Top 10 Hardest Piano Pieces | Free Online Piano Lessons | Pianote.com (2023)

Charmaine Li /Articles/Feb 6

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What are the hardest piano pieces ever?

As musicians, we often look up to the best and hope to emulate them in some way. The piano is a versatile instrument with a long history, and over the years, some very creative musicians have written impressive music for it.

Defining “Hardest”

When we think about difficult songs to play on the piano, we usually mean technical difficulty—fast fingers, dense chords, and big leaps. But even beginners understand that playing fast isn’t all there is to the piano. Classical pianists have to sight-read dense musical scores. And jazz pianists improvise creative riffs and licks while making sense of complex chord progressions.

I researched and read numerous “hardest songs on the piano ever” lists on the internet and no two agree, though most stick to classical pieces. To cover the full diversity of piano difficulty, we’ve put together a list that spans several genres. Expect to meet some lesser-known composers and compositions.

Breaking Down the Hardest Piano Pieces

Many of the piano’s most difficult pieces were written recently. I discovered mind-bending experimental compositions from the twentieth century that aren’t just technically advanced, but difficult to understand.

(Video) 3 Easy Classical Piano Pieces To Sound Like A Pro 🎹✨

I also learned from Sam Vesely, Pianote’s resident jazz expert, that there are numerous elements (chord changes, harmonies, rhythms, the piano’s role within a band, etc.) that make a jazz piece difficult. There are also some very interesting experiments happening in the newer jazz fusion genres.

Arranged in no particular order, here is a breakdown of some of the world’s hardest piano songs.

1. “Piano Concerto No. 3”—Sergei Rachmaninoff


Why it’s hard: Rachmaninoff intended Concerto No. 3 as a show-off piece to dazzle audiences on his first American tour. If you ask any classical musician what the hardest song on the piano is, chances are they’ll say, “the Rach 3.” This work graces many top-ten lists for good reason: despite being based around a relatively simple, singable theme, this concerto requires both virtuosity and passion.

2. “La Campanella”—Franz Liszt


Why it’s hard: “The Little Bell” by Liszt requires extremely big leaps in the right hand done at dizzyingly fast speeds. The melody is brought out by the thumb, but the repeating D-sharps in the pinky act as a twinkling “bell.” This masterpiece in virtuosity and composition is an arrangement of a melody by Paganini, one of the most famous virtuosic violinists who ever lived.

3. “Take the A Train”—as performed by Oscar Peterson


Why it’s hard: Sam names highly variable harmonies and a high-precision, “nearly impossible to recreate” right hand as reasons for why this piece is so challenging. But what I love most about Oscar Peterson’s performance is that despite the speed and climax near the end, Peterson never relinquishes control; he keeps it cool. There’s a reason why Louis Armstrong called him “the man with four hands.”

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4. “Gaspard de la Nuit”—Maurice Ravel


Why it’s hard: Ravel wrote “Gaspard de la Nuit” to one-up Mily Balakirev’s “Islamey.” In other words, this whirlwind of a piece was designed to be hard. And it’s lived up to its name—today, the three-part suite makes a frequent appearance on lists of difficult piano pieces. The dense score is nearly incomprehensible, and pianist Steven Osborne even likened it to solving never-ending quadratic equations.

5. “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2”—Franz Liszt


Why it’s hard: “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” isn’t the hardest piece ever, but it’s certainly one of the most well-known and was made famous by Tom and Jerry. This piece is also the only one on this list I’ve attempted myself, so I feel I can speak more to it.

Both the dramatic lassan and the energetic friska sections of the Rhapsody contain big leaps, tangling chords, and swift runs that require a high level of dexterity and accuracy. But while this song can be frustratingly difficult, it’s also super rewarding. The melody is iconic, and you can tell the piece was designed to be performed.

6. “Mists”—Iannis Xenakis

(Video) The Best of Piano: The most beautiful classical piano pieces for relax & study


Why it’s hard: While “Mists” is technically challenging, more than anything, it’s an intellectual feat to understand. Considered stochastic music (music composed with the aid of equations and probability), “Mists” was composed by an architect and composer who used math formulas to make mind-bending music. Check out how one academic re-creates the stochastic sections of “Mists” with the programming language Python.

7. “Hammerklavier” (Sonata No. 29 Op. 106)—Ludwig van Beethoven


Why it’s hard: Inspired by a new, six-octave piano that was gifted to him, Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” (which means pianoforte in German) celebrates the new capabilities of the instrument. This piece features big, majestic chords and rapid passages. Apparently, it was the only sonata Beethoven wrote a metronome marking for (132)—a speed which only the most skilled pianists can follow.

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8. “Giant Steps”—John Coltrane


Why it’s hard: Being able to improvise on “Giant Steps” is considered a rite of passage for many jazz musicians. The reason why this piece is so challenging to improvise upon is because the chord progression is so unusual. The music theory behind the genius of “Giant Steps” is complex but fascinating—check out the short documentary above and try not to get a headache!

9. “Sonata No. 5”—Alexander Scriabin

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Why it’s hard: You can tell this song will be intense by the sheer mess of trills and glissandos at the very beginning. Scriabin’s fifth sonata has a reputation for being tough, and its dense score, gigantic chords, key changes, and speed make this song maze-like. Inspired by a poem by the composer, its passages conjure up images of “flight” and “spirals” and play with non-traditional sonata form.

10. “L’escalier du diable” (“The Devil’s Staircase”) – Ligeti


Why it’s hard: With a name like “the devil’s staircase,” this piece is rightfully terrifying. Ligeti was fascinated by mathematics and Escher’s staircase, along with the existential crisis of climbing never-ending stairs.

The chords involved in this piece will tie your fingers into knots, but the most extraordinary part of Etude No. 13 may be its eight fortes! For a fascinating deep dive into the theory behind this piece, see Explore the Score’s walkthrough here.

Playing the Most Difficult Piano Songs

Unfortunately, these pieces are probably inaccessible to most people. Professionals train for decades before they can tackle the hardest piano pieces.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should give up! And just because a song is hard, doesn’t mean it sounds nice. Personally, I find some of the experimental pieces interesting, but I wouldn’t choose them for my next road trip soundtrack.

At Pianote, we believe that at the end of the day, music should create joy. So, find pieces that you like the sound of, that are just hard enough to give you a meaningful challenge and sense of achievement.

And who knows? Perhaps one day you’ll have the chops to bust out Ligeti!

(Video) 12 Levels of Beethoven: Easy to Impossible


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Charmaine Liis a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note.

FAQs

What is the hardest piano piece to play ever? ›

Liszt – La Campanella

'La Campanella', which translates as 'little bell', comes from a larger work – the Grandes études de Paganini – and is famous for being one of the most difficult pieces ever written for piano.

What is the most impressive piano piece? ›

The 16 best pieces EVER written for piano
  • Beethoven – 'Moonlight' Sonata.
  • Clara Schumann – Piano Concerto.
  • Debussy – Clair de Lune.
  • Chopin – Nocturne in E flat major (Op. 9, No. ...
  • Rebecca Clarke – Piano Trio.
  • J.S. Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier.
  • J.S. Bach – Goldberg Variations.
  • Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue.
2 Dec 2020

Is Rush E one of the hardest piano pieces? ›

Created by Sheet Music Boss in 2018 (opens in new tab), Rush E is a black MIDI (opens in new tab) track that's been called 'the world's hardest piano song', in that it's considered to be impossible for a single human to play.

What piano piece makes your fingers bleed? ›

Competitor Rui Urayama's fingers bled last Tuesday during a performance of Bartók's Piano Sonata Sz 80, prompting competition organizers to stop the proceedings and call in a technician to give the instrument a thorough cleaning.

Who is the greatest pianist of all time? ›

Lived: 1873-1943

Rachmaninoff is often said to be the greatest pianist of all time, hands down. Rachmaninoff considered himself a romantic, and had a strong desire to continue the romanticism of the 19th century into the 20th century, unlike his Russian counterparts, who were mostly composing modern pieces at the time.

What is that one piano song that everyone knows? ›

Beethoven's “Moonlight Sonata”

This song is made up of three movements, the first of which the most recognizable and popular. It is played pianissimo, which means very quietly, with a smooth moving triplet rhythm.

What is the famous piano song called? ›

Clair de Lune - Claude Debussy.

Which piano piece should I learn? ›

Bach – Minuet in G Major, BWV Anh 114

Minuet in G Major is an ideal piece for the aspiring piano player. This piece can be quickly memorized as it has a lot of repetition. Its use of five-note scales throughout the right-hand makes it intuitive to learn.

What's the hardest song to play on any instrument? ›

These are the definitively the hardest pieces of music to play
  • Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji - Opus clavicembalisticum. ...
  • Alexander Scriabin - Mysterium. ...
  • Franz Liszt - La Campanella. ...
  • Giovanni Bottesini - Double Bass Concerto No. ...
  • J.S. Bach - Chaconne in D. ...
  • Luciano Berio - Sequenzas. ...
  • Conlon Nancarrow - Studies for Player Piano.
11 Sept 2017

What is the longest piano piece? ›

The longest known piano piece is Erik Satie's Vexations, if we we overlook the requirement for a piece of music to be “non-repetitive”. Though undated, scholars predict the piece to be dated to around 1893-1894.

What is the hardest pop song to play on piano? ›

La Campanella” by Franz Liszt is known to be one of the most difficult pieces to perform on the piano. Other hard piano songs to play include “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Aladdin Sane,” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

How hard is Fur Elise? ›

The full version of Fur Elise is considered reasonably difficult, broadly an intermediate piece around grade 5, but a shorter arrangement of only the famous section is often taught as well. This is much easier, suitable for late beginners, but still requires some foundational skill to perform well.

Can a beginner learn La Campanella? ›

If you are not at the level where you can understand and apply their advice to your playing, you should definitely not be attempting La Campanella.

Can fingers bleed from playing piano? ›

You don't bleed unless you just cut yourself and started playing or your fingernails are too short. I have never experienced bleeding while I was playing the piano as my fingernails are usually long and the piano has a smooth surface.

Who is the most famous pianist alive? ›

Lang Lang (born 1982)

Lang Lang is arguably the most famous Classical musician of today and the ultimate modern Classical pianist.

Who invented piano? ›

The first true piano was invented almost entirely by one man—Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, who had been appointed in 1688 to the Florentine court of Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici to care for its harpsichords and eventually for its entire collection of musical instruments.

Who is the best modern pianist? ›

21 Best Modern Pianists You Should Know
  • Krystian Zimerman. ...
  • Murray Perahia. ...
  • Leif Ove Andsnes. ...
  • Evgeny Kissin. ...
  • Maurizio Pollini. ...
  • Igor Levit. ...
  • Alfred Brendel. ...
  • Daniil Trifonov. Daniil Trifonov is a Russian-born pianist and composer who has been hailed as one of the most talented musicians of his generation.
24 Sept 2022

What is the most beautiful song played on piano? ›

12 Of The Most Beautiful Piano Pieces Of All Time
  • Ballade No. 1 – Chopin.
  • Les Adieux – Beethoven.
  • Italian Concerto – Bach.
  • Liebestraum – Liszt.
  • Fantasie in F Minor – Chopin.
  • Moment Musicaux No. 4 – Rachmaninoff.
  • Claire de Lune – Debussy.
  • Moonlight Sonata – Beethoven.
12 Jun 2022

What is the saddest classical piano song? ›

10 Of The Saddest Classical Piano Pieces Ever Written
  • 1. “ Piano Sonata No. ...
  • 2. “ Prelude in E minor” by Frédéric Chopin.
  • 3. “ Piano Concerto No. ...
  • 4. “ Prelude in B Minor” by Frédéric Chopin.
  • 5. “ Gaspard de la Nuit” by Maurice Ravel.
  • 6. “ Funeral March” by Frédéric Chopin.
  • 6. “ Sonata No. ...
  • 7. “ Gymnopédie No.

What is the saddest classical song? ›

The 10 best classical music tear-jerkers
  • Puccini: 'Sono andati? ...
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: 'Requiem' ...
  • Edward Elgar: Nimrod from the Enigma Variations. ...
  • Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings. ...
  • Tomaso Albinoni: Adagio in G minor. ...
  • Johann Sebastian Bach: Come, Sweet Death. ...
  • Henryk Gorecki: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

What song should I learn first on piano? ›

Here are seven easy piano songs for beginners to get you started.
  • Twinkle Twinkle. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is always popular, especially with young students, but adults who are just starting out can benefit from learning this too. ...
  • Happy Birthday. ...
  • Jingle Bells. ...
  • Hallelujah. ...
  • Havana. ...
  • Prelude in C Major by Bach. ...
  • Fur Elise.
17 May 2020

How do I know if I am an intermediate pianist? ›

The intermediate pianist is someone who has been playing piano for 6-18 months. They can read treble and bass clef comfortably, and they understand how to count rhythms. The intermediate is someone familiar with musical notation and can read more complicated parts with both hands.

How do I know what level my piano is? ›

What Level Piano Player Are You? (How To Tell) - YouTube

What is the hardest Chopin piece? ›

25, No. 6, in G-sharp minor, is a technical study composed by Frédéric Chopin focusing on thirds, trilling them at a high speed. Also called the Double Thirds Étude, it is considered one of the hardest of Chopin's 24 Études, ranking the highest level of difficulty according to the Henle difficulty rankings.

Is Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 harder than La Campanella? ›

Re: Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 vs La Campanella

HR 2 is much harder on the technical level than La Campanella.

Who is the world's fastest piano player? ›

Peter Bence is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso pianist, recording artist, composer, and producer who holds the Guinness World Record for being the “Fastest Piano Player”.

Which piano piece should I learn? ›

Bach – Minuet in G Major, BWV Anh 114

Minuet in G Major is an ideal piece for the aspiring piano player. This piece can be quickly memorized as it has a lot of repetition. Its use of five-note scales throughout the right-hand makes it intuitive to learn.

What should I learn first on piano? ›

The Musical Alphabet

The seven white and five black keys make a repeating pattern of twelve notes. Each of the white notes has a letter name. These letter names make up the musical alphabet, which is one of the first things a piano player should learn.

What song should I learn on piano? ›

10 Famous Piano Songs You Should Learn to Play On The Piano
  • Beethoven's “Moonlight Sonata” ...
  • Beethoven's “Fur Elise” ...
  • Grieg's “Piano Concerto in A Minor” ...
  • Journey's “Don't Stop Believin'” ...
  • The Beatles' “Let It Be” ...
  • Korsakov's “Flight of the Bumblebee” ...
  • Liszt's “Hungarian Rhapsody” ...
  • Billy Joel's “Piano Man”
20 Oct 2017

What is the longest piano piece? ›

The longest known piano piece is Erik Satie's Vexations, if we we overlook the requirement for a piece of music to be “non-repetitive”. Though undated, scholars predict the piece to be dated to around 1893-1894.

Who is the best classical pianist today? ›

Lang Lang (born 1982)

Lang Lang is arguably the most famous Classical musician of today and the ultimate modern Classical pianist.

What level is Chopin? ›

The levels of difficulty of the piano music published by G. Henle Publishers
LevelgradetableExample
3easyBeethoven, Piano Sonatas op. 49,1 and 2
4mediumGrieg, Lyric Pieces op. 12, no. 4
5Schumann, Fantasy Pieces op. 12, no. 1
6Chopin, Nocturnes op. 27, nos. 1 and 2
5 more rows

What grade level is La Campanella? ›

There are plenty of compositions that are far more difficult to play including some Chopin Études and the works of Alkan for example, but 'La Campanella' is in all probability work for the post-grade eight pianists, or one preparing for a diploma on the piano.

What is the hardest Liszt piece? ›

Liszt was a prolific composer, and many of his pieces are considered quite challenging. However, La Campanella is regarded as his most complex and difficult piece.

What grade level is Hungarian Rhapsody No 2? ›

Grade 9

HOw many hours a day should you practice piano? ›

Pianists should practice between 30 minutes to 4 hours per day. Beginners will benefit most from shorter practice sessions while advanced pianists will be more accustomed to longer days. Each practice session can be split into segments to help avoid physical and mental fatigue.

How do pianists play so fast? ›

So, how do you play faster on the piano? To play fast on the piano, a pianist must develop strong muscles and dexterity in the fingers. Routinely practicing scales, arpeggios, and other technical exercises help build the necessary endurance to play passages of music fast.

What is the fastest piano song? ›

Lydian performed “Flight Of The Bumblebee” by composer Rimsky Korsakov, a song notoriously known for being difficult to play. He played the piece in three different speeds, 160 beats per minute, 280 beats per minute and 325 beats per minute. If playback doesn't begin shortly, try restarting your device.

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