Two versions of a couple of bars of music on a grand staff. The first version contains block chords in the treble clef, and only a few notes in the bass line.  The second version contains arpeggiated chords, and notes on every beat in the bass line.

In the top example of the music above, I have composed a simple chord progression with an idiomatic top voice that leads to a cadence.

In the bottom part, I have tried to arpeggiate the right hand of the texture while keeping the top voice audible and as the main melodic line. In the second bar of the arpeggiated version the strong beats of the bar still has the melody note B. And it still moves to A on beat 3. Or does it? The B of the cadential 6/4 doesn't go directly to A anymore on beat 3 as it did in the chordal texture. It arpeggiates and moves from G to A instead.

I would be interested to hear from other theorists and composers if they think that my arpeggiation compromises the voice leading in any way?

Something to consider:
What if the note G just before beat 3 of the second bar was an 8th note or quarter note? Its longer duration would almost certainly make my voice leading change and I would have a different "top line"; you would hear B > G > A instead of B > A in the melody. And of course if you spend time with your voice leading you don't want to make changes like this. Is it fair to say, that because of its quick appearance that the G is a sort of embellishment even though it is a chord tone?

  • 1
    Moving from G to A at that point doesn't violate any rule of voice leading.
    – phoog
    Aug 28 at 20:33
  • 1
    Thanks.... Would you say you still hear the top melody as B moving to A or does the arpeggiation lose that? What do you hear?
    – user35708
    Aug 28 at 20:50
  • 1
    To be honest, I hear both to some degree. The specific degree to which either dominates no doubt depends on the tempo. It would also depend on the performer's execution of the arpeggio. If I were you I'd look for the same figure in 18th or 19th century music and see what it sounds like to you when you haven't created it yourself by starting from a chordal texture. Maybe rather than sounding like multiple implied voices with some voice leading or other it just sounds like one voice with an arpeggio.
    – phoog
    Aug 29 at 9:26

1 Answer 1


(Inviting corrections...) As I remember, the arpeggiated chords are treated as block chords for voice-leading purposes. It's similar to the voice-leading effect of a note preceeding a rest.

  • I suspect, however, that if an arpeggio implies downward motion as in this example, but the figure results in an ascent as from the G to the A, then the bass should not ascend from D to E as that would create parallel fifths even though the implied block chords would not. There are several such parallel octaves or unisons, for example in the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel's Solomon, so it's clear that the rules are somewhat relaxed, but I don't see any such parallel fifths.
    – phoog
    Aug 29 at 9:34

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