Our music school once had a student who had never touched a piano keyboard before insist on learning Beethoven’s famous “Moonlight Sonata” and nothing else. Surprisingly, she DID learn this very difficult piece! Of course this is a rare situation. Mmost students enrolled in beginning piano lessons begin with the easiest music.
The question “what are the easiest and hardest piano pieces to play?” is a little complicated to answer.
Firstly, it’s important to think about how piano pieces are rated by difficulty. The truth is that while there are many different systems of rating piano piece levels out there, there is no “official” rating system across the world.
Most beginning piano students start with what we call a “piano method book.” In these books, basic concepts are introduced one at a time, and these very simple pieces allow the student to explore those concepts. These books are usually organized by levels: preparatory/primer, level 1, level 2, and so on. Sometimes, piano method books will include very simplified adaptations or transcriptions of famous classical music. These adaptations or transcriptions are made progressively harder as the book levels go up.
At some point, in advanced beginner levels, we start seeing original traditional piano works that the editors chose and decided to put in a specific order. One music book will have certain pieces and another may have completely different ones, in a different order.
Original piano works written by top tier composers are not officially rated by their difficulty because (wait for it…) they are all equally difficult! On a professional level of playing, having more and faster notes does not mean that the piece is harder to perform. The opposite may actually be true: there are some slow movements of Mozart’s piano sonatas, for example, that don’t have too many notes but are insanely hard to play because of the nuances of the phrasing, articulation, dynamics, and a thousand other things that contrive a good performance.
We promised you some examples, but first, we need to specify that the easiest piano piece is an original work written by a great composer and would require the least amount of time and effort to simply learn and play the notes. All other aspects of playing the piano are omitted in this scenario.
John Cage’s “4’33” is the easiest piano piece, but it’s not what you would expect, because the pianist doesn’t even have to play to perform this piece! The pianist comes on stage, sits at the piano for 4 minutes and 33 seconds without playing a single note, and then stands up and leaves. Surprised? Yes, there’s a piece like that, which is more of a performance arts statement rather than a piece of music, but it does exist. You can even go to a music book store and get a score of it: open it up and there are just blank manuscript paper pages inside.
One piece that is a more serious clear winner for the easiest piano piece: J. S. Bach’s “Prelude in C major.” It is a beautiful and easily recognizable piano piece that is written with such structural clarity that nearly any adult beginner student can tackle it after just a few months of piano lessons. It is fantastic for learning to read the notes the right way – the way professional musicians do. Hint: no silly “every-good-boy-deserves-” … what do they deserve and why? Prelude in C Major is an emotional, dramatic, and fulfilling piece of music. Try learning it with your piano teacher if you haven’t done it yet and you will absolutely love it!
As we said earlier, there is no single piece that can be considered the hardest piano piece.
There are many obscure pieces that are criminally difficult for no good artistic reason. The two contenders would be “Piano Concerto #3” by Sergey Rachmaninoff and “Piano Concerto #2” by Sergey Prokofiev. Both pieces are monumental staples of the world’s piano literature and both mind-blowingly difficult to play.
The author of this post has decided to learn Prokofiev’s 2nd Piano Concerto, and I have to tell you: in my mid-twenties, practicing piano 6 hours a day, it took me 2 years to simply be able to play all the notes from beginning to end without collapsing on the floor. The energy, the vigor, and the colossal sound of the piano in this piece is unparalleled. It was written by Prokofiev when he was only 23 years old. Give it a listen and try not to fall off the chair!