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In-depth Review: Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas on Coursera

Written by Joanne Cordaro
3 minute read
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Joanne Cordaro

Review by Joanne Cordaro. Working in human resources by day, I am a recreational musician in my spare time. Music is the lifeline that recharges me. Took the course? Write your own review hereRead all reviews.


To celebrate my 50th birthday, I decided to tackle an item on my “bucket list”, so I enrolled in an adult ed piano course at a local high school. I had no idea what to expect, but it was reassuring when I walked into that first class and found seventeen other adults with the same item on their bucket lists.

The class started with the usual’s like Mary Had a Little Lamb, but the instructor quickly brought in all types of music, in simplified versions, of course. It was a surprise to me that I preferred playing classical pieces to pop songs.

DISCOVERY

I had taken a couple of online classes and last year I was browsing for something interesting when I found “Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas”. I am not a classical music expert, nor am I an experienced musician, but the class description and my new interest in classical music seemed like a good match.

In my limited music experience, I had never heard of The Curtis Institute of Music. After some research though, I realized this was an opportunity for little ol’ me to take a class at a top notch music school, and it was free!

The first few weeks of the class were interesting and I followed along easily enough. Videos of Jonathan Biss teaching the technical parts of the sonata form and then playing examples definitely helped my understanding of the information.

PROFESSOR BISS

Mr. Biss is an amazing pianist whose love of music and music history is obvious. 

Mr. Biss is an amazing pianist whose love of music and music history is obvious. He taught the similarities and differences of some of the greats such as Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. He taught about their personalities and how that influenced their musical composition styles. Professor Biss’ historical explanations provided interesting context. Through the course, I learned that Beethoven really shook up the music world of his time. He must have been quite a shock to their senses – musically and physically (just look at his hair!).

PEDAGOGY

The course offered various learning venues including videos, links to recordings and sheet music, articles to read and quizzes which kept things moving and interesting to all types of learners.

The course offered various learning venues including videos, links to recordings and sheet music, articles to read and quizzes which kept things moving and interesting to all types of learners. 

Without question, the most challenging part of this course was the weekly forum. The weekly forum consisted of just two discussion questions. As a newbie musician just learning to read music, and as one not very familiar with Beethoven, answering the forum questions took some extra work and research for me. I averaged eight hours/week during the course. A student could do less, but I really wanted that certificate!

Perhaps the most interesting question that came up in a forum was: Should a composer compose what they want to or compose what their audience wants? Great question! Isn’t it fascinating that the most profound forum discussion was a philosophical question about music and not about technical construction?

SUCCESS

Many students were college-level music students who had far more knowledge and experience than I did. Don’t let that dissuade you! If you have an interest, give it go. You have nothing to lose and much to gain. A familiarity with online research, a good computer, and the liberal use of YouTube will contribute to your success.

This course was interesting and challenging and may present some difficulties for the new musician. Take it anyway. Things I learned in this course help me continue my musical development which now includes composing.

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