Often in music, you see a passage that consists of a sequence of octaves. One can call this series something like a 'run of octaves.' However, if you have run of single notes (not intervals), what would you call it? I know that this would normally just be called a 'run,' as the assumption would probably be that it a 'run' is a run of single notes, but in order to contrast it with a run of octaves or a run of any other interval, simply calling it a 'run' is too ambiguous. Is there a simpler, unambiguous term that denotes a series of single notes or do is that the most concise term? Or, is there a term other than 'single note' that I can use? 'Single note' just sounds so clunky and awkward.

edit: by run , I was thinking about the way a keyboard player might play a series of notes (usually of the same duration) with one hand. For example, a player might play a rising scale in eighth notes, all of which are played as octaves. A run of single notes would a run composed of a series of notes that are each played alone.

edit 2: example score: runs of octaves and single notes.

Examples of what I mean by runs of octaves and single notes (individual notes are arbitrary).

I am getting the sense that I am using the term 'run' incorrectly as well. These could be any series of arbitrary notes in or not in the scale.

  • Please explain "run of octaves"? Do you mean, two instruments playing the same melody in parallel, doubled at the octave? Also, please explain "run of single notes". Do you mean a single instrument playing a melody, or perhaps an instrument group playing in unison ? An image of score excerpt would quickly clarify what you mean. Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:27
  • A single note is sometimes called a chromatic, so perhaps you could say a chromatic run.
    – Josh
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:28
  • @Josh to me chromatic run sounds like a chromatic scale figure. Is that really meant? Again, score excerpt please. Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:30
  • Not sure what you mean with "run", but "sequence" could possibly be a better match to what you are trying to describe than "series".
    – User8773
    Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:31
  • 2
    @David the term "sequence" already has a pretty distinct meaning that is quite different from the OP's concept of a "run". So I would find that very confusing. Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:37

4 Answers 4


At least in piano music, a "run" is a series of notes that is typically for decorative purposes. You'll often see a run written as a group of smaller notes, not necessarily exactly in time. If the notes are doubled at the octave, they will be a run of octaves. Look at Chopin's Op. 9 No. 1 Nocturne:

You will notice in the second and third full bars that he takes the opening theme and "improvises" on it or decorates it. This is a run (although he didn't write the notes smaller here).

If the notes are more part of the music itself (part of the thematic material), the more common term is "passage". In the case of the music you show, I would call these an octave passage, or if I wanted to make it clear, an octave 8th note or 8th note octave passage. The single note passage I would call an 8th note passage. A long one I might also call a "running 8th note passage"; a stylistic characteristic of Mozart's music is the use of a great deal of running 16th note passages.

Now look at Liszt's "Orage" ("Storm") from Années de Pèlerinage ("Years of Pilgrimage") here starting at 15:06:

You'll see an octave run in the 5th bar, and you'll notice that there are a heck of a lot more 8th notes in it than will really fit in the bar. This is a device to tell the performer to ad lib it. This piece is full of octave runs, octave passages, running 8th note passages, 16th note passages, and all sorts of other tricks. Great fun. (If you want to see an example of a run written in small notes, have a look at 46:34, which has a couple of nice octave runs on the page.)


What you call a run is to the best of my knowledge referred to as a "scale figure" it it's all notes from the key, and in the same direction. If it's chromatic notes, it's a "chromatic scale figure".

Any doubling of any melodic figure, so also a scale figure, is called "parallel octaves". If that would be a scale figure, I'd call it: "scale figure doubled at th octave" or "parallel octave scale figure".

I don't know of there's any more official way to refer to that.

In the score you present, there are some scale figures, f.e. the 8ths in the first 2 beats of m1; however, later on there are also skips which disqualify it as "scale figure".

I would simply refer to this as "8ths motive doubled at the octave at m1-m2" and 8ths motive in m3-m4. Or if motive sounds too intentional, "figure" will do as well.

  • 2
    Scalic figure, too? Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:50
  • @BobBroadley not that I heard of. But I don't think the terminology is standardized. I don't think it needs to; a reference to instrument and measure, possible beats within measure, is about as precise as you can point to a part of the score. There are so many different shapes and curves and harmonies - I don't think it will help to invent separate terms for them all. Beyond the already established terms like "parallel" I mean. Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:54
  • Agreed with Roland here; unless you are delineating a specific function (such as an elision). To Bob - the word would be "scaler". Commented May 7, 2014 at 20:55
  • Hello chaps. Just had a quick check by putting "scalic" into Google. It is referenced by quite a lot of music term definition sources. Commented May 7, 2014 at 21:38
  • @BobBroadley Thanks for pointing it out. I never encountered it, but that doesn't mean it's not a common term. I can indeed found at least a couple of instances in this exact context, so it must be a thing. Thanks again. Commented May 7, 2014 at 21:40

I normally use the word "figure", or "passage", preceded by its defining term e.g. "octave-figure", "passage in sixths", otherwise just the defining term "scale," "arpeggio" or whatever.

In my experience people take the word "scale" in the context of a composition to mean a scale comprising a single voice, as opposed to one consisting of two or more parallel voices.



A rhythmical succession of single tones, ranging for the most part within a given key, and so related together as to form a musical whole, having the unity of what is technically called a musical thought, at once pleasing to the ear and characteristic in expression:


  • 1
    Except OP is not talking about complete musical ideas or thoughts; melody is a larger formal structure, but OP is talking about fragments that might extend to phrases.
    – user39614
    Commented Jan 12, 2019 at 6:29

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