Is there a name for a chord that is introduced one note at a time?

You can hear an example in the first couple of seconds of "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!" on Schoolhouse Rock:

It's different from an arpeggio; I don't know that much about music theory but from looking it up, it doesn't seem exactly the same as a rolled chord or broken chord.

3 Answers 3


This technique has a few different names, a pyramid, bell, or cascade chord. It can be considered a classification of arpeggio since sometimes when arpeggios are played the notes are sustained.

Here is an excerpt from the “Arpeggio” article in Wikipedia:

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. 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. [End excerpt]

This technique can be used in vocal music, horn arrangements and even orchestral settings. Vocally it has been used in “Twist and Shout” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” just to name a few.

  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpeggio#Bell_chord -- thanks!
    – Jason S
    Jan 11, 2022 at 14:19
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    In that wiki article... "The technique originated with jazz big bands"...I doubt that! I'm sure there are examples from long, long before that. Jan 11, 2022 at 14:41
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    @MichaelCurtis That caused a raised eyebrow for me Michael, part of the reason I didn’t include it in my excerpt. It’s hard to believe that in several centuries of western music no one had ever before sustained an arpeggio over several instruments, lol! Jan 11, 2022 at 21:38
  • It's one of those comments that makes start looking in my score collection, but who has the time to fact check? Jan 11, 2022 at 21:47
  • @MichaelCurtis Beethoven’s 5th comes to mind, he staggers the opening phrases and let’s the last notes sustain against the subsequent phrases. Not a perfect example but similar. Jan 12, 2022 at 0:44

An arpeggio is a chord played with the notes in ascending or descending order.

A broken chord is a chord played such that not all pitches are sounded at the same time.

In this case, it's both an arpeggio and a broken chord — both terms are appropriate to describe the music — but it also happens that each note is sung by a different voice. The multiple voices don't disqualify it as an arpeggio or broken chord.

One tends to think of arpeggios and broken chords in the context of a single instrument, but they need not be. It's also common to think of the notes of arpeggios and broken chords as happening in relatively rapid succession, but this need not be the case either.

It could be considered a rolled chord as well. Rolled notes typically are performed more rapidly, but not by definition. There is music in which chords are rolled slowly — but a slow roll is rather the exception than the rule. Nevertheless, if a slowly rolled chord is going to appear, the beginning or end of a piece is the most likely place to find it.

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    Nice answer. For anyone who is interested: this is how the NES / Famicom emulated chord sounds. Look up "nes chord arpeggio" for details.
    – Mentalist
    Jan 12, 2022 at 2:26

The term arpeggio gets used in two ways, as a type of embellishment of a chord represented by the ways line...

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...and also to mean playing the tones of a chord separately in a line...

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The second mean is often called arpeggiation - as a process, like in composition - and sometimes it's called broken chord.

The embellishment is normally played from bottom up, very fast, and sustaining all tones for the duration of the chord, whereas arpeggiation can order the chord tones freely into a line (tons of melodies are just the result of the arpeggiation process) so there is a clear aural difference.

The difference between the two meanings is usually understood in context. If someone were to say the opening theme to Eine kleine Nachtmusik is arpeggios, it's understood that they mean the broken chord/arpeggiation process not the wavy line embellishment.

The device at the beginning of Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here! is arpeggiation, a broken chord. Even though the tones go from bottom up and are sustained it's performed fairly slow. You wouldn't notate it with a wavy line, but write out full durations with long note values.

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