The Best Ballet Music For Studying: The Best of Tchaikovsky

When in the initial stages of planning this article series, I thought I would suggest a variety of pieces from a range of ballets and composers. While compiling this list, I realized that my dear friend Tchaikovsky deserved his own article highlighting his best work. In the following article, you will find Tchaikovsky’s best pieces from his three most famous ballets: “Swan Lake”, “The Sleeping Beauty”, “The Nutcracker”.


“Swan Lake” (Opus 20)

It would be impossible to create a playlist of ballet music without including the magical and haunting music of the swans. While this particular oboe-infused theme has made its way into public consciousness, there is so much more to this score than just the scenes that take place by the lake. The first and third acts follow the path of the prince, taking place in a village and ballroom setting respectively. The third act, in particular, includes pieces inspired by different nationalities of guests, including Hungarian, Spanish, and Russian. Additionally, although public awareness has made certain pieces widely recognizable, there are still a large number of swan themed pieces that don’t get the recognition they deserve.

Pieces that absolutely need to be included in your playlist:

Act I:

Scene 1: Introduction

No. 9 Finale


Act II:

No. 13:

     3. Tempo di valse

     5. White Swan Pas de deux​

No. 14 Scène: Moderato


Act III:

No. 5 Originally, Pas de deux for Two Merry-makers, now, more commonly known as the Black Swan Pas de Deux

No. 20 Russian Dance

No. 21 Spanish Dance

No. 22 Napolitaine Dance

No. 23 Mazurka

Note: For No. 5, the Black Swan Pas de Deux, for some reason many different recordings break up the entrance and the rest of the music that makes up the pas de deux. To get the full effect of the piece of music and listen to it how it was meant to be heard, watch this video.


“The Sleeping Beauty” (Opus 66)

Although nearly everyone has heard at least some of Tchaikovsky’s score, many people are not aware of it. If you have ever watched Disney’s version of “The Sleeping Beauty” you have heard some of the ballet’s music. Although a great deal of Tchaikovsky’s score was used throughout the movie, the most recognizable piece stems from “The Garland Waltz” of Act I, which provided the tune for the song “Once Upon a Dream” in the Disney movie. Although The Garland Waltz remains one of the best-known pieces of ballet music, there is a lot of music from Tchaikovsky’s whimsical score that should not be missed. Beyond the story that we are all familiar with, the ballet version of the story includes a dream scene where the Aurora and the Prince meet for the first time, as well as a final wedding attended by beloved fairy tale characters including Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and Princess Florine and the Bluebird. I especially love the pas de deux’s in this ballet, they're really beautiful!

Pieces that absolutely need to be included in your playlist:

Act I:

No. 6 The Garland Waltz


Act II:

No. 15 The Dream Scene Pas de Deux​


Act III:

No. 21 March

No. 22 Grand polonaise (The Procession of the Fairy Tales)

No. 24 Puss in Boots and White Cat

No. 25 Bluebird Pas de Deux

No. 26 Red Riding Hood

No. 28

  1. Entrance of Aurora and the Prince
  2. Grand Adagio

Note: My top recommendation from this score is No. 28a. Although this piece is short, it stands as one of the loveliest pieces in the entire score.


“The Nutcracker” (Opus 71)

While the “The Nutcracker” remains a staple of the Holiday Season, it doesn’t need to chilly outside for you to enjoy this classic. While I will agree that certain pieces like Trepak and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (the one that is played during all the car commercials) should be left for the latter part of the year, several pieces remain enjoyable all year round!

Pieces that absolutely need to be included in your playlist:

Act I:

No. 1 Overture

No. 8 A Pine Forest in Winter (a.k.a. Journey through the Snow”)

No. 13 Waltz of the Flowers

No. 14 Sugar Plum Pas de Deux

No. 15 Final Waltz and Apotheosis


Despite having lived during the 19th century, Tchaikovsky’s music continues to have an important role in Western culture. Even if you have not seen the ballets mentioned in this article, it is almost a certainty that you have heard the music. So, the next time you are looking for a way to spice up your study playlist, consider adding a little Tchaikovsky!

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3