What is the Difference Between Arpeggios and Broken Chords?

Hello, I am wondering about the difference between arpeggios and broken chords.

If someone were to play a C major broken triad chord, with inversions, would that be the same as playing a C major arpeggio with inversions?

Thank you.


Maria's Answer:

Hello! This is a good question, since when playing for example guitar, an arpeggio is the same as a broken chord, inversions or not.

Arpeggio means to play «arpeggiated», or like a harp (Italian «arpa»), so basically any type of chord played one note at a time is an arpeggio.

However, in piano technique we separate playing arpeggios from playing broken chords since they present two different technical challenges.

Broken chords are played one note at a time usually from bottom up. Each new inversion played the same way. This makes it possible to keep the position of each chord «in your hand» so to speak, with no thumb-under action.

For the right hand, the fingering in the following example is 1-3-5, 1-2-5 and 1-3-5. (It's the same fingering as when the chords are played blocked.)

Broken chords in triplets


Arpeggios are when you play a broken chord over several octaves. This time you have to use your thumb moving under your palm to «pivot» from each position in a fluid, lateral movement. For the example below you'd use fingers 1-2-3-1-2-3-5:

Arpeggio in two octaves

An arpeggio can be played in inversions as well, you simply start and end on another note in the chord, but always moving laterally.

You can read more about arpeggios on this page:
How to practice piano arpeggios.

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