the third and fourth measures are exactly the same for the right hand and the left hand, move slowly together and try to work them as one muscle
    • Bach’s music can be difficult to hear the left hand voice of, because it is often very dense. Listen to each hand solo.  

      Go to the lesson

In The Hall of the Mountain King – Grieg 

This song is the ubiquitous anthem for evoking a sense of grandeur, power, and royalty. It is incredibly well known. Its simple march rhythm is mimicked and referenced by film and television composers constantly, and the song builds to a huge crescendo.

Tips on playing the song

      • Follow along with the bass line
      • Memorize the bass pattern first, it repeats quite a lot and this will help you to learn the song
      • Keep an eye out for the initial melody’s two sharps F# and C#
      • Thinking of a “marching” tempo may help you to get the rhythm right

    Go to the lesson

Für Elise – Beethoven

Perhaps one of the most famous classical piano pieces or simple piano songs ever written is Für Elise written by Beethoven. 

The story of this song tells us that though this composition is very famous today, Beethoven didn’t like it very much and left it in a drawer in his study after writing it. The two chord structure and impossible to miss chromatic pickup measure makes this an unforgettable tune.

Tips on playing the song

      • The iconic first section oscillates between two piano chords, A minor and E major
      • Für Elise is often a great beginner option due to its simplicity
      • You may wish to master the arpeggiated notes on left hand first, and then learn the right-hand melody
      • Watch out for the middle section as it moves very fast, and more chords are introduced

    Go to the lesson

Canon in D – Pachabel

This song written by Johann Pachelbel is synonymous with love and ceremony, often being performed in marriages. Canon in D revolves around a simple idea and can be performed just as easily by a single musician as it can be performed by an entire group of string players.

Tips on playing the song

      • A canon was a type of song written in this period, often performed by a group of singers where one person would start and then a measure later another come in
      • The song has a simple 4/4 time signature
      • The left hand plays a simple arpeggiated version of triad chords

Famous classical piano songs

The piano has been around for over four centuries and this means an incredible library of music is available to all of us.
There are of course different levels of music, and if you want to learn a famous classical piano song, and aren’t worried about difficulty, these could be a great place to start. All of these famous pieces also have considerable difficulty and require skill, and dedication to learn.

Clair de Lune – Debussy

If Für Elise is the most famous simple piano song in the world, Clair de Lune is definitely one of the most famous complicated songs. The combination of odd meters, contrasting right and left hand piano arpeggios, and large thematic changes make this a song that definitely takes some time to master.

Tips on playing the song

      • Be wary of the time signature, it is 6/8 and may be a challenge for beginners
      • Watch out for the pairs of thirds, and cross your fingers over when indicated
      • Only allow yourself to emote through the piece when you are comfortable with it
      • As this is one of the most popular classical piano songs, make sure you can perform it very well as it will be recognizable instantly to your audience
      • This song originally comes from a large piece that Debussy wrote entitled, “Suite Bergamasque”, but is commonly played as a standalone piece, so don’t worry about learning the whole thing

    Go to the lesson

The Entertainer – Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer is a song that is often discussed and used in the media, but rarely played correctly. The difficulty of this piece not only comes from the interpretation of the complex chromatic melody, but the real difficulty is the different emphasis of rhythms, polyrhythm, and syncopation.

Tips on playing the song

      • This song is written in the style called Ragtime.
      • Ragtime heavily relies on a mixture between major and minor piano keys
      • Ragtime also relies on syncopation, be careful to understand this and place the emphasis of beats on the off beat
      • Be sure to mark all the tied beats that go over the bar line
      • The chromatic leading tones have specific fingerings, do not skip them

Alla Turca – Mozart

Rondo Alla Turca by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is a song written to evoke the complex Turkish rhythms and melodic systems as Mozart interpreted them. 

He includes the melodic minor scale, and combinations of two different notes jumping up and moving in tandem, which can be extra tricky because a pianist needs to consider the fingerings for two fingers as a time, instead of a melody existing just as a single note.

Tips on playing the song

    • This song is written in a minor key, make sure to watch out for the descending sharps
    • The sharps in this key change the key signature (don’t worry about this, it’s supposed to be this way)
    • Be careful to play proper staccato articulation
    • Watch out for lots of groups of sixteenth notes, and get used to playing in succession
    • It’s a fast song, so learn it slowly before speeding up

Go to the lesson

Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven

The second song on this list written by Beethoven is Moonlight Sonata. This song features incredibly serious chord arpeggios in a minor key, and a chromatic descending bass line written in octaves. In order to play this and feel it correctly a pianist must have mastery of mood, chords, and expression.

Tips on playing the song

    • The song is in 12/8 time signature
    • Watch for the descending bass line and the chromatic key changes
    • The left hand is really the star of the show for this, with arpeggiating bass rhythms
    • The rhythm of this piece is important to play correctly, because it is very tricky. Try to go slowly and use your metronome to master the timing.

Go to the lesson

Nocturne in Eb Major – Chopin

The difficulty with performing some piano music is that they often include melodies written for singers or other instruments, which are then translated onto the piano.
Not so with this piece by Chopin, written by the true master of piano arrangement. When you master this song it will be as easy to play and as natural for your hands as walking, or breathing.

Tips on playing the song

  • A nocturne is a name for bedtime stories, so play this song sweetly
  • The song is in a slow 3/4 timing
  • The key of Eb major was said to be Chopin’s favorite key because of how well it fit in your hand, try and relax and play somewhat loosely
  • The melody for this song is incredibly beautiful and iconic so make sure you master your right-hand playing before performing it.

Go to the lesson

Easy classical piano songs for beginners

Finding easy classical piano songs for beginners is simple using a piano learning app.
This list above is full of them. A great place to start is In The Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg, followed by Für Elise by Beethoven. The best beginner classical piano songs will be simple for you to play, and easy to break down into small parts to practice individually. Stay away from Moonlight Sonata and Nocturne in Eb Major until you’ve got a good idea about how to use and play key signatures, and their relatives. Flats are not typically in easy classical piano songs.

Conclusion

Whether you’re just starting to play the piano or revisiting classical songs, these iconic tunes are among the most rewarding ways to play the piano and practice by yourself.
Playing a wide classical repertoire is easier than ever by using Skoove’s piano learning app, with built in metronome, hand separation and a gigantic library of songs to choose from. Start your free trial today!

Start free trial


Author of this blog post:

 

Alvin Shipp is a Multi-Instrumentalist Composer, Performer, Producer, and Educator from Portland, Oregon currently based in Berlin, Germany. He’s worked extensively in the USA and Germany, has released Over 15 Albums. He has been teaching upper-level students for over 15 years, and currently lives as a Freelance Composer, Mixing & Mastering Engineer and Teacher.