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How to Play Piano Arpeggios

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Playing arpeggios on the piano can be beautiful, flowing and dream-like. But when you’re first starting out, it can be hard to figure out.

In this post, we’ll show you how to learn piano arpeggios and give you some practice tips.

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So let’s talk about arps…

What Is an Arpeggio?

To understand arpeggios you need to know your basic piano chords.

While a piano chord is normally played with multiple notes at the same time, an arpeggio is a chord that gets played one note at a time.

So to play a C Major chord regularly you’d play the notes C+E+G at the same time.

To play that same chord as an arpeggio, you would play C, E and G separately.

When you’re reading piano music an arpeggio can be notated as separate notes on the staff, but it can also be written as a regular chord (notes stacked on top of each other) but with an arrow to the left of it.

If the arrow is pointing up it means you start on the bottom note of the chord (usually the root) and move upwards. If it points down then you start on the top note (usually the 5th in a triad chord) and work down.

Playing Technique

You can play piano arpeggios in a few different ways:

  1. In “root” position (ex/ C -> E -> G)
  2. In reverse order (ex/ G -> E -> C)
  3. Inverted order (ex/ E -> C -> G)

You could play an arpeggio once, but normally in a piece of music an arpeggio will be played multiple times back-to-back, as part of a melody.

When it comes to your hand movements, it’s really all about how your wrist moves when moving up and down the keyboard.

If you’re moving your hand away from your body then your wrist will move in a “u” shape, up to down.

But if you’re moving your hand towards your body your write moves in an upside-down “u” shape, down to up.

If you can try to remember good technique while playing, you’ll be able to progress to more complex and fast arpeggios quicker.

One Octave vs. Multiple Octave Arpeggios

Arpeggios will often span multiple octaves within a piece of music. Of course, there can be times when you arpeggiate a chord within a single octave, but you’ll also have to play it across two or more.

When you’re dealing with multiple octaves, you’ll have to use a “hand leap” where you’re moving your hands across each other to reach up and down the keyboard.

But another technique that is used in shorter arpeggios (or where your other hand is otherwise occupied) can be thought of as “finger tucking.”

This is where you tuck a finger (often the thumb) underneath your palm so you can continue hitting notes up (or down) the keyboard.

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A Basic Piano Arpeggio Pattern for Beginners

Now that you know exactly how to play piano arpeggios and how to recognize them, let’s go over a basic pattern you can learn quickly as a beginner.

The Crossover

The crossover arpeggio pattern is the best one to practice for beginner piano players because it’s short and simple.

All you have to do is pick a chord and play it across two octaves using both of your hands.

Here’s how it’s done with a C Major Chord:

  • Start with both hands on the piano – right hand thumb on middle C
  • Play C -> E -> G an octave below, starting with your left hand’s pinky
  • After hitting the G, play C -> E -> G starting on middle C with your right hand
  • As you’re playing the arpeggio in your right hand, cross your left hand over top of it to an octave above middle C
  • After hitting the G with your right hand, use your left hand to hit the C note above it
  • Now start working your way back down, starting by hitting G -> E -> C with your right hand
  • While playing that, cross your left hand back over your right hand
  • Finish the arpeggio by playing the G -> E -> C sequence with your left hand starting on the G below middle C

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How to Use Piano Arpeggios

Arpeggios can be used in a variety of instances. They can help to support the harmony of a song, or act as the melody itself.

Oftentimes, when playing piano music the entire accompaniment will consist of a piano arpeggio.

Think of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelluja” where the piano part is a 4-chord progression played as an arpeggio up and down.

The chord is broken up and played as eighth notes up and down once, before moving onto the next chord and repeating the pattern with it.

But an arpeggio can also be used as an embellishment within a larger piano piece, as well.

Arpeggio Practice Tips

Since there are many different uses of arpeggios, it’s important to make them a part of your overall piano practice routine.

Here are some suggestions to implement during your practice to help you improve quicker.

Take your time

Playing fast is always cool, but when you’re practicing you need to take it slow.

This isn’t a race yet – you should focus on building good technique and muscle memory. Once you’ve got good technique, you just need to put in the reps. It doesn’t matter how slow (and in the beginning, slowing things down is often better).

So focus on technique and repetition. Once muscle memory kicks in, you can gradually start to increase your speed (while still paying attention to proper technique).

And that will allow you to play blazingly fast arpeggios over time.

Be Like Water

The fluidity of your movements is paramount to a smooth piano arpeggio.

You don’t want to be rigid and jerky in your playing here. The idea is to let the notes flow. So you’ll also have to learn how to let your hands and arms flow.

Pay attention to your internal sense of rhythm and time. If your fluidity is lacklustre, spend some time focusing on how you’re moving when playing.

The more smooth your motions can be, the more beautiful your arpeggios will sound.

Use a Metronome

This is just a generally good piece of advice for practicing any instrument. But it’s especially helpful when you’re learning arpeggios.

Making sure you’re able to keep time and rhythm in check is important to beautiful and impactful playing.

Start slow, with a very low BPM and gradually work your way up to faster speeds.

However, if you want to work on your fluidity of movement (making sure you’re playing notes smoothly) then stick to a super low BPM.

If you set a metronome to 60bpm and try to play an arpeggio using 16th notes, for example, you will force yourself to find the “beats within the beats.”

This will make you a much more fluid player. Try it out.


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Final Thoughts

Arpeggios can be a very fun way to practice your piano.

They sound great and can become very complex and intricate as you get better. They also serve as a great foundation to a song, or can even take the spotlight themselves.

Make sure you’re putting in enough practice to really master this piano playing technique. It’s all about putting in a large number of repetitions. 

Once you build up that muscle memory, you’ll be able to play them like a pro – without even thinking about it.

If you really want to level up your piano playing, there’s nothing better than learning your favorite songs. So I highly recommend you try out FlowKey – the best online piano song library around.

Thanks for reading this article on how to learn piano arpeggios – I hope it was helpful.

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.