Introduction: How to Play Arpeggios on the Piano

Most Piano students have heard of scales and chords and incorporate practicing them in their daily work at the keyboard.

Scales are played one note at a time and go either up or down in sequence. We usually start playing scales before we play chords.

Chords have notes that are played simultaneously instead of one at a time. There can be 2 or as many as 6 or more notes in a chord.

Sometimes, chords are played one note at a time, and when we do this, we are playing what is called an Arpeggio.

Never heard of an Arpeggio before? Let's find out what one is.

Step 1: What Is an Arpeggio?

An Arpeggio is any chord that is played one note at a time, instead of the usual way, which is by playing all of the notes at the same time by pressing on each of the keys simultaneously.

Take for example a C major chord.

To play this chord, you would press your 1st, 3rd, and 5th fingers down on the C, E, and G keys at the same time.

To play this as an Arpeggio, you would play each of your notes and fingers one at a time, starting with the C, then the E, and then the G.

How do you know when to play a chord as an Arpeggio in the music? There are a couple of ways so let's see what they are.

Step 2: How Are Arpeggios Written in Piano Music?

There are a couple of different ways that Arpeggios are notated in your piano music.

The first way is with an arrow to the left of the chord pointing up. This shows you to play one note at a time, and start with the bottom note first. (see image 1)

The arrow can also be pointing down, which means that you play the chord one note at a time starting with the top note this time. (see image 2)

The second way that Arpeggios are notated in our piano music is by writing each note of the chord one at a time, instead of on top of each other as they are written for chords. (see image 3)

Now that we know what Arpeggios are and how they are written in our music, let's find out why they are important to learn and practice.

Step 3: Why Should You Learn Arpeggios?

There are several reasons that it's good to start learning and playing Arpeggios as soon as possible, along with your scale and chord work.

The main ones are:

  • They actually appear in our piano music all the time. There are even some piano pieces where most of the notes are written as Arpeggios! The more comfortable we become with them, the more piano music we'll be able to play.
  • Arpeggios help us to learn and know our chords. Breaking down chords in any key and playing them as Arpeggios helps us to learn where each of our fingers press down on the keyboard for the chord itself, and how our fingers need to move and adjust as we play through each chord.
  • Practicing Arpeggios increases our hand and fingers strength and dexterity. Using our fingers one at a time like we do when we play Arpeggios works our muscle strength and coordination more than if we were only playing chords. This increase in flexibility benefits all the rest of your piano playing as well, and more than if you only practiced on scales and chords alone. Adding in Arpeggios to your "workout" is an important step to include for a balanced result.

Step 4: Helpful Tips

There are a few of important tips to remember when starting to learn and play Arpeggios.

Tip #1:

  • Learn and practice your Arpeggios one hand at a time, before trying to play both hands together. This is much easier and will help you be able to play both hands at the same time faster if you learn them separately first.

Tip #2:

  • Lean your hand and fingertips physically in the same direction the notes are going. If you are playing an ascending Arpeggio, meaning it goes from the bottom to the top, then lean your hand towards the right as you play it. If you are playing a descending Arpeggio, then reverse that, and turn your hand towards the left as you play from the top to the bottom.

Tip #3:

  • Pay attention to the fingering for each Arpeggio that you play. The fingering is important as it is written specifically for your hand to learn the proper placement for all of your notes.

Tip #4:

  • Set up a goal of learning one new Arpeggio say every day, or every week depending on your schedule. Start with the easiest one, which is C, and then move to the next one, such as D the next day or week. Play slowly at first and then increase your speed as you get to know the notes better and your fingers are moving faster across the keyboard.

Step 5: Come Practice With Me!

Arpeggios are important and fun to learn. They will teach your hands to move across the piano keyboard faster and with more confidence. You will also be able to play a lot more great piano music by increasing your technique skills to higher levels.

If you'd like to see what Arpeggios look like in piano music and practice playing some of them with me, click on this video to get started. You'll find extra tips and advice as well as Minor Arpeggios, practice examples, and a review quiz!