Kabalevsky - Sonatina No 18, Opus 27


Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-87) was a Russian composer and teacher who studied composition and piano at the Moscow Conservatory. He also worked as a silent cinema pianist! This might account for the drama and character of his pieces.

His Children’s Pieces have become standards of the 20th century teaching literature and have evocative titles, striking rhythms and interesting melodies.

Pupil Match & Suitability

Pupils generally love Kabalevsky’s playful and characterful pieces with their imaginative titles and quirky rhythms.

This one movement Sonatina will suit most pupils and will teach them to play blocked staccato LH chords and dotted rhythms within an enjoyable and imaginative piece.

Style & Tempo

This is a one movement, march-like but playful Sonatina in A minor.

It has an ABA + coda structure and some interesting and unusual harmonic patterns.

Kabalevsky has clearly marked in the dynamic markings and this, with the articulation marks will give the piece its character.

Phrasing & Articulation

This piece relies on contrasting articulation so it is crucial that your pupil understands and sticks to Kabalevsky’s markings such as: staccato sempre, tenuto, legato and accent marks.

Ask your students to do lots of separate hand practice and encourage them to listen hard to the results.

The phrasing is written clearly, and observing it (lifting off at the end of a phrase and putting down at the start), really helps the RH to observe the changing dynamics.

Tone & Texture

Make sure that the RH melody is always dynamically one step above the LH. Observing the phrasing will help this.

Bars 7 and 8 RH ascending scale-like figure; do isolated practice of this bit. Start quiet to give room for the crescendo and keep fingers strong to the top of the crescendo.

It’s worth memorising bars 7 and 8 and 31 and 32.
The dotted rhythms need to be clear so teach them by clapping, counting, tapping and playing.


Sonatina needs strong active fingers so take out bars 7/8, 10-12, 31/32 and practise them slowly with accurate fingering, in hand groups and observe the dynamics right from the start.

Explain how to play chords effectively and evenly; i.e. curved fingers, keep them firm and push gently from the wrist.


Kabalevsky’s fingering is spot on and should suit most hands, so stick to it.

You might like to write in the fingering when the A tune returns at bar 24.

Point out the change of fingers on repeated notes (bars 3 and 4 etc).

Make sure that in bars 7/8, 31/32, pupils observe where finger 1 is and do some slow practice in hand groups.


Not really necessary here - the staccato needs to remain crisp and clear.

Teaching Strategies

This is a very appealing Sonatina (a great choice for young pupils to play in a competition sonatina class). It has lots of contrast so use it to encourage aural work: play “spot the crescendo”, “what did I do wrong”, “spot the staccato and legato”.

Warm up with A minor scales p, mf, cresc, dim.
When your pupils play, ask them to mark their staccato out of 10.

Do lots of RH/LH duetting with them to secure the LH blocked staccato chords and the RH dotted rhythms etc.

Make sure that they understand all the signs, terms and symbols.

Practice Tips

Practise slowly initially but then up to speed and with the metronome from crotchet =108 to crotchet = 126.

Practise the tricky RH bars (7/8, 31/32) in slow hand groups. Memorise them.


Secure LH chords are vital so explain that they will sound better if the fingers are curved and lined up and kept firm, then push from the wrist. Listen to the sound - is it clear and absolutely together?

Bars 7/8, 31/32. Tap, play, and make sure that semi-quavers sound as though they belong to the next quaver, play slowly in hand groups.(fingers 1234, pause then 1234).

Keep the last 4 bars in strict time as the music diminuendos. Worth isolating and practising many times!

Re accents; lean on them, no more.

Indulge in lots of RH/LH duetting with your pupil to secure independence of hands.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will be confident and full of character with a constant tempo and a secure underlying sense of pulse. It will have drama and contrast, with plenty of detail.

A good performance will have accurate rhythms, contrasting dynamics and a good balance between hands.

A sound performance might be a little less than crotchet = 126 but will have accurate rhythms and some contrasting dynamics.

^ Top