What Instruments Did Beethoven Play? (It’s Not Just Piano)

Last updated:
Disclosure: We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. Read our full affiliate disclosure here.
  • Beethoven is one of the greatest minds in music history 
  • While he was known for his fantastic piano skills, he also played other instruments successfully
  • Discover some lesser known facts about Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven is considered one of the best classical composers that ever lived. Beethoven could play multiple instruments masterfully besides his amazing piano skills, which are pretty famous among music lovers.

Beethoven is mainly known for his unique classic music compositions such as the Moonlight Sonata, Fidelio, Grosse Fuge, and Fur Elise, the 9th symphony, and the 5th symphony.

His skillful compositions, brilliant melodies, and impressive piano playing skills are well-known as much as his artistic and eccentric personality. He became eight percent deaf, but he was still composing and conducting an orchestra.

So, exactly how many instruments did Ludwig Van Beethoven play, and how was he composing his pieces?

Let’s look closer at Beethoven’s talent for instruments to better understand his approach to music.

What Instruments Did Beethoven Play?

The maestro Ludwig Van Beethoven’s major instrument is well-known as the piano. However, he also played the

  1. organ
  2. harpsichord
  3. violin
  4. viola
  5. guitar

While Beethoven started playing piano at an early age and continued playing it until the end of his life, he was also a highly proficient violin player who played professionally in the cour orchestra when he was younger.

Later, to compose his classical pieces and symphonies, he learned to play several other instruments, such as organs and harpsichord, as well as a bit of guitar.

Piano

Coming from a musically-inclined family, Ludwig Van Beethoven started playing piano at 5 – a very young age.

He used the piano as his major instrument on many occasions for composing and performing. He is well known for his amazing piano talent.

Beethoven’s first piano teacher was his father, Johann, who was a professional musician.

Johan was a pretty harsh teacher who punished Ludwig Beethoven after every missed key or little mistake. It can literally be said, Johann forced Ludwig to love and play piano skillfully. However, these days we know there are much more constructive approaches to learning.

There are stories that Johann was coming home drunk and forcing Ludwig to wake up and play the piano. Ludwig was very small back then and could barely reach the piano keys to play. He cried a lot whenever his father punished him for a mistake.

His father wanted Ludwig to be the new Mozart, so he was really pushing him to the limit.

While his father wanted a child prodigy and Ludwig was a talented boy, he was not a legend or anything extraordinary; Beethoven’s real talent for music and composition was going to be revealed when he was in his twenties.

Most people who would experience and suffer the treatments of an obsessed father like Johann would probably hate playing piano and stop at some point.

However, Ludwig loved playing piano and became an accomplished piano player. The musical genius composed countless piano concertos.

(If you’re after some great sounding pianos, check out our roundup of the Best Free Piano VSTs!)

What Pianos Did Beethoven Play?

He used many different pianos throughout his life, including Broadwood, Stein, Walter, Erard, Fritz, Streicher, and Graf.

His favorite piano was the Broadwood, which had six octaves, two pedals, and sturdy construction. Its sound is pretty close to the grand pianos of today.

He also liked to play with Stein pianos, famous for their innovative design called Prellmechanik, which allowed for quick and responsive play.

Another innovative piano maker, Walter from Vienna, also made pianos that were loved by Beethoven.

He was the artist who perfected the Prellmechanik, the precursor of the modern piano’s hammer striking system. 

Another piano maker from Vienna that sent a model to Beethoven, which he truly liked and used for a while, was called Erard.

His model features  5-1/2 octaves, a 3-way stringing, a split bridge for the bass, and four pedals that provide a richer sound than Vienna-made pianos.

He preferred Austrian instruments but also used pianos from Fritz, Streicher, and Graf later in his life.

Organ

For a while, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s first full-time music teacher was Gottlob Neefe, who was the Court Organist at the time.

During this time with Neefe, Beethoven learned to play the organ proficiently. Neefe liked the boy a lot and saw great potential in him, so he took the child in as his assistant.

Whenever Gottlob Neefe was not available, Ludwig Van Beethoven substituted him in concerts, which gave him a great experience of music and playing for the audience. Playing the organ also helped a lot with his piano skills.

Harpsichord

When Beethoven was a kid, he practiced playing the piano on a harpsichord as it had tiny hammers hitting the strings and a basic plucking mechanism, making it easier for a kid to play the keyboard.

With a harpisochord, the volume of the instrument is the same no matter how hard you hit the keys.

This way, the harpsichord is an excellent way for a child to practice piano, which helped Ludwig a lot when he was very young. 

Violin & Viola

Besides keyboard instruments, Ludwig Van Beethoven was highly proficient at playing violin and viola.

He did not like his violin playing and said he was mediocre, but he was still regularly playing as a member of the Bonn theatrical orchestra. 

Beethoven did not start playing viola at an early age as he did in piano. Instead, he started later as he got curious about the instrument.

He never became a master in playing the violin, but Beethoven composed some of the best violin sonatas and concertos in history.

Having started playing the instrument when he was a teenager, he liked improvising with the violin a lot. He did not read notes for playing it as he did for the piano.

He somehow felt freer and wanted to have a different approach compared to what his father showed him with the piano.

Beethoven eventually started taking violin lessons to get deeper with the instrument. He had some high-class teachers like Haydn.

He wanted to explore the limitations of the instrument to put the knowledge to his compositions skills for better orchestral parts.

That is how he could compose those amazing violin concertos and sonatas – by being curious about the instruments and feeling the freedom he could not find in the piano due to his father’s harsh teaching processes.

Also, Beethoven composed a few pieces for viola and cello, applying his knowledge of violin to its bigger brothers.

Other Instruments 

Besides these instruments, Ludwig Van Beethoven also learned his way around some other instruments like the guitar.

He said that the guitar was a “miniature orchestra” and loved its sound. He even wrote some chamber music pieces for guitar.

But he was never a good guitar player. He had decent control over the instrument but nothing close to his violin or piano playing skills.

FAQ’s

Why Did Beethoven Stop Playing Music?

The main reason Beethoven stopped playing music was because of his hearing problems. In 1811, at the age of 42, he became almost deaf for unknown reasons.

As he could not hear the piano he was playing, he had to stop making and composing music.

He tried his chances with high-sounding pianos for a while, but it did not help him. He was forced to quit performing, but he played music privately until he died a few years later.

How Many Symphonies Did Beethoven Write?

Ludwig Van Beethoven wrote 9 symphonies throughout his life. Interestingly, six of them were written when he was suffering from a major hearing loss issue.

The first one was written in 1799 when he was 29 years old.

Beethoven’s total work consists of 722 pieces with 9 symphonies, 35 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets. In his short life, he gave many unique pieces to humanity. He is considered one of the greatest classical composers of all time in Western music, and is one of the most iconic musical figures of all time.

Did Beethoven Write Operas?

Beethoven wrote only one opera piece, which was called Fidelio. Unfortunately, it was almost a failure and got pretty terrible reviews from the audience and critics.

Fidelio was almost canceled, but Beethoven worked on it further and came up with newer, more acceptable versions.

However, he never tried to write another opera again.

How Did Beethoven Die?

Recent research suggests that he could have died from lead poisoning.

Beethoven was greatly in pain at the end of his life due to deafness, tinnitus, and chronic pains without a doctor who could understand why.

Most doctors made his condition worse as the medical knowledge was not sufficient back then.

Why Is Beethoven So Important For Music History?

Besides his amazing musical pieces, symphonies, and sonatas, Beethoven is the composer that ended the Viennese Classicism era with his completely new approach to music.

In doing this, he kicked off the Romanticism era.

For example, in his groundbreaking piece Symphony No. 9, he used many innovations like the part of the choir, which was never attempted before.

Why Did Beethoven Go Deaf?

The reason why Beethoven went deaf is not clear. The doctors could not diagnose his condition or give proper treatment.

There are different theories, such as syphilis and lead poisoning, typhus, and his habit of using cold water on his head which helped him to keep himself awake.

He once claimed that an incident in 1798, when he was angry at someone who interrupted him at work, and he fell down, gave him the condition as he found himself slightly deaf after standing up. But sometimes, he claimed it was because of gastrointestinal problems.

Beethoven once said, “The cause of this must be the condition of my belly which, as you know, has always been wretched and has been getting worse,” he wrote, “since I am always troubled with diarrhea, which causes extraordinary weakness.”

Wrapping Up

Ludwig Van Beethoven is considered one of the best classical music composers of all time and sits right next to Mozart as a musical genius.

His way of approaching music and the innovations he made in classical music is outstanding, which inspired many musicians later and still keeps inspiring new ones.

He composed countless piano concertos, string quartets, symphonies, and an opera which decided the course of music history.

Beethoven played many instruments throughout his life, including piano, organ, harpsichord, violin, viola, and guitar.

However, his primary instrument was always the piano which he started playing at the age of 5. He was a highly proficient piano player and had violin skills as he took lessons when he was a teenager. 

He was familiar with the rest of the instruments and played them a little to help him compose, but he was only a decent player at best.