Easy piano tutorial: arpeggios (and Adele)

Uploaded by billhiltonbiz on 14.03.2011

Have a listen to this. You might recognise it,
but even if you don't, just watch what my right hand is doing.
It's dead simple.
[Demonstrates arpeggios from 'Someone Like You' Adele]
Okay, so you might recognise that as part of the accompaniment
to a song called Someone Like You by Adele,
which as I speak is enjoying its seventh or eighth week
at the top of the UK chart.
I want to talk about 'Someone Like You' a couple of times in this video
so if you don't know the song
if you live in the UK it's been hard to avoid it but if you live elsewhere
and don't know the song go and have a listen to it.
The best video - the best version of her doing it is on YouTube
it's the one she shot in the Radio One Live Lounge just before Christmas.
It's actually better than the 'official' version.
She's more confident, she really nails it,
and it's just her with her pianist Miles Robertson
and you can see, there are lots of very good close-up shots
of what Miles is doing on the piano.
So, worth having a look at. I'll include a link here, I'll stick
one at the end of the video in case you want to watch the whole thing first.
Okay, so what I was doing there is what Miles Robertson does when he's accompanying Adele.
It's a very simple arpeggio.
Okay, an arpeggio sounds like a kind of pizza topping
but in fact it's a very simple, very useful, very powerful tool
if you are interested in playing kind of pop or ballad piano.
It's sometimes called a broken chord, and you can see why.
That's a chord of A major. [Plays A major chord]
And what I'm doing is breaking it up into its individual notes
and playing them in a pattern.
As it happens I'm using the pedal (the sustain pedal) to stick them together
a little bit. Okay, that's all it is.
Now, arpeggios - broken chords - can take a number of forms.
They can be quite simple like that, or they can be used for really flashy runs.
[Demonstrates broken chord runs up piano]
Or you can use them in your left hand for accompaniment,
so in 'Someone Like You' it was right hand arpeggio left hand chord,
but you can reverse that.
[Demonstrates arpeggios in the left hand]
Or, as you can see what I'm doing there
[Plays broken chords between two hands]
You can even (if you want to get a little bit more confident) you can
kind of split them between the two hands.
The great benefit of arpeggios is that they are easy.
Once you know your chord shapes -we'll talk about that a little bit later-
but once you know your chords and their inversions on the piano,
they are dead, dead, dead easy to play.
If you've had piano lessons, you will have a head start here anyway
because you probably spent a lot of time when you were learning the piano
playing arpeggios for your piano teacher,
which will be a good background.
Easiness is their prime benefit.
So if you want to play a kind of ballad type song, all you need to do
is go on to the web, find the chords, work out the chord shapes
and break them up into an arpeggio. Then you can sing over the top.
If you want to actually play the melody on the piano you could work that out as well
and maybe play an arpeggio in the left.
Especially if you're looking for a way to accompany yourself, or someone else, singing
arpeggios are absolutely brilliant and dead easy.
And - this is the next benefit - they sound great.
If you just play flat chords you can get a lot of expressivity into them.
But you can't really push the boat out unless you've got a beautiful touch.
With an arpeggio
[Plays Someone Like You arpeggios]
because you can put slightly different pressure on each note,
it really sort of swells.
Sort of dying sounds like that.
Another thing you can do is pick out one note, give it more stress like this.
So it's really expressive. If you're singing a very emotional,
spiritual or moving song like Someone Like You, you can really use arpeggios
so you get an incredible sound without making an enormous amount of effort.
Next benefit, they are easy to transpose.
Let's say that I - having seen Someone Like You on the internet
or on the radio - I wanted to play it for myself and sing it for myself.
I go and find the chords and I find that it's in A.
I figure out that the first note is an E. Little bit high!
Little bit too high for me.
Take it down an octave and it's a little bit too low. It's not really in the right range for me.
So I can just transpose it.
Quick tip for you, the best way to do that, if a song is just a little bit too high in one octave
and a little bit too low in another, bring it down by a fourth. Bring the key down by a fourth.
So sing an A. We'll come down the scale of A major.
You need a little bit of technical knowledge here but not much.
Come down one, two, three, four, which puts us in E major.
Now, the benefit of coming down a fourth is that the chord
(it's the same as going up a fifth by the way, but that's by the by)
is that the chord shapes are very, very similar to the original.
So, transposing isn't the enormous sweat it would be if you were going from A to like, D flat or something.
So now I'm in E, I can sing it much more comfortably.
- You know how time flies only yesterday was the time of our lives -
- we were born and raised in a summer haze -
- bound by the surprise of our glory days -
You didn't expect to hear me singing, did you? Nasty surprise, that.
Okay, just off a little side note, one of the reasons I picked that bit is that it
shows what an incredible piece of songwriting this song is.
Listen to the lyrics, listen to the sounds that Adele has picked at the end of each line,
especially in that section I've just sung:
flies, yesterday, lives, raised, haze, surprise, days.
Really open sounds, open vowel sounds.
[Sings and plays excerpt from Someone Like You]
Those lovely open vowel sounds really build the flow and emotion of the song.
Backed up by the arpeggios they make it beautiful.
A little songwriting tip there, if you're after a really lovely, clear, expressive sound
like this, go for those open vowel sounds.
If she'd ended the lines with words like rough or king or singing,
hard vowel sounds, it wouldn't work half as well.
The soft, open vowel sounds and the lovely arpeggio really go to make the song there.
Okay, one or two little technical bits and pieces.
How do we make our arpeggios work well? Well, it's a matter of, first of all, practising them a little bit.
I'll come to that in a second.
Mainly it's about combining your fingers and good use of your fingers,
with good use of your feet on the sustain pedal.
Fingering an arpeggio can involve quite a few stretches.
So say we wanted rather than just playing that, to go up a bit further,
we've got to go under like that.
So, you could play the arpeggio just like that, 1 3 5.
If you're going to go up further you're probably best off playing it 1 2 3, 1 2 3,
under, 1. That can be quite painful.
Especially as I've got a touch of a repetitive strain injury at the minute.
So especially if you've done too much typing.
If your hands are hurting like mine are, that can be a little bit painful.
Worth having a go at though.
If you use your pedal, you can kind of stick it together without
worrying too much about what your fingers are doing.
It's a good idea to make sure that your fingers are still being used efficiently.
Arpeggios are also great for strengthening up your fourth and fifth fingers.
If you do a lot of improvising you might find that you rely -
this is something that I talk about all the time -
you might find you're relying a bit too much on one, two and three.
Four and five are put to work when you play arpeggios, so that's great.
Experiment, be careful with how you use your fingers and use your pedal.
It can be tempting just to hold the pedal down.
Now that's great if you're just on one chord,
but if you're changing to another one you end up with a bit of a mush.
So at least re-pedal between your chord changes.
[Plays excerpt from Someone Like You]
And pedal...and pedal...and pedal, okay?
Again, it's about playing around, having an experiment, seeing how you get on.
If you happen to have a real piano,
you will find that you get an extra little benefit from arpeggios.
One of the things about digital pianos - might not be high end digital pianos that do this,
but certainly middle-range ones I've played have-
one of the things about digital pianos is that you don't get all of the effects of overtones.
If this was a real piano and I held that chord of A down silently, and then played
[Plays chords with left hand]
something like that down there and then lifted the pedal,
you would hear these notes ringing on,
because on a real piano it's hammers off the strings
and the overtones of these notes that the higher notes that are part of the -
look at overtones on Wikipedia if you want the full explanation, it's too complicated to go in here.
The overtones of those notes make the open strings ring on.
That doesn't happen with a digital piano, but with a real piano it does and if you're playing
a big piano with long, long strings, you can get these lovely, lovely sounds,
because if you're holding that chord down in your right and playing in your left
or vice versa, every little hit of a key against a chord held down is
another little push, another little throb for those notes that are held down.
So if you're playing a real piano you can get this lovely, roaring, rolling, warm sound.
It's absolutely beautiful. If you watch the video of Adele in the
Live Lounge and you look at Miles Robertson the guy's absolutely blissed out!
He's away with the fairies, and it's not hard to see why because it's
such a wonderful feeling and it goes right through you
playing those open arpeggios with the pedal down on a big piano.
There's so much power there.
Like I said, if you've had piano lessons in the past,
you will already have some familiarity with arpeggios, especially if you took piano lessons
to a reasonably high degree.
If you went up to Grade 6 or 7 then you will have started playing a lot of 19th century Romantic music,
where arpeggios were really important.
It was the great Romantic composers, people like Schubert and Brahms who really popularized the arpeggio.
If you haven't, then practise them. Learn the chord.
To make this work, you must, must, must know your chords.
We'll talk about a couple of resources for doing that in a second.
Here, once again is a link to that Adele video. Go and check it out.
If you want to play Someone Like You on the piano, the chords are available online.
BUT be careful. I've looked at several versions and there are one or two
inaccuracies which seem to have been picked up by the various chord websites.
In particular, somebody has transposed the first two chords as A,
and A with an A flat in the base, which is A/A flat, which is complete rubbish.
It goes A to C sharp minor with that G sharp in the base.
F sharp minor, D. So just be a little bit careful.
If it doesn't sound right, then it probably isn't.
Definitely, that second chord is not A/A flat, it's definitely C sharp minor.
Chords: if you don't know your chords, there are a couple of resources, quite a few
things online. Check out Piano World's chord tools.
If you have downloaded some chords and you are not sure what a particular chord is,
if you go to Piano World and the chord tool there and type it in, it will tell you what the chord is.
Alternatively, you can check out my book. Bit of a sales opportunity here.
In the back of my book there's a full set of chord charts. I'll include a link to the page.
It's £14.95 in print or, if you want to get it instantly, it's £9.95 for the PDF version which you can download.
It's also got loads of stuff in the front about how harmony works,
which is really useful if you're going to be doing a lot of this kind of thing.
So 'How To Really Play The Piano', as I say,
I will include a link and there will be a clickable link underneath in the video descrption,
if you're watching on YouTube.
There we go: arpeggios. Really simple, really useful,
if you want to play a bit of pop piano, or ballad-type material then they're great.
Even if you're only an occasional pianist, you can pick up an awful lot
very, very quickly, and create very impressive sounds very quickly,
just by getting to know your arpeggios and knowing a little bit about chords.
I hope that makes sense. I'm actually making this video in response to a question
from one of my subscribers, thanks for asking the question.
I'll include a link to his channel, actually. The guy's worth checking out.
If anyone else has any questions, I'm always really happy to answer questions
about arpeggios or blues or jazz or anything I talk about, playing the piano.
Questions are always a great source of video ideas, so get in touch, give me a shout.
I really hope that was useful to you.