How Slowly Should Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata Be Played?

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about how slowly the Moonlight Sonata should be played. I’m referring to the famous first movement that so many people love to play. There are some questions as to how slowly it should go. After all, it is written to be played Adagio Sostenuto, which is slow and sustained. More than that, it goes on to say “Si deve suonare tutto questo pezzo delicatissimamente e senza sordini.” Now that’s a mouthful! That translates literally to, “The whole piece must be played very delicately and without deafness.” Sordini, we know, means mute, so, without the mute. And what is the mute on the piano? Well, perhaps he was talking about the soft pedal.

Why wouldn’t you want to use the soft pedal in the Moonlight Sonata?

Well, you have to remember that the instrument that Beethoven wrote this piece for is drastically different from a modern piano. In fact, pianos early in Beethoven’s life are quite different from what pianos had become later in his life. He worked closely with instrument builders to develop the piano. My guess is that on the instrument he wrote the Moonlight Sonata, the tone was not sufficient with the soft pedal. I do like to use the soft pedal in the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata.

The Moonlight Sonata is not in 4/4 time.

I was teaching a student the Moonlight Sonata the other day. They were playing at a very slow tempo. I took exception with it. Why? Because in an urtext edition of the score, this piece isn’t in 4/4 time. Look carefully and you will realize it’s in cut time, 2/2 or alla breve. The symbol looks like a C with a vertical line through it. So instead of having four quarter notes getting the beat, you have two half notes getting the beat. Playing faster sounds slower when the pulse is a longer note value. Beethoven intended it to be played with the half note as the slow beat, instead of the quarter note which makes you play it slower. If you try to slow down that quarter note, the whole piece bogs down. It’s a fairly long movement as it is. To play it with a quarter note ticking makes it ponderous. It’s not the way Beethoven intended the piece to be played.

Check out your score and see if you have the cut time!

If your edition is in 4/4 common time, that is not correct. The authoritative urtext editions are written in 2/2 time, not 4/4 time. So you may want to think about your tempo of the Moonlight Sonata. I hope this has been helpful for you! Leave your comments here at and on YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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7 thoughts on “How Slowly Should Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata Be Played?”


  1. Wonderful advice on the Moonlight Sonata. I have personally liked to play it in the 2/2 time, which does result in a slightly faster tempo. The full depth of the piece comes alive with the slightly faster speed. Thank you!!

  2. Thank you so much for this! Ironically, I have been playing the first movement recently. You have enlightened me as to how to feel the time and it makes all the difference in the world.

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