Today’s video is on how to play arpeggios on the piano. Just like scales and triads, arpeggios are a common technical exercise for the piano. They first appear in Grade 4 (RCM), and Grade 2 (ABRSM).
We’ve also talked about cross-hand arpeggios on this channel, which are the easiest form of this finger pattern – definitely give that a try first if you haven’t already.
The version of arpeggios we’ll be looking at today are the two-octave version. We’ll start by learning how to play them hands separately, and also give them a try hands together.
How to play arpeggios
First, this is what a two-octave arpeggio looks like.
A G major arpeggio is just the three notes of a G major chord (G, B, D) played going up, and then back down again.
The big difference between arpeggios and triads are that arpeggios just keep doing in one direction – they don’t weave back and forth like triads do.
Above is a 1-octave triad in C. Triads play all the different versions of C chord (starting on C, then starting on E, then starting on G). Arpeggios, on the other hand, don’t look back – they just keep moving forward.
That’s what makes them a challenge to play!
How to play a C major arpeggio
So let’s look at how to play an arpeggio. We’ll start by doing a C major arpeggio, since it’s easiest. I’ll start by showing you what a right hand 2-octave arpeggio looks like.
The challenge of arpeggios is that you span a large swath of the piano quickly. Accuracy is the biggest issue here when you’re making large finger leaps.
There are different ways to do this, but with arpeggios that start on the tonic (home) note, I pretty much never use finger #4. I’ll use the finger pattern #1, 2, 3 until I reach the top note, when I’ll use my pinky, and then do the same thing going down.
In the left hand, you’ll start by playing all your fingers (except 4), and then keep crossing over with fingers 3, 2, 1 until you reach the top.
The big challenge here is when your hand has to leap. We’ll start by looking at the right hand. The best way to do this quickly and smoothly is to partially cross your thumb under, but only partially. If you completely cross your thumb under, you’ll make an awkward elbow jab movement, which not only looks silly but slows you down, too.
So you cross your thumb under a little bit, and then “hop” your hand the distance. At a slow tempo this won’t sound perfectly smooth, but at a faster tempo it’ll sound seamless.
It takes a little practice to gauge the distance when making this “hop”, so be sure to start slowly in order to build the movement into your muscle memory.
In the left hand, you do pretty much the exact same thing – except instead of the “hop” being your thumb (finger 1), it’s finger 3 that crosses over and hops the leap. It’s the same process – cross over a little, and hop your hand the rest of the distance.
Hands together arpeggios
You don’t have to do hands together arpeggios in Grade 4 RCM, but you do need to know how to do them for Grade 4 ABRSM. This is tricky because each hand is going to be hopping in different spots.
As always, play very slowly to get the movements down. You might even find it helpful to write out the arpeggio notes so you can visually see where your hands have to move. Pay attention that you’re not doing ant weird elbow jabs as you get used to these.
Arpeggios with black keys
So if you’re playing an arpeggio with black keys, there are a couple of important rules to keep in mind:
Never start with your thumb/pinky on a black key (the only exception to this is Gb major/Eb minor arpeggio)
If your chord has two black keys and one white key, your thumb is always going to be switching/playing on the one white key.
The reason we want to avoid putting our first and last fingers on black keys is because they’re our shortest fingers, and the black keys are farthest away.
So if you’re playing an Eb major arpeggio, you definitely don’t want to start with your thumb. You want to use finger 3 instead, and keep your thumb free for landing on the white keys, which in this case is going to be “G”. Same goes for playing it in the left hand.
As long as you keep these rules in mind, you should be able to figure out the finger patterns for any major or minor arpeggio. They’re easy to learn, but challenging to execute.
Why learn arpeggios?
I want to end this video talking about a question: What’s the point of learning arpeggios?
There are a couple reasons. One is if you’re learning Classical music, you’ll often come across arpeggios built into the pieces – these are especially common in sonatinas and sonatas. If you learn how to play them on their own, it’s much easier to play them when you come across them in piano music.
Another reason to learn arpeggios is that they help you move across a large part of the keyboard quickly. Whereas exercises like scales move one key at a time across the piano, arpeggios skip a bunch of notes. This is great for developing your sense of “keyboard geography”.
I hope you enjoy this exercise, and I’ll catch you in the next video!
In today’s video, I’m going to share with you some of my favorite Grade 4 piano books. These books have pieces that are either in the RCM syllabus or ABRSM syllabus for grade 4 (and I’ll make note of which is which as we go).
There are so many great books at this level, and I don’t have anywhere close to all of them in my collection. Consider this discussion a starting point – music I’ve test-driven in my studio and have used for many years.
Grade 4 piano books: Collections
Let’s start by discussing the three collection books I have for this level. Collection books have a variety of pieces by a variety of different composers.
Here’s the RCM grade 4 repertoire book. It has three sections – list A, list B and list C. List A is music from the Baroque period, list B is music from the Classical period, and list C is Romantic and modern music. This is a good, foolproof book to pick up if you want a curated collection of pieces that are at a grade 4 level. It takes out all of the guesswork, and any of these pieces can be played for a grade 4 RCM exam.
Celebration Series: Piano Repertoire 4 2015 Edition. Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century and 21st century. Method book & online audio. 40 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5R04).
The ABRSM also has a similar grade 4 book that you can check out (though I don’t personally own it).
Piano Exam Pieces 2017 & 2018, Grade 4 Selected from the 2017 & 2018 syllabus. Composed by Richard Jones. ABRSM Exam Pieces. Book only. 24 pages. Published by ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) (PE.9781848498761).
Another collection book that I’ve recommended all the way back from a grade 1 level (or even preparatory, I can’t remember) is the Essential Keyboard Repertoire vol. 1. This collection has a mix of Baroque, Classical and Romantic pieces from about a grade 1-4 level. It’s great if you want a book you can use for years, and you don’t want to go out and buy a bunch of early books by guys like Bach and Kabalevsky.
Essential Keyboard Repertoire, Volume 1 100 Early Intermediate Selections in Their Original Form – Baroque to Modern. By perf. Kim O’Reilly. Edited by Lynn Freeman Olson. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition: Essential Keyboard Repertoire. Masterwork. Book & CD. 144 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.16780).
This book has 5 pieces at an RCM grade 4 level – 3 are list As, and there’s a list C and study as well.
Grade 4 piano books: Baroque/List A
For specifically Baroque music (List A), there are two books that I have and really like.
First off is the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which I consider a staple on any piano player’s shelf. This book has a wealth of pieces from grade 1 to 6, so it’s definitely a book that can grow with you. It’s also a necessary precursor to Bach’s other works, such as his Preludes, then Inventions, then Sinfonias. There are 5 pieces in this collection at a grade 4 level.
Notebook For Anna Magdalena Bach (1725)
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Georg Von Dadelsen. This edition: urtext edition. Stapled. Baroque. Collection. With introductory text (does not include words to the songs). Composed 1725. 47 pages. Published by Baerenreiter Verlag (BA.BA5164).
I also really like the Celebrate Scarlatti collection, mainly because I’m a big Scarlatti fan. Scarlatti was a Baroque composers whose brief sonatas have an oddly modern flavor, with more expression than what was typical of the era.
This collection leans in a more challenging direction, but there’s one piece at a grade 4 level. The bulk of this book is best played between level 5-7, but it’s a great book to have in your collection even at this earlier stage.
Grade 4 piano books: Classical
As far as Classical sonatinas go, Clementi’s op. 36 sonatinas are the gold standard. The first sonatina in this collection of six is the easiest (grade 3), with the others progressing in difficulty – the second sonatina is grade 4, the third is around grade 5, and so on. These sonatinas are challenging (as all Classical sonatinas and sonatas tend to be), but important.
Clementi – Sonatinas, Opus 36
Composed by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). Edited by Jennifer Linn. Schirmer Performance Editions. Softcover Audio Online. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.296466).
There are also other great sonatinas you can check out by guys like Kuhlau and Diabelli if you want to branch out – but this here is the main one to look at.
As a Classical alternative to sonatinas, you can always check out this book “Dances of Beethoven” – it’s got his 12 German dances (around a grade 4-5 level), among many other earlier-level Beethoven dances. Beethoven’s music tends to lean in a more challenging direction, so it’s nice to have a collection like this of some of his easier beginner and intermediate-level pieces.
Beethoven — Dances of Beethoven 19 Short Pieces to Play Before His Sonatinas. Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Edited by Maurice Hinson. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Classical; Masterwork; Romantic. Book. 48 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.2092).
Grade 4 piano books: Romantic
There are three Romantic-era collections that I consider very standard for grade 4.
The first is Schumann’s Album for the Young, op. 68. The pieces in here range in difficulty from grade 3 to 8, so it’s definitely a book that you can grow with. And don’t be put off by the title – young and old alike can and do enjoy the pieces in this collection!
Schumann — Album for the Young, Op. 68
By Kim O’Reilly. By Robert Schumann. Edited by Willard A. Palmer. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork CD Edition. Masterwork; play along. Book & 2 CDs. 84 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.22527).
There are 3 RCM grade 4 pieces in here, and 1 ABRSM grade 4 selection.
A very similar selection written some years later is Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, op. 39. He was inspired by Schumann, especially because there wasn’t a lot of “easier” repertoire for piano students at the time.
Tchaikovsky — Album for the Young, Op. 39
Composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Edited by Ylda Novik. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Masterwork; Romantic. Book. 64 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.485).
It ranges in difficulty from grade 3-7, and there are 3 RCM grade 4 pieces, with 1 ABRSM grade 4 selection. These are fun, colorful shorts and I really enjoy this collection for people of all ages.
Then we have Bartok’s For Children 1 and 2. Bartok’s style wasn’t Romantic – he leaned into more 20th century-style abstractions – but his style is so unique and playful that it’s worth exploring. It’s also important to note that some people absolutely loathe Bartok’s music, while others really love it. I’m definitely on the side of love, and I’ve played Bartok for almost all of my exams.
For Children – Volume 2 Based on Slovakian Folk tunes. Composed by Bela Bartok (1881-1945). BH Piano. 20th Century and Hungarian. Collection. With standard notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 44 pages. Boosey & Hawkes #M060112317. Published by Boosey & Hawkes (HL.48012052).
There are 7 pieces in the RCM syllabus at a grade 4 level, but the books themselves have over 2 dozen pieces in the syllabus between a grade 2 and 8 level. I consider this to be an important staple in an intermediate pianist’s collection.
There are also many, many good modern books at this level by composers like Nancy Telfer and Christopher Norton (who we’ll talk about in a moment) – definitely explore the RCM syllabus for more ideas and inspiration.
Grade 4 piano books: Studies
The “studies/etudes” category doesn’t exist in the ABRSM, but in the RCM it’s a short list of pieces that are meant to develop very specific techniques. Studies can be a lot of fun to learn because there’s usually some type of repetitive challenge involved, so they tend to be easier on the brain (but not easier on the fingers).
Your best bet for a good selection of etudes is the RCM’s grade 4 book of etudes. This book contains all of the etudes in the syllabus, so it gives you the most breadth.
Celebration Series: Piano Etudes 4 2015 Edition. Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series. Method book & online audio. 20 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5S04).
I also have another book that has a grade 4 study in it – Kabalevsky’s 24 Pieces for Children, op. 39. This is a book I’ve been recommending since the grade 1 incarnation of these videos, since they range in difficulty from about grade 1 to 5.
Kabalevsky – 24 Pieces for Children, Opus 39 Schirmer Performance Editions Book Only. Composed by Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987). Edited by Margaret Otwell. Schirmer Performance Editions. Softcover. Published by G. Schirmer (HL.297092).
If you’re at a grade 4 level it might be besides the point to pick up this book (unless you want it for sight reading), but if it’s something you already have in your collection, it can be a good resource. There are two grade 4 pieces in this collection – one is list C, and one is an etude.
Grade 4 piano books: Pop
The RCM also has a “popular repertoire” category in their syllabus (it’s actually a separate syllabus), and there are many fun pop books to explore. This is a category that is largely based on personal taste (if you like jazz, pop, country, rock, etc), but here are three of my favorites.
First off, Christopher Norton Connections book 4. I love these books and recommend them all the time. I love that each book is “graded” by level, so it’s easy to tell which book goes with which grade. I also love that there’s a diverse mix of pop styles in each book – everything from jazz to blues to Latin to more lyrical pieces.
My students always love Christopher Norton’s music – the tunes are, on the whole, very likeable and fun to learn.
The Piano Adventures method series has a wide variety of supplemental books – everything from pop to standards to kids’ songs to hymns. One of their books, Bigtime Piano Kids’ Songs 4, has 4 selections at a grade 4 level and they’re lots of fun (think Linus and Lucy and the Star Wars theme). You don’t need to be a kid to enjoy these.
BigTime Kids’ Songs Level 4. Arranged by Nancy Faber and Randall Faber. Faber Piano AdventuresÂ®. 40 pages. Faber Piano Adventures #FF3005. Published by Faber Piano Adventures (HL.420325).
The thing I like about the Piano Adventures books is that they’re very readable and approachable. They’re less “scary” looking than some of the more academic, formal books.
Finally we have My First Jazz Standards Songbook. This one has five pieces at a grade 4 level – stuff like Night Train and Stolen Moments. If you’re into jazz, and you’re at an early intermediate level, this could be a good place to start because these pieces aren’t overwhelming.
Today’s question comes from my piano students, and it’s something I’ve discussed with various students on multiple occasions. Do you need talent to be good at the piano? Is talent for some, and not for others? And what is talent, anyway?
Now that we’re into the new year, it’s fun to start thinking about resolutions and challenges for the upcoming year (2018). I figured this would be the perfect time to do a video on the “40 pieces a year challenge”.
In today’s video we’ll discuss this challenge, why I think it’s a great idea, and where you can find some online accountability.