Learning to Love Arpeggios

I’m going to lead with a semi-interesting fact: the word arpeggio comes from the Italian arpeggiare — to play on a harp.

I have no feel for the proportion of pieces in the piano repertoire that contain arpeggios (or ‘arps’ as I like to abbreviate them), somewhere between ‘a significant number’ and ‘an awful lot’. As such, they’re absolutely necessary for any aspiring pianist to learn. But here’s the problem: within the framework of structured musical education, the early arpeggios are about as dry and rewarding as a dehydrated dog biscuit — the kind Laika would have been sent into space with if the Soviets had any intention of her not dying up there. Incidentally, shortly after a terrifying launch where her heart rate tripled and her breathing rate quadrupled, Laika died by overheating. Never leave a dog in a hot spaceship.

Because I found these early arpeggios absolutely joyless, I didn’t practice them. And because I didn’t practice them, I avoided all pieces with arpeggios in. Sometimes this is no bad thing — I was safe from what I presume to be everything ever written by Einaudi. Sadly, it also meant I couldn’t consider playing a lot of beautiful music.

I spent well over a year at this impasse until I was forced to confront arps in preparation for my upcoming Grade 5 exam. Unfortunately, every time I sat at the keyboard to have a go, the very moisture of my life force began to seep away, so I always did something else instead. Anything else.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a satisfactory ending, so I’ll reveal how I learned to love the arpeggio: I fished out some sheet music with arpeggios in — shut up, Ludivico, good pieces that I like — and just learned to play them. Then, I went back to the rudiments to find that briefly setting foot in the promised land had realigned my arp-neurons and I didn’t mind practising them anymore. I’ve happily chalked this up as a rare case of success through proceeding arse-about-face.