Learn Piano - Broken chords

Two lessons ago we started to use chords and incorporate them into music. Today, we are going to extend this a bit further by looking at a different and popular way of incorporating chords into music: broken chords.

Broken chords use the notes in a chord, but instead of being played simultaneously, they are separated into their individual notes. They are always played in progression though – either ascending or descending. Broken chords are also known as arpeggios – based on the Italian word arpeggiare, meaning to play the harp.

Broken chords are a good way of adding more depth to the sound of the song you are playing. If you are just playing ‘block’ chords and a melody line, you will notice the sound becomes quite brusque and stilted. In Exercise One, you can hear and see the difference between a ‘block’ chord, played first, followed by the flowing sound of a broken chord.

Use the same fingering for playing a broken chord as you would for a pure chord.

For the second exercise, the first half (first 4 bars) has broken chords in the left hand, while the second half (second 4 bars) has exactly the same notes repeated, but as block chords in the left hand. Note the difference: broken chords give a gentle, flowing sound, while block chords sound very rigid. For this reason, broken chords are a frequent device used by composers of all music styles to ‘fill in’ the sound and create a legato flow.

The piece below is another rock ‘n’ roll style piece. Notice how broken chords are used in the left hand here for a rock feel? Watch out for the flats and naturals in this piece. The direction Vivace is Italian for ‘vivacious’ – meaning a quick and lively tempo.

Glossary of Terms

Arpeggio: The playing of the tones of a chord separately, rather than simultaneously.

Broken Chords: Notes of a chord played in succession rather than simultaneously.

Rock ‘n’ Roll: Rock and roll (also spelled rock 'n' roll, especially in its first decade), also called rock, is a form of popular music, usually featuring vocals (often with vocal harmony), electric guitars and a strong back beat; other instruments, such as the saxophone, are common in some styles. As a cultural phenomenon, rock's social impact on the world is unparalleled by any other kind of music.

Vivace: Lively, brisk