I've been playing piano and learning theory for almost 2 years now. The most difficult piece I've successfully learned was Sonata in D Minor (Aria) (K.32 L.423) by Scarlatti. A quick Google search tells me that this piece is grade 4.

But then when I look at other grade 4 pieces, one that really caught my attention was Prelude no. 2 in C minor from the Well Tempered Clavier by Bach (BWV 847). Is that a mistake?

If you listen to both pieces you can hear a distinct difference in difficulty. But I just ordered a new piano off of Amazon so I'm searching for new music to learn for when it arrives. I'm just wondering if I should even attempt that prelude or will I only be disappointed when I realize I can't do it.

  • 2
    What this tells me is that you have some techniques you prefer/find easier. The difficulty grading on these pieces is generally agreed across a wide range of reviewers, and it challenges various techniques you will need.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Feb 21, 2015 at 11:25

4 Answers 4


Being able to play one grade 4 piece does not mean you will be able to play all of them. The C minor prelude looks and sounds harder than it actually is, in my opinion (as someone who has learned to play the piece). I would say the overall difficulty level between the two is comparable, although as Dr Mayhem commented, the pieces do very different things musically.

The Scarlatti has chords in the left hand and a melody line in the right hand, and both hands playing independent rhythms. Contrast with, the Bach C minor prelude has (for the majority of the piece) both hands playing a single line each, and in the same rhythm, also with the same cycles of repetition in each measure.

What makes the Bach difficult is the fingerings and the changes in fingering "settings" from measure to measure. You will probably want to play from an edition that has fingerings noted in the score; the process of figuring out fingerings can be a puzzle in itself (especially with Bach's work) that you may not be ready for.

In my experience learning the piece, it takes all of a couple seconds to learn to play a single measure of the Prelude in isolation -- what was difficult for me was learning to smoothly transition from one measure to the next and to keep both hands in sync while doing so.

And there's certainly no harm in sitting down with the piece for an hour and seeing for yourself how realistic it is for you. As I said in my very first point, you may need to go back to some different level 3 pieces that focus on these same skills before you are ready for this one.


When I was learning grade piano, some pieces required analytical practice, some I sight-read. But pieces don't define a grade, performances do. The way you play a scale for Grade 4 won't do for Grade 8 - and it's little to do with adding a further octave or two.


I agree with all of what NReilingh says, except I would suggest that you don't practice "a measure at a time"; rather, practice in phrases (a musical sentence) by breaking the phrases into small manageable parts, then combining these parts until you have the complete phrase. Granted this may result in "a measure at a time", but I believe this way of approaching your practice avoids the non-musical constriction measures sometimes impose.



In Jane Magrath's standard grading reference The Pianist's Guide to Standard Teaching Literature, the Scarlatti "Aria" is Grade 7, and the Bach C Minor Prelude is not included, placing it beyond grade 10.


Based on my own experience, the Scarlatti is the markedly easier of the two. Its slow tempo allows "breathing room/thinking space" for the performer to overcome difficulties. There are lots of leaps, but once made, the fingering is mostly straightforward. The piece is also relatively short (24 measures) with clearly delineated phrases. For a new pianist, the leaps, ornaments, and hand coordination would be primary issues; the overall musicality requires a great deal of maturity.


The Bach requires fast and much more intricate finger-work, with a faster harmonic rhythm (the pace at which the underlying chords change), and although the fingers play simultaneously, they often play different patterns, which can be challenging to coordinate. The piece overall is longer (38 measures), and much more complex, with more ambiguous phrasing.

My advice

I agree with your initial judgement that these two pieces are not at the same level. However, I would still encourage you to try the Bach, since you're motivated to do so. If it's genuinely too difficult, you'll recognize that, and there are plenty of other pieces available to help work up to it. Perhaps despite any difficulty, you'll still find it satisfying to play at a slow tempo. Or you'll find yourself motivated to work through the piece. Or it will prove not so difficult for you.

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