The Piano

1 day or 4 short sessions

Grand piano

Some of the most famous classical music of all time has been written for the piano. Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Chopin’s Nocturnes, and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata are just a few. In this course we explore the development of the piano, considering its forerunners in the organ and the harpsichord, through to the instrument we know and love today. We will listen to some of the most beautiful and thrilling compositions for the piano, and discover the composers who helped to find the instrument’s voice. No musical knowledge (or piano skills!) are necessary.

Course Outline

Topics we will explore

  • The forerunners of the piano: the organ and the harpsichord
  • The construction of the piano: strings, hammers, pedals
  • The development of the cast-iron frame
  • Why the development of the sustain pedal made such a difference
  • The first composers for the piano: Haydn and Mozart
  • Beethoven’s piano music
  • The piano virtuosos of the 19th century: Liszt and Chopin
  • The French Impressionists: Debussy, Ravel, Satie
  • Piano genres: sonatas, nocturnes, preludes, intermezzos and others
  • Educational music for the piano
  • Some suggested repertoire for lapsed piano players
  • Piano textures: Alberti bass, arpeggiated chords, parallel chords
  • Modern developments in the piano and piano music
  • The most loved piano pieces of all time

Music we will listen to

We will listen to many pieces of piano music, some famous as well as some lesser-known. These include:
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 (‘Moonlight’)
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13 (‘Pathétique’)
  • Brahms: Intermezzos
  • Chopin: Etudes, including op. 10 No. 12, “Revolutionary”
  • Chopin: Nocturnes, including No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 9 No. 2
  • Chopin: Preludes, op. 28 (1836-1839), including No. 15, "Raindrop"
  • Debussy: Clair de Lune, Preludes
  • Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsodies
  • Liszt: Liebesträume (Dreams of Love)
  • Liszt: Transcendental Studies (1851)
  • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K.331 (‘Rondo Alla Turca’)
  • Ravel: Jeux d’eau (Fountains)
  • Ravel: Sonatine for piano
  • Satie: Six Gnossiennes
  • Satie: Trois Gymnopédies
  • Schubert: Impromptus and Moment Musiceaux
  • Schumann: Kinderszenen, including “Traumerei” (“Dreaming”)
Book cover The Piano

Buy the course notes for this class

In hard copy book form, through Lulu Press
$18 + postage

A digital copy of these notes will be provided free with enrolment.


“It was an excellent workshop: well-structured, the educational material clearly presented. The technical details of the development of the piano clearly explained, accompanied by good quality visuals. Susan’s analysis of the compositions played assisted me to retained the new information”

“There were lots of new things I learnt: one outstanding thing being the invention of the sustain pedal and especially how it changed piano compositions by adding another element to performance”

“As a piano novice, I found the course very interesting and varied as it covered not just the technical side of the piano but also included composers, music genres and listening examples. I especially enjoyed the ‘live’ playing that showed things that can be difficult to see and hear via video”

“I particularly enjoyed learning about the mechanism of the piano, and the other keyboard instruments as a contrast. I also enjoyed learning about the genres of Romantic piano music.”

“Susan clearly knows and loves her music and is skilled at engaging her students in whatever aspect of music she is discussing. She illustrated this course particularly well, using not only her extensive and well organised library of musical performances and images, but by frequent recourse to her own piano; this latter feature allowed for great flexibility when answering specific questions and added to the spontaneity and immediacy of our experience”

About Susan Deas

Susan Deas is a professional musician, lecturer and teacher. She has been teaching music appreciation courses for more than twenty years, through Sydney University’s Centre for Continuing Education, WEA Sydney and at other venues. Her training includes a Bachelor of Music with a major in Performance (Piano) and Musicology, a Master of Music Studies (Studio Pedagogy), a Bachelor of Arts (Communications), and an A.Mus.A in Musicianship. Susan teaches piano and music theory to adults and children, and plays piano and organ at various venues around Sydney. Susan is an accredited piano teacher and musicianship teacher, and is on the Council of the Music Teachers’ Association of NSW.

More about Susan’s qualifications

Read what people have said about Susan’s other courses

Susan’s other music courses