Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to approach Kuhlau Sonatina Op. 55 No. 1 - Part I

Learn how to approach this beautiful piano sonatina

In this first of 2 videos, Robert teaches you how to approach the beginning of the beautiful Sonatina Op. 55 No. 1 by Kuhlau.

Released on July 5, 2017

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Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin. Welcome to with a tutorial on how to approach Kuhlau Sonatina Opus 55 No. 1 in C Major. If you've studied the sonatinas or approached them, you know these are delightful student pieces that offer richly awarding music and yet, not that difficult to learn. Now the secret is really paying attention to the dynamics and the phrasing to really bring these pieces to life as we've discussed in other sonatinas in the past. So I'm going to give you some tips on how to approach this delightful piece. I'm going to play a little bit for you so know what piece I'm talking about. Once again, Kuhlau Sonatina in C Major.


That's the exposition of the first movement, which of course repeats as they do in all sonatinas and sonatas. So, how to approach this music? Well, you want to delineate the first and second subjects. What do I mean by that? Well sonatas and sonatinas are all built with contrasting themes. The first theme in the tonic key, the key of the piece, C Major, and then it modulates to the dominant, to G Major, you'll start noticing a bunch of F-sharps. This is typical of just about all sonatas and sonatinas.

So the opening theme has got the nice articulated rhythm. The left hand is kind of a syncopated rhythm. That is to say, that you don't expect the second beat to be accented and the third beat to be soft, but that's the case here. Listen what I'm talking about. So gives a nice bounce. And you want to get a nice accent. How do you get the accent in the left hand? You use the wrist. The first note is staccato. So you go down and right back up, and then come down for the C-E. So you get a nice accent on it.

So this is the secret to getting the phrasing, is using the wrist for staccatos and for accents, because I'm just going to play the very beginning ignoring the phrasing, and you'll notice how flat it sounds. I was also ignoring the dynamics. This is what is key to making this music really come to life. So in your practice, you want to start very slowly, really memorize your phrasing and your dynamics along with the notes.

Once again, the mistake that too many students make is thinking you could put the dynamics in later or put the phrasing in later. The fact of the matter is, you are playing a dynamic level. And you are playing some sort of phrasing. So if you're not playing forte, and it's written forte, maybe you're playing mezzo forte or piano. And same thing with phrasing. If you're not playing staccatos, maybe you're playing legato. Even if it's all the same, you have ingrained the wrong phrasing and the wrong dynamics and it's very difficult to undo what you've gotten used to playing. Take the little bit of extra time as you're learning your music, to cement the proper dynamics and phrasing, and you'll be richly rewarded with a great performance.

So I mentioned the contrasting second theme. That comes here. Now, it's very important to have the melody come above the accompaniment. If you were to play them absolutely equal in volume, the two hands, they wouldn't sound equal. The left hand will sound louder. Now how can this be? Well there's two reasons for it. First of all, high notes don't last as long as low notes. So that's one factor. Secondly, the left hand is much faster than the right hand anyway, so you'd have to play the right hand louder just to make it sound the same. If I were to play the hands equal in volume, this is the way it would sound. The melody is all but lost. So how could you practice this? Well, first of all, the left hand is really just a bunch of repeated notes. So play it in chords first so you can hear the melody unencumbered with the left hand.

So you can listen to that melody. And when playing, keep your fingers very close to the keys in the left hand so they can be light. And in the right hand, lean substantial weight even though the melody is in forte, it's got to project. And those long notes have to hold for their full value. Put enough weight in the...of weight of the arm into the music, and those notes will sustain beautifully.

You hear that sound? This is what you want to strive for. Of course, you can practice slowly at first. When practicing slowly, you want to exaggerate the dynamics. So because your right-hand needs to be louder than your left hand, play it forte, all coming from the fingers and your arm weight, not going down with the arm for each note, but a smooth transfer of weight from finger to finger.


Be secure in your fingerwork. Notice I was raising my fingers. If you raise the fingers, it can help to delineate in your hand which notes are down and which notes are up. More importantly, the release of notes can be precise. So you don't get blurry uneven fingerwork. Instead, all the notes can be equal value with the release being precise by raising the finger to make sure that notes aren't hanging up, getting kind of an uneven sound. You've all heard scales playing unevenly, and you get this kind of quality. A muddiness, where the notes aren't releasing. That's one good reason for practicing with raised fingers.

So this is the secret to delineating the phrasing. Practice slowly. Exaggerate your dynamics. Use the wrist for staccatos and accents. And most importantly, learn your phrasing and dynamics along with the notes, rhythm, and fingering, and you will have a top-notch performance when you're done learning your piece. Thanks so much again for joining me. Robert Estrin here at
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on May 6, 2021 @4:36 pm PST
Great lecture. Fortunately I don't have a problem bringing out the melody with the right hand. But my lifetime problem has been holding too long the notes or chords of the left hand. Of course, not a problem with the easy sonata of Mozart, or similar pieces. I don't know how to break that nasty habit.
Rebecca * VSM MEMBER * on May 5, 2021 @3:50 pm PST
The video doesn’t work
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on May 5, 2021 @4:10 pm PST
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