How do You Practice Arpeggios on the Piano?

Arpeggios – they can be the bane of a musician’s existence. Yes, ask us to play scales, and we will play them with verve and confidence because we’ve been playing them our whole lives. Ask us to play arpeggios, and you will likely get a different response.

But how do you practice arpeggios in a way that is actually productive? Most people sort of avoid this part of their practice because, after all, arpeggios are just broken up chords. How hard can it be? 

It can be difficult, confusing, and almost mind-bending because while arpeggios exist in music, they are difficult to pluck out of the air and practice. Even if you sign up for piano lessons in West Chester, you may need some help with arpeggios.

What are Arpeggios?

Arpeggios are broken chords. More specifically, you are typically talking about the first, third, fifth, and then eighth note in a scale. For example, in C Major, the major arpeggio is 1-3-5-8-5-3-1.  You can take this arpeggio over as many octaves as you want.

The minor arpeggio, following that same logic, it 1-b3-5-8-5-b3-1. The flat 3 is what makes it minor. Easy enough. These are the most common arpeggios, and that is more than likely what you will be asked to learn and practice most of the time. However, you should also be aware that there are augmented and diminished arpeggios. Augmented arpeggios are those that use only major thirds so you would play, in C, C-E-G#-C. Diminished arpeggios only use minor thirds, so you would play, in C, C-Eb-Gb-Bbb-C. (That’s super complex, and you don’t need to worry about that right now.)

There are even arpeggios that follow the chord structure of complex harmonies. There is a lot that you can learn based purely on arpeggios.

In short, arpeggios are broken chords. They can be used in music at any time, and you need to know them simply so that you can recognize them. Plus, they help you recognize chord structure. When you look at C-E-G, you think, “Oh, that’s just a C Major chord.”

Are Arpeggios Difficult to Play?

No. They’re maybe a bit weird, but that’s all. Arpeggios are not difficult. If you spend all your time telling yourself that they are hard to play, it is going to be difficult to overcome them in any meaningful way. For one thing, you are defeating yourself before you even get started. Second, some of them are painfully simple. C Major? Come on, that’s not so bad.

But here’s the catch – like anything else in piano, arpeggios are hard to play well. If you want to be able to play them legato, staccato, with dynamics, and with proper technique, you’ll need to practice them carefully.

Why Should You Practice Them?

You need to practice arpeggios because they appear in music. They are everywhere. While you will have them in your piano music, they also help you break up and recognize chords. They make it easy for you to learn chord structures, and they also mirror much of what wind and string players are asked to play.

Because other musicians can only play one note at a time, they are given arpeggios to mimic the effect of chords. If you are, for example, accompanying a choir or soloist, they have a lot of arpeggios. You cannot help them if you do not recognize the arpeggios in their music and how that parallels what you are playing.

Some of the best advice musicians get is from the pianist in the corner who can recognize, play, and explain something confusing (like arpeggios) in their music.

A Few Practice Techniques

How do you practice arpeggios? 

Obvious. Lock yourself in a dark room for a week and…

Just kidding. The best way to start is to go as slow as possible. Do not even take out the metronome. Play the arpeggio, use the finger positions in the book you have, and learn where your muscles need to go. If you are not training your muscles, it is going to be very hard for them to remember.

Once you have the arpeggio under your fingers, turn on the metronome and play slowly, in quarter notes at 60 bpm. Why 60? It’s the perfect practice tempo. (Side note, going back to 60 always makes your life easier. Trust us on this one.)

Play the arpeggio slowly at 60 until you feel more confident. Turn up the metronome a little and try again. You can repeat this process for each new arpeggio. You can change the rhythm as you go. For example, easy arpeggios are just 1-3-5-8-5-3-1. That’s it.

If you want to change it up, because the arpeggio is weird and your brain needs a break, you can use dotted rhythms like 1–35–85–31. You can also reverse that pattern by going 13–58–53-1.

Also try playing arpeggios with different touch (staccato and legato), and try them in a triplet formation. And above all, if you can’t play arpeggios confidently with both hands, you’re playing them too fast.

How do You Memorize Arpeggios?

When you are memorizing arpeggios, it all comes down to theory. Anyone who is learning piano is studying theory at the same time. If you know the scales and chords, you can pick out the notes. At the same time, it helps to have the arpeggios written down. If you are consistent, they will be memorized over time without any work on your part. Forcing yourself to memorize something is horrible. Practicing consistently and realizing one day that it is memorized is much more satisfying.

Can you name a C Major triad? Can you name the notes of C7 chord? If so, you know the arpeggio.

Start with Piano Lessons Today

When you sign up for piano lessons in Downingtown, you will find that you can learn chords, arpeggios, practice techniques, and much more. Get in touch for lessons in my studio or online – I’m looking forward to hearing from you.