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Arpeggios open Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and continue as accompaniment. Play (help*info) Beethoven piano sonata 14 mvmt 1 bar 1-4.svg
Arpeggios open Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and continue as accompaniment. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
"The Star-Spangled Banner" opens with an arpeggio Play arpeggio followed by chord (help*info) The Star-Spangled Banner arpeggio.png
"The Star-Spangled Banner" opens with an arpeggio Loudspeaker.svg Play arpeggio followed by chord  

A broken chord is a chord broken into a 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, in which the notes that compose 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 is the Alberti bass figuration, 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 are played as a broken chord.


An arpeggio is a group of notes played one after the other, up or down in pitch. The player plays the notes of a particular chord individually rather than together. The chord may, for example, be a simple chord with the 1st, (major or minor) 3rd, and 5th scale degrees (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. 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 spreads from the lowest to highest note. Occasionally, composers specify that the musicians play them from top to bottom by adding an arrow pointing down.


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

A hardware MIDI arpeggiator ARPIE Arpeggiator 7852.jpg
A hardware MIDI arpeggiator

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. A prominent example was the music of games and demos on Commodore 64's SID chip, which only had three oscillators (see also Chiptune).

This technique was highly popular amongst European video game music composers for systems in the 1980s like the NES, with many transferring their knowledge from their days of composing with the Commodore 64. However, this technique was rarely used by American and Japanese composers. [2]

Bell chord

Barbershop bell chord. Play (help*info) Bell chord.png
Barbershop bell chord. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

A bell chord, also known colloquially as "bells", is a musical arrangement technique in which a composition has separate instruments (or multiples of the same instrument) play single notes of a chord in sequence, sustaining individual notes to form the chord. [3] It is, in effect, an arpeggio played by several instruments sequentially. This is also known as a pyramid or cascade. It is common in barbershop music.

The technique originated with jazz big bands and is a staple of trad jazz. A good example can be heard in the introduction to "The Charleston" by The Temperance Seven.[ citation needed ] Additionally, "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the rock band Queen contains two occurrences of this "bell effect" in the middle section, [4] as does the solo in Killer Queen starting at 1:48.

See also

Related Research Articles

Domenico Alberti

Domenico Alberti was an Italian singer, harpsichordist, and composer.

Figured bass

Figured bass, also called thoroughbass, is a kind of musical notation in which numerals and symbols indicate intervals, chords, and non-chord tones that a musician playing piano, harpsichord, organ, lute play in relation to the bass note that these numbers and symbols appear above or below. Figured bass is closely associated with basso continuo, a historically improvised accompaniment used in almost all genres of music in the Baroque period of Classical music, though rarely in modern music.

Jazz guitar Jazz instrument and associated playing style

The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.

Rhythm guitar Guitar used to provide rhythm

In music performances, rhythm guitar is a technique and role that performs a combination of two functions: to provide all or part of the rhythmic pulse in conjunction with other instruments from the rhythm section ; and to provide all or part of the harmony, i.e. the chords from a song's chord progression, where a chord is a group of notes played together. Therefore, the basic technique of rhythm guitar is to hold down a series of chords with the fretting hand while strumming or fingerpicking rhythmically with the other hand. More developed rhythm techniques include arpeggios, damping, riffs, chord solos, and complex strums.


An overtone is any frequency greater than the fundamental frequency of a sound. In other words, overtones are higher pitches resulting from the lowest note or fundamental. While the fundamental is usually heard most prominently, overtones are actually present in any pitch except a true sine wave. The relative volume or amplitude of various overtone partials is one of the key identifying features of timbre, or the individual characteristic of a sound.

Orchestration Study or practice of writing music for an orchestra

Orchestration is the study or practice of writing music for an orchestra or of adapting music composed for another medium for an orchestra. Also called "instrumentation", orchestration is the assignment of different instruments to play the different parts of a musical work. For example, a work for solo piano could be adapted and orchestrated so that an orchestra could perform the piece, or a concert band piece could be orchestrated for a symphony orchestra.

Alberti bass

Alberti bass is a particular kind of accompaniment figure in music, often used in the Classical era, and sometimes the Romantic era. It was named after Domenico Alberti (1710–1740/46), who used it extensively, although he was not the first to use it.

Alberti bass — the accompaniment figure based on broken chords and used in many sonatinas and sonatas; named after Domenico Alberti

This style of L[eft]H[and] accompaniment gets its name from the 18th Century Italian composer, Domenico Alberti, who used it in many of his compositions. It was also used by Haydn, Mozart, Clementi and Beethoven, along with many other composers of the Classical period.

A bass consisting of a succession of broken chords (arpeggios) of an unusual kind. Domenico Alberti, a gifted Venetian amateur who was born during the early part of the Eighteenth Century and died about 1740, is credited with the invention which bears his name. His cembalo music abounds in this style of accompaniment.

In music, an ostinato[ostiˈnaːto] is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. Well-known ostinato-based pieces include both classical compositions, such as Ravel's Boléro and the Carol of the Bells, and popular songs such as Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder's "I Feel Love" (1977), Henry Mancini's theme from Peter Gunn (1959), and The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (1997).

Chord (music) Harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.

This is a list of musical terms that are likely to be encountered in printed scores, music reviews, and program notes. Most of the terms are Italian, in accordance with the Italian origins of many European musical conventions. Sometimes, the special musical meanings of these phrases differ from the original or current Italian meanings. Most of the other terms are taken from French and German, indicated by "Fr." and "Ger.", respectively.

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A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

Accompaniment Musical parts which provide the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.

A block chord is a chord or voicing built directly below the melody either on the strong beats or to create a four-part harmonized melody line in "locked-hands" rhythmic unison with the melody, as opposed to broken chords. This latter style, known as Shearing voicing, was popularized by George Shearing, but originated with Phil Moore.

Jazz piano

Jazz piano is a collective term for the techniques pianists use when playing jazz. The piano has been an integral part of the jazz idiom since its inception, in both solo and ensemble settings. Its role is multifaceted due largely to the instrument's combined melodic and harmonic capabilities. For this reason it is an important tool of jazz musicians and composers for teaching and learning jazz theory and set arrangement, regardless of their main instrument. By extension the phrase 'jazz piano' can refer to similar techniques on any keyboard instrument.

Musical technique

Musical technique is the ability of instrumental and vocal musicians to exert optimal control of their instruments or vocal cords in order to produce the precise musical effects they desire. Improving one's technique generally entails practicing exercises that improve one's muscular sensitivity and agility. Technique is independent of musicality. Compositional technique is the ability and knowledge composers use to create music, and may be distinguished from instrumental or performance technique, which in classical music is used to realize compositions, but may also be used in musical improvisation. Extended techniques are distinguished from more simple and more common techniques. Musical technique may also be distinguished from music theory, in that performance is a practical matter, but study of music theory is often used to understand better and to improve techniques. Techniques such as intonation or timbre, articulation, and musical phrasing are nearly universal to all instruments.

Transcendental Étude No. 11 (Liszt) Composition for piano by Franz Liszt

Transcendental Étude No. 11 in D, "Harmonies du soir" is the eleventh étude of the set of twelve Transcendental Études by Franz Liszt. This étude is a study in harmonies, broken chords played in quick succession, full octave jumps, chromatic harmonies, chord variations, interlocking hands, bravura, massive chords, especially proper pedaling, and performance as a whole.

American Rhapsody

American Rhapsody was written for the accordion by John Serry Sr. in 1955 and subsequently transcribed for the free bass accordion in 1963 and for the piano in 2002. The composer was inspired by the classical orchestral works of George Gershwin along with various Latin Jazz percussive rhythms utilized throughout South America while composing this opus.

Jazz improvisation

Jazz improvisation is the spontaneous invention of melodic solo lines or accompaniment parts in a performance of jazz music. It is one of the defining elements of jazz. Improvisation is composing on the spot, when a singer or instrumentalist invents melodies and lines over a chord progression played by rhythm section instruments and accompanied by drums. Although blues, rock, and other genres use improvisation, it is done over relatively simple chord progressions which often remain in one key.

Chuck Wayne

Chuck Wayne was a jazz guitarist. He came to prominence in the 1940s, and was among the earliest jazz guitarists to play in the bebop style. Wayne was a member of Woody Herman's First Herd, the first guitarist in the George Shearing quintet, and Tony Bennett's music director and accompanist. He developed a systematic method for playing jazz guitar.

Glossary of jazz and popular music List of definitions of terms and jargon used in jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.


  1. Kamien, Roger (2008). Music: An Appreciation, p.43. McGraw Hill. ISBN   978-0-07-340134-8
  2. "Arpeggio – Nesdev wiki". Retrieved 2016-12-27.
  3. Averill, Gage (2003). Four Parts, No Waiting:A Social History of American Barbershop Quartet, p.205. ISBN   9780195116724.
  4. ovolollo91. "Queen – The Making Of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' 'Greatest Video Hits 1'" YouTube, 17 Sep. 2011. Web.

Further reading