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: [ar'pedd?o]) 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 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:
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. The technique was highly popular amongst European video game music composers for systems in the 80's 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.
A bell chord, 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 (or multiples of the same instrument) which sustain their individual notes to allow the chord to be heard. 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. Additionally, "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the rock band Queen contains two occurrences of this "bell effect" in the middle section.