Playing piano arpeggios are part of an important exercise routine for all pianists. But how to practice them? Here are effective piano exercises as well as helpful practice tips.
In classical piano technique, arpeggios and broken chords are studied as separate technical challenges.
Below you will learn about fingering used and tips on how to practice arpeggios. You can also print free (PDF) printable exercises and sheet music with arpeggios!
Arpeggios are broken chords, but played over a larger part of the piano keyboard. The name comes from the Italian word for harp; Arpa.
What you create when playing arpeggios, is a harp-like sound by spreading out a chord, played note by note (or broken), over one or several octaves.
What is the difference between broken chords and arpeggios?
Simple broken chords are practiced without any thumb under movement.
For example, play C-E-G in the right hand with fingers 1-3-5, one at a time. This broken chord can be played in many different patterns and inversions and is easy to play.
Arpeggios are played laterally, using the thumb-under motion to "pivot" from one position to the next.
When you play the same chord as an arpeggio over several octaves, for example C major: C-E-G-C-E-G-C, you use fingers 1-2-3-1-2-3-5.
Now you have to make a fluid lateral movement with your arm, and your thumb needs to move under the palm of your hand.
This pattern can also be played in different ways and with inversions, but usually this is what is called to play an arpeggio. Playing large arpeggios like this needs more practice, since it is harder to do.
The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios & Cadences (Amazon) gives you all you need.
However, after all is said and done... broken chords are arpeggios, and arpeggios are broken chords! : }
It is like etudes and exercises- they mean the same thing, but are used as a description of different types of piano playing technique.
In this video you can see how to practice piano arpeggios as well as broken chords as a technical exercise:
There is a way to write that a chord should be "'arpeggiated" with note symbols. It is a nice way to "decorate" a chord by playing it broken, one note at a time.
But this is not the same as the technique of playing "arpeggios", which we'll discover below.
The difficulty for pianists when playing arpeggios is to make the sound even and fluid.
Since you have to move your hand using the thumb-under motion, and move your arm laterally, the difficulty is to avoid making “jerky” movements.
For smooth playing it is first of all important to use correct fingering. This makes it easier for the hand to move as fluid as possible.
There are 12 major and 12 minor triads (3 note chords). They can be divided in 6 groups of black and white key patterns:
When playing the triads with only the basic three notes, broken or blocked, you can use the same fingering for all of them (Yes, even the thumb on the black keys!).
But for longer arpeggio fingering however, we have to organize the groups differently since the fingering will change in the left hand depending on how big the interval is between the first two notes.
As you saw in the fingering rules above, you will use finger 4 when there is one white key between them, and finger 3 when there are two white keys between.
A. With the right hand use fingering: 123 1235
For the following triads (Groups 1, 2, 4, 5, 6):
B. Use fingering: 412 4124
For the following triads (Group 3):
C. Use fingering: 231 2312
A. With the left hand use fingering: 542 1421
For the following triads (Groups 1, 2, 4):
B. Use fingering: 532 1321
For the following triads (Groups 2, 4, 5):
C. Use fingering: 214 2142
For the following triads (Group 3):
D. Use fingering: 321 3213
For the following triads (Group 5, 6):
Here are some really great thumb exercises to use before playing arpeggios. They will help “loosen up” your thumb, and give greater security when making lateral changes.
Regularly practicing these exercises will also make it easier to play arpeggios fast.
(From a text in the public domain. For the FREE complete pdf, go here.)
Hanon’s Le Pianiste Virtuose is a great resource:
To avoid emphasizing the thumb, the patterns are written in four-note groups.
Broken chords are easy to find in numerous compositions. Arpeggios are used in etudes, and in some piano repertoire, but usually on more advanced levels.
Czerny wrote a few etudes that are not too hard but still use a lot of arpeggio movements.
You can get all of Czerny’s op.849 in a nice edition here: Czerny Etudes op. 849.(Amazon)
For practicing arpeggios, I suggest you start with Etude nr. 15, it is a very nice etude with lots of arpeggios for both hands. Great workout!