An arpeggio is a musical technique where note
In music, the term note has two primary meanings:#A sign used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound;#A pitched sound itself....

s in a chord are played or sung in sequence
In mathematics, a sequence is an ordered list of objects . Like a set, it contains members , and the number of terms is called the length of the sequence. Unlike a set, order matters, and exactly the same elements can appear multiple times at different positions in the sequence...

, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously. This word comes from the Italian word "arpeggiare" , which means "to play on a harp." An alternate translation of this term is "broken chord
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

." Formed from musical scales, the arpeggio is based on the relative scale playing the "key" notes or those affected by the key signature
Key signature
In musical notation, a key signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating notes that are to be consistently played one semitone higher or lower than the equivalent natural notes unless otherwise altered with an accidental...



An arpeggio is a group of notes which are played one after the other, 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
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

. The chord may, for example, be a simple chord with the 1st
Root (chord)
In music theory, the root of a chord is the note or pitch upon which a triadic chord is built. For example, the root of the major triad C-E-G is C....

, 3rd
Third (music)
In music and music theory third may refer to:*major third*minor third*augmented third/perfect fourth*diminished third/major second*Third , chord member a third above the root*Mediant, third degree of the diatonic scale...

, and 5th notes of the scale in it (this is called a "tonic
Tonic (music)
In music, the tonic is the first scale degree of the diatonic scale and the tonal center or final resolution tone. The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is thus the most significant chord...

 triad"). An arpeggio in the key of C major going up two octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

s 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 instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

s learn how to play 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 exactly at the same time, but are spread out. Arpeggiated chords are often used in harp
The harp is a multi-stringed instrument which has the plane of its strings positioned perpendicularly to the soundboard. Organologically, it is in the general category of chordophones and has its own sub category . All harps have a neck, resonator and strings...

 and piano music. An arpeggiated chord may be written with a squiggly vertical line in front of the chord. It is spread from the lowest to the highest note. Occasionally, composers such as Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

 have asked for them to be played from top to bottom. This is shown by adding an arrow pointing down.


Any instrument may employ arpeggiation, but the following instruments use arpeggios most often:
  • String instrument
    String instrument
    A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

    s are used to play arpeggios in classical music. Along with scales, arpeggios are a form of basic technical exercise.
  • Bass guitar
    Bass guitar
    The bass guitar is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers or thumb , or by using a pick....

    ists often use arpeggios to play out chords
    Chord (music)
    A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

  • Banjo
    In the 1830s Sweeney became the first white man to play the banjo on stage. His version of the instrument replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included four full-length strings alongside a short fifth-string. There is no proof, however, that Sweeney invented either innovation. This new...

     players prevalently use arpeggios, which are especially apparent in the Scruggs style
    Scruggs style
    Scruggs style is the most common style of playing the banjo in bluegrass music. It is a fingerpicking method, also known as three-finger style. It is named after Earl Scruggs, whose innovative approach and technical mastery of the instrument has influenced generations of bluegrass banjoists ever...

     three-finger method of playing.
  • Guitar
    The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

    ists use arpeggios extensively in certain genres, such as neo-classical
    Neoclassicism (music)
    Neoclassicism in music was a twentieth-century trend, particularly current in the period between the two World Wars, in which composers sought to return to aesthetic precepts associated with the broadly defined concept of "classicism", namely order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint...

    , and often while employing the sweep-picking
    Sweep picking is a guitar playing technique in which a 'sweeping' motion of the pick is combined with a matching fret hand technique in order to produce a specific series of notes which are fast and fluid in sound. Despite being commonly known as sweep picking, both hands essentially perform an...

  • Synthesizers are often called upon to play arpeggios, especially in electronica
    Electronica includes a wide range of contemporary electronic music designed for a wide range of uses, including foreground listening, some forms of dancing, and background music for other activities; however, unlike electronic dance music, it is not specifically made for dancing...

    . Some synths contain arpeggiators especially for this purpose.
  • Keyboards
    Keyboard instrument
    A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

    , such as piano
    The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

     and accordion
    The accordion is a box-shaped musical instrument of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist....

    s, are used to play arpeggios.

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
Rolled chord
A rolled chord, arppeggiato, or arpeggiated chord, is a sequence of notes played almost at the same time like strumming a chord on a guitar. They are mostly seen on piano, producing a harp-like effect. When a chord is too large for a pianists hand, the chord is expected to be rolled. An...


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
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

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
The demoscene is a computer art subculture that specializes in producing demos, which are non-interactive audio-visual presentations that run in real-time on a computer...

 on Commodore 64
Commodore 64
The Commodore 64 is an 8-bit home computer introduced by Commodore International in January 1982.Volume production started in the spring of 1982, with machines being released on to the market in August at a price of US$595...

's SID
MOS Technology SID
The MOS Technology 6581/8580 SID is the built-in Programmable Sound Generator chip of Commodore's CBM-II, Commodore 64, Commodore 128 and Commodore MAX Machine home computers...

 chip which only had three oscillators, see also Chiptune
A chiptune, also known as chip music, is synthesized electronic music often produced with the sound chips of vintage computers and video game consoles, as well as with other methods such as emulation. In the early 1980s, personal computers became cheaper and more accessible than they had previously...


See also

  • Ostinato
    In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in...

  • Tremolo
    Tremolo, or tremolando, is a musical term that describes various trembling effects, falling roughly into two types. The first is a rapid reiteration...

  • Music theory
    Music theory
    Music theory is the study of how music works. It examines the language and notation of music. It seeks to identify patterns and structures in composers' techniques across or within genres, styles, or historical periods...

  • Musical terminology
    Musical terminology
    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...

  • Bell effect
    Bell effect
    The bell effect, also known colloquially as "bells", is a technique used in musical arrangement in which single notes of a chord are played in sequence by separate instruments which sustain their individual notes to allow the chord to be heard. It is, in effect, an arpeggio played by several...

  • Non-harmonic arpeggio
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