Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Clementi's Sonatinas Op. 36 - Part 1

Learn how to approach the famous Sonatinas by Clementi

In this first video of a 3-part series, Robert teaches you how to approach and master the first Sonatina Op. 36 by Muzio Clementi.

Released on October 5, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to I'm Robert Estrin with the first of a three-part series on tips for playing Clementi Sonatina Op.36 number one in C major. Now if any of you out there are piano teachers or intermediate level piano students, you probably know this piece rather intimately. And I'm gonna show you some ways of approaching it, and how to practice it effectively. This is a piece I have taught hundreds of times, and you know I decided to do this today, and I sat down and played the whole Sonatina even though I hadn't played it, probably, in years. And it's all, like, emblazoned in my brain so I thought "Why not share it with you?" So we're gonna start today this week's presentation on the first movement.

Now, the Clementi Sonatina's are just wonderful works for students who have, you know, just gotten past that beginner level and are ready for some more substantial music. What's great about them is that they don't require the pedal because it is, after all, classical era music where the pianos didn't have pedal. And you can really focus on the clarity and exact execution of the hands. And it comes down to two facets of technique that you must master, and you must differentiate, which are finger technique and wrist technique, which I have videos on incidentally. Now the wrist, by utilizing the wrist for staccato, you can get a nice difference between legato and staccatos. The first thing that I'm gonna do for you because the first movement without the repeats really isn't all that long, I'm gonna play through the movement for you. Then go back and show you some suggestions for key parts.

Now there are many aspects to how to work on this. The first thing is that it really is not that hard to memorize, and it will serve you well to memorize it first, so you don't have to be constantly looking and back and forth on the score. And I have a video on how to memorize. And this is a perfect piece, if you haven't memorized music before, this is a perfect piece to memorize because the memorization is not that difficult for this piece.

So we have the different subject and second subject, and in the right hand you notice, right from the very beginning, you have a lot of different phrasing. And what you want to do is utilize the wrist. I'm gonna start with the left hand, so you see how the wrist functions independent of the arm. So, when you have staccatos on the left hand, instead of playing them like this with the arm, play them with the wrist, and you will hear the difference. A real snappy sound you get. You hear that difference? That's what you want throughout the entire piece. To get really articulated staccatos.

Now in the right hand, it's a little bit trickier because you have slurs and staccatos. So you go down on the first note of the slur and then up for the staccato. So watch how this works. Notice how I ended up. That prepares you to go down and right back up for the next staccato G. Watch, I'll play now with that extra G. Notice how I'm not moving the arm. I'm gonna do it moving the arm this time. You'll not only see a difference, but you can hear a difference. The arm is big and it can't snap back so quickly as a wrist does. Listen to the crispness of the staccatos from the wrist, and watch how my arm is not moving up and down, just the wrist. Put the two hands together and you've got this. Now essentially, the entire movement is built upon just that pretty much. I mean, there's a bit more, you get to the second subject and the development section.

Now, what else about this? Other than memorizing it, differentiating between staccato from the wrist and legato, the other thing that is absolutely imperative is you work with the metronome. So you can have an absolutely steady beat. There is really not much nuance of tempo at all in Clementi, at least, not in the fast movements. It really should be metronomic in its approach. And the only way to achieve that is to practice with a metronome. That gives you the sense of pulse. You could start at a slower speed and work your way up, but I really recommend strongly working in the metronome.

The other thing that's really important is to make your dynamic changes very extreme and sudden. You notice when I came to the development section, suddenly it was a different color. And then forte right away. Don't blend into it, but hit it right away. And notice how I went right back down. So it's the angularity of dynamics, the precision of rhythm, and the differentiation of phrasing of staccatos and legato that really bring this music to life. And this isn't just true of the first mood of the Clementi Sonatina that we're discussing today. This is a universal truth about much classical era music, not just Clementi but in Mozart and Haydn as well. I hope this has been helpful for you. Next week when we discuss the second movement, it's very different techniques that go into the second movement, this beautiful, slow lyrical movement. And I hope you join me for that as well. Again, Robert Estrin here at Thanks so much for joining.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on July 2, 2020 @4:53 pm PST
Great memories for me, I was about 6 or 7 when I started this sonatina, my first one. And I still go back to it sometimes!
Robert - host, on July 3, 2020 @2:38 pm PST
It's always refreshing revisiting old pieces!
Margaret Minière * VSM MEMBER * on July 1, 2020 @7:18 am PST
Thank you very much, Robert, for this enlightening demonstration. I play this Sonata myself and think I shall now be able to improve my interpretation thanks to your sound advice.
Robert Estrin - host, on July 1, 2020 @2:34 pm PST
So glad to be able to help you. There are many more tutorials in the works!
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