Their are 2 Arpeggios on this picture:

photo of a ?piano score showing broken chords / arpeggios

I know I should play their notes from the bottom to top very quickly BUT should I hold each note pressed down for their duration (dotted half note) OR should I release them immediately after being played?


4 Answers 4


The notes are written as dotted minims (three beats), lasting the whole bar. So they should be heard until the end of the bar.

That can be done in a couple of ways. Keep hold of the lowest note (played first), then play the other(s), and keep hold of all until you need to play the next bar. Or, play the first, catch it with the sustain (damper) or sostenuto pedal as you play the other(s), and release at the end of the bar, when the next ones come along.

The note in the treble clef should be played at the same time as the lower bass note, although depending on style, it could sound more effective being played as part of the arpeggio. Try both, and decide.


If you want to play the music as notated, you hold them for their notated duration.

Except, when you execute the arpeggio properly, those durations won't literally be the notated values, except for the lowest, first note of the chord.

Looking at the second chord, the D will be played first, on the beat. The C above it will be play a very small fraction of a beat after the D, a fraction too small to bother notating literally with rest values before the C.

The D is notated with a dotted half note. Its duration will be 3 beats.

The C is also notated with a dotted half note, but it comes after the D, and it ends at the measure's bar line. The C will stop at the same time the D stops. Obviously, if the C starts after D, but the end at the same time, the C has a literal shorter duration that the notated three beat dotted half note.

Only the bottom note of the chord will get its literal notated duration. All the other chord notes will be very slightly shorter. All of this is understood in the method of playing the embellishment of an arpeggio. The wavy bar is a notation convenience instead of writing out literal durations which would only clutter up the score.

  • While the lowest note of the chord will be the longest, it might not have the literally notated duration; it could be a bit longer. I recently heard Ivo Pogorelić playing Chopin; he achieved a remarkable independence of voices, and one aspect of this was not aligning everything in time. Then, a few days later, I saw this analysis of early 20th-century performance practice by Early Music Sources showing that performers in those days took far more liberty with meter.
    – phoog
    Mar 18, 2022 at 14:33
  • 2
    I'm also avoiding getting into this because I don't think it's the OP's intent, but there's a question of expression: Are any notes always held for the entire duration? Not necessarily. I like to tell students "The duration doesn't really tell you 'how long the note lasts,' it tells you 'when the next note happens.'" But that's a level of hair-splitting nuance that I don't think the OP is looking for. Mar 18, 2022 at 15:22
  • There is artistic license and interpretation with anything. I'm answering what the basic meaning of the score is. When someone long ago explained to me what the arpeggio sign meant, it was perfectly clear, no follow up question about durations. The OP worded the question in a way that leads to a tedious answer about the slightly shortened durations. Otherwise I don't understand the reason for the question. Why would dotted half notes be played short because of an arpeggio sign? Other than you just don't want to play what is written. Mar 18, 2022 at 20:26
  • It seems different people do it differently. In this video at 11:59 and 12:23 Barenboim seems not to have held the keys? youtube.com/watch?v=FZ1mj9IaczQ (My hands are not big so it's hard to hold all the keys) Aug 3, 2023 at 2:04
  • I think the OP may have thought (as I did) one possibility may be to just "run through" all the notes from bottom to top note without holding any key after that, like a quick broken chord, which would be easier for my smaller hands than holding all keys. Aug 3, 2023 at 2:52

You need to hold all the notes in the chord for their full value (dotted half note).


The notation asks you to play a chord, held for 3 beats, with an arpeggiated attack. (Not necessarily VERY quickly, it's not a race!) There's no technical problem in doing this, holding the keys down with your fingers, so no need for damper or sostenuto pedals. Just do what it says.

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