What is an arpeggio?
The term Arpeggio has its roots In the Italian word arpeggiare, which means to play on the harp. A harpist plucks the strings one by one to play individual notes and chords, which is where the technique gets its name from.
However, this does not mean that you can play an Arpeggio only on the harp. You can play Arpeggios on a host of musical instruments, including the guitar, synthesizers, and of course – the piano.
To gain a better understanding of what an Arpeggio is and how it sounds, take a look at this experiment on Chrome Music Lab. Scales and arpeggios are similar concepts, but have some important differences. An Arpeggio is a type of broken chord in which you play the notes in either ascending or descending order.
The simplest way to understand what an Arpeggio is, is to think of it as an extension of a triad. (You can learn more about broken chords and triads here).
What is a triad?
As a quick refresher, you can play a triad by combining three notes together. This is extremely simple – you just have to play three keys in succession while skipping alternate keys to create a triad. If you want to play a triad in the C Major scale, play the notes C, E, and G. Note that you are skipping the D and F notes that lie in between. Thus, you end up with a triad in the C Major scale, one of the best piano scales to learn. Since you start off with the root note of C, the triad is called the C Major Triad.
How to play an arpeggio
Arpeggios take things one step further. Instead of only progressing along the notes, you have to come back to the original position you started at. For the C Major Arpeggio, after you play the C-E-G triad, you will have to complete the Arpeggio by returning to the C note. You can do this by playing C-E-G-E-C. This is the most basic form of an Arpeggio, called a one-octave, three-note Arpeggio.
If you are practicing with your right hand, it is a good idea to use your fingers 1-3-5-3-1, (where finger 1 is your thumb) to play the Arpeggio. However, if you want to use your left hand for practice, you will have to follow the finger sequence 5-3-1-3-5. After a little bit of practice, you can play Arpeggios with both hands at the same time. This will produce a lovely sound and give you a sense of accomplishment as well.
Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love is the perfect example of a song that incorporates arpeggios. The entire composition revolves around a linear arpeggio in the C-major scale.
To try your own hand at playing Arpeggios, check out this lesson of the song on Skoove, our online music learning tool that patiently teaches you how to play the piano.
However, three-note Arpeggios are not the only types of Arpeggios that you will encounter. As you advance in your playing skills, you will come across more advanced Arpeggios.
Different types of arpeggios
Four-note one-octave arpeggios
Once you master the three-note Arpeggio, the next rung on the ladder you have to climb is the four-note Arpeggio. Instead of turning back at the third note, you will have to turn back at the fourth note. This will require you to play seven notes in total, compared to the five in three-note Arpeggios.
Continuing with the example of the C major triad, you will have to play C-E-G-C-G-E-C. Note the two additional notes after the first three in this type of Arpeggio.
These two additional notes will require you to use an additional finger to play the four-note Arpeggio. You will have to change your fingering to accommodate this change. If you are using your right hand, you can play it by using your fingers 1-2-3-5-3-2-1. Similarly, if you are using your left hand, you can go 5-3-2-1-2-3-5.
The first two types of Arpeggios we discussed are what pianists call one-octave Arpeggios. These Arpeggios are very simple to learn as they keep your hand in a static position above the keyboard.
Practice the one-octave Arpeggio with Skoove until you have mastered it. Once you have gained command of this technique you can move up in skill level and try your hand at sweeping the keyboard like Liberace. You can do this by playing Arpeggios that span more than one octave.
Two-octave Arpeggios, as the name suggests, span two octaves of notes. This introduces a problem for pianists, as you may realize that you do not have enough fingers on your hand to complete Arpeggios that span more than one octave. You will have to do a little bit of finger trickery to get the job done in this case.
Instead of using the fifth finger, you will have to tuck your thumb at the fourth note so that you can reset your hand and continue to play. This makes sure that you do not run out of fingers to complete the Arpeggio.
To do this, instead of going 1-2-3-5…, you will have to go 1-2-3, then bring in your thumb to the next note, then go 1-2-3-5. Overall this would look like: 1-2-3-tuck-1-2-3-5.
When you turn back to return to the original position, you will find that you encounter the same problem again. When you run out of fingers after 1-2-3-tuck-1-2-3-5-3-2-1, you will have to pivot your hand using your thumb. Then, bring your middle finger (finger 3) up to the next note to reset your hand. Then you can use 3-2-1 to play the remaining notes of the Arpeggio and complete it.
Overall, a two-octave Arpeggio will look like 1-2-3-tuck-1-2-3-5-3-2-1-pivot-3-2-1 if you are using your right hand. For a left-handed Arpeggio, you will have to go 5-3-2-pivot-5-3-2-1-2-3-5-tuck-2-3-5.
This act of tucking and pivoting your hand to continue to play is a little bit tricky at first. However, once you perfect this method, you can use the same technique to play three-octave or four octave Arpeggios. You can even sweep an entire seven-octave piano with this method.
Thus, when you play an Arpeggio, it does not matter where on the keyboard you start playing from. You can keep going across the keyboard and pivot your hand to use your other fingers to complete the Arpeggio.
This will take your hand across the keyboard, and sound lovely at the same time.
What are the benefits of learning the arpeggio?
There are countless benefits of learning how to play Arpeggios on the piano. Learning to play Arpeggios is an essential step in climbing your way to piano mastery because of several reasons:
As we stated earlier, Arpeggios sound extremely pleasing to the ears. The smooth ascension and subsequent descent of the notes makes for a very natural progression with a very satisfactory effect.
Learning how to play Arpeggios can also improve your dexterity and fluency in playing the piano. As you master the art of playing Arpeggios, you can have much faster fingers – all without compromising on the accuracy. This is why Arpeggios are also an extremely effective way of warming up before you give a performance.
Arpeggios that consist of more than one octave also take your hands across the entire keyboard when you play them. This makes such Arpeggios extremely invaluable tools for someone looking to advance their playing skills and get comfortable playing across the board.
As your fingers travel across the whole keyboard, this gives a sense of movement and sophistication to your playing as well. This can be extremely useful, especially for those that like to compose their own music.
If you, after knowing these benefits, feel compelled to learn how to play the Arpeggio, check out this lesson on Skoove. Skoove will listen to you play, and wait for you to hit the right key before advancing to the next step. This way, you can practice until you can play the piece flawlessly.
Tips to practice arpeggios
When you sit down to practice the Arpeggios, there are a couple of tips you should follow. Doing so makes sure that you have a productive practice session. Practicing on the piano can be a fun and relaxing exercise, but it can easily turn ugly and cause frustration if you are impatient. Follow these suggestions to keep your practice session fun and productive:
Take your time
We cannot stress this point enough. No matter which aspect of piano technique you are practicing, it is important not to rush things. Take your time and do not expect to learn everything in one sitting. Any skill takes time and experience to learn properly, and the case with playing the piano is no different. Try to remain calm if things are not progressing as quickly as you hoped they would.
It is important to keep the activity fun and not make it a chore. Experimenting with the technique is a good way to do this. Not only will it keep the practice sessions fun and invigorating, it will build your interest and keep you motivated to further improve your skills.
Fluid body movements
Piano posture and fluid body movement not only adds a look of elegance to your performance, it can actually improve the way you play. Try to keep your shoulders and wrists relaxed while you play. Move your elbows freely with the flow as your fingers move across the keyboard. Keep your back straight, and twist your waist when you have to move across the keyboard. Make sure that your shoulders are parallel to the ground as you do this.
If you follow these steps, you will be able to play the piano much more fluently. Additionally, you will look great as you do so. Win-win!
Keep your fingers ready
Upper body movement is not the only thing you have to pay attention to while practicing. You must also ensure that your fingers are always ready to play the next note. This is especially true for multiple-octave Arpeggios, as you will have to do the tuck and pivot method we mentioned earlier.
Always position your hands to play the next two keys in advance. It is important that you do not wait until you play the fifth finger (your pinkie finger) to move your thumb. Otherwise you will trip over your fingers trying to keep up with the tempo.
Instead of waiting, move your thumb as soon as you play the fourth finger to have it ready to play the next note.
Baby steps are important
Do not expect to sweep the keyboard like a masterful pianist after your first practice session. As with any skill, you have to build a strong foundation before you can move up to the big leagues.
Make sure that you master the three-note Arpeggio before you move on to the four-note one. Then, take your time with the four-note Arpeggio. Only move on to the two-octave Arpeggio when you have complete command over the one-octave Arpeggio.
However, once you can play the two-octave Arpeggio flawlessly, you can move onto three-, or four-, or even seven-octave Arpeggios. These follow the same technique, so you can skip right to sweeping the keyboard once you master the two-octave Arpeggio.
Start with a slow tempo, then build up your speed
Building on the previous point that we mentioned, it is important to start with a slow tempo at first. Use a metronome to time yourself and keep the playing synchronized. As you get a hang of playing, you can increase the tempo and build up your playing speed. With enough practice, you will be able to play like a smooth and gallant pianist to your audience of admirers.
Use a metronome!
The surest way to build up strong technique with arpeggios to practice with a metronome. There are so many ways to practice arpeggios with the free online metronome. For example, you can set the metronome to a slow tempo and practice whole notes to really dial in your finger placement. Next, you could play half notes inside that slow tempo to build your strength and time feel. Keep increasing the rhythmic subdivision until you can play eighth notes inside that same whole note metronome tempo. When you can do this, try speeding up the metronome! With steady and consistent effort, you will be pleased with the results!
Where can I find reference material for practice?
Now that you know how to practice your Arpeggios, you might be wondering where you can get the reference material to do it. You need not worry though. Skoove is an excellent piano learning platform that allows you to practice on your own time. Among our extensive list of piano lessons, you can find lessons for Arpeggios as well.
Once you perfect the art of playing Arpeggios with your right hand, it is time to move onto the left one!
When you are able to play with both of your hands with equal proficiency, you should challenge yourself with a different sequence.
However, if you want to practice playing popular songs that have Arpeggios in them, we suggest browsing their library of songs to learn how to play your favorite ones. Skoove creates and maintains arrangements of popular songs for people according to their skill level. No matter your skill level, you can easily find familiar tunes to practice with Skoove.
Our picks of songs include the following:
You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry & The Pacemakers
House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
Go to these lessons to practice your hand at playing the Arpeggios. With plenty of practice, you just might get enough style and command of the piano to be the next Liberace!
Author of this blog post:
Sa Bal worked as a freelancer for digital and content marketing agencies for 6 years. She’s now a professional copywriter, writing extensively on topics related to piano.