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.
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!