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For other uses, see Arpeggio (disambiguation).
Arpeggios open Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and continue as accompaniment. About this sound Play 

A "broken chord" is a chord broken into sequence of notes. A broken chord may repeat some of the notes from the chord and span one or more octaves.

An arpeggio (Italian: [arˈpeddʒo]) is a type of "broken chord" where the notes comprising a chord are played or sung in a rising or descending order. An arpeggio may also span more than one octave.

The word "arpeggio" comes from the Italian word "arpeggiare", which means "to play on a harp".

Even though the notes of an arpeggio are not played or sung all together at the same time, listeners hear the sequence of notes as forming a chord. When an arpeggio also contains passing tones that are not part of the chord, different music theorists may analyze the same musical excerpt differently.

Arpeggios enable composers writing for monophonic instruments that play one note at a time (e.g., flute, saxophone, trumpet), to voice chords and chord progressions in musical pieces. Arpeggios and broken chords are also used to help create rhythmic interest. A notable example of which is the Alberti bass figuration which was widely used in piano music from the Classical music period. With an Alberti bass, rather than play the notes of a chord all at once, the pianist plays simple rhythmic figures in which the notes of the chord are played as a broken chord.


An arpeggio is a group of notes which are played one after the other, added either going up or going down. Executing an arpeggio requires the player to play the sounds of a chord individually to differentiate the notes. The notes all belong to one chord. The chord may, for example, be a simple chord with the 1st, (major or minor) 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale in it (this is called a "tonic triad"). An arpeggio for the chord of C major going up two octaves would be the notes (C, E, G, C, E, G, C). An arpeggio is a type of broken chord. Other types of broken chords play chord notes out of sequence or more than one note but less than the full chord simultaneously. Arpeggios can rise or fall for more than one octave. Students of musical instruments and singers learn how to play and sing scales and arpeggios. They are often a requirement for music examinations. An "arpeggiated chord" means a chord which is "spread", i. e., the notes are not played at the same time, but are spread out. Arpeggiated chords are often used in harp and piano music. An arpeggiated chord may be written with a wavy vertical line in front of the chord. It is spread from the lowest to the highest note. Occasionally, composers such as Béla Bartók have asked for them to be played from top to bottom. This is shown by adding an arrow pointing down. Some ostinato figures consist of arpeggios.


Any instrument may employ arpeggiation, but the following instruments use arpeggios most often:

  • String instruments are used to play arpeggios in classical music. Along with scales, arpeggios are a form of basic technical exercise that is used to develop students' intonation and technique.
  • Bass guitarists often use arpeggios or arpeggiated figures to outline the important notes of chords.
  • Banjo players use arpeggios, which are especially apparent in the Scruggs style three-finger method of playing.
  • Guitarists use arpeggios extensively in certain genres, such as neo-classical, and often while employing the sweep-picking technique.
  • Synthesizers, especially monophonic ones such as the TB-303, are often called upon to play arpeggios, especially in electronica. Some synths contain automatic arpeggiators especially for this purpose.
  • Keyboards, such as piano and accordions, are often used to play arpeggios, even though they are polyphonic instruments that permit all the notes of a chord to be played at the same time.

Arpeggios are an important part of the jazz improvisation vocabulary of horns and keyboards, guitars, and bass. In Western classical music, a chord that is played first with the lowest note and then with successive higher notes joining in is called arpeggiato. Sometimes this effect is reversed, with the highest note coming first. In some modern popular music arpeggiato is called a rolled chord.

In early video game music, arpeggios were often the only way to play a chord since sound hardware usually had a very limited number of oscillators, or voices. Instead of tying them all up to play one chord, one channel could be used to play an arpeggio, leaving the rest for drums, bass, or sound effects. Examples include the music of games and demos on Commodore 64's SID chip which only had three oscillators, see also Chiptune.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Wayne, Chuck; Patt, Ralph (1965). Guitar arpeggio dictionary: A library of over 2000 arpeggios, Including a diagram projector and viewing screen, Showing 25 types of arpeggios. H. Adler. pp. 1–51. 

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