Are there certain instruments that are arpeggio friendly? This might seem arbitrary or subject to opinion but I can imagine a test where musicians of various instrument are asked to play arpeggios of different styles as fast as they can.

I feel like trumpet over two octaves would be really hard to go as fast as say a keyboard or guitar instrument. Or something with slow attack like a tuba? Or a trombone with the limitation of the slide?

This might be hard to discuss without breaking down the different styles of arpeggios. I definitely can't name them "all" (without discussing why there's no all). But maybe I can constrain this to simple ones:

  1. A one octave sweep - C1 E1 G1 C2
  2. An inversion pattern - C1 E1 G1 | E1 G1 C2 | G1 C2 E2
  3. Two octave return pattern - C1 E1 G1 C2 E2 G2 C3 G2 E2 C2 G1 E1 C1

If there are certain instruments that are arpeggio friendly then what are the commonalities? Is is not arpeggio specific maybe?

  • 3
    Considering how over used they are, the electric guitar must indeed be arpeggio friendly... Dec 29, 2014 at 23:36

4 Answers 4


The word "arpeggio", loosely translated, is Italian for "like a harp".

To sound like a harp requires an instrument that can play chords, where the end of one note still rings out while the next note is being struck.

So a monophonic instrument like the trumpet isn't suitable for mimicking the sound of a harp with its overlapping notes ringing out.

A piano (with the damper pedal down) is suitable for this type of effect. So is the marimba or the vibraphone with the damper pedal down. Certain kinds of arpeggios sound good on the guitar.

However, on any instrument, when one plays the notes of a chord one at a time in sequence, we still call it an arpeggio. You can certainly write an arpeggiated passage for any monophonic instrument, like the trumpet. It enables a monophonic instrument to outline the notes of a chord and create the illusion of chordal harmony and chord progressions, which is certainly useful. But it's not in the fashion of what you can do with a harp.

  • Not that it's a race but what instrument do you think can play an arpeggio the fastest?
    – squarism
    Dec 30, 2014 at 0:07
  • 3
    @squarism Guitars can play some arpeggios really fast, they are called chords in guitar terminology ;) Other than that, standard pianos are good at it, too, since you can catch almost 3 ottavas by your 2 hands without much movement of the wrists, and pianos allow for sharp notes, so even a fast arpeggio sounds naturally.
    – yo'
    Dec 30, 2014 at 1:19

Fingerpicking style on a guitar is essentially arpeggio all over. Typical fretted string instruments (including a number of viols) are essentially arpeggio instruments.

With regard to instruments not specifically built to facilitate arpeggio, most keyboard instruments would qualify. It's probably a tossup between piano and chromatic button accordion: the piano can easily arpeggiate across two hands while the chromatic button accordion has a lot of range in one hand alone.

An interesting contender are diatonic wind instruments: they trade in generality in exchange for having large (principally major or major seventh, with the latter suitable for a minor parallel like with the blues harp) arpeggio ranges over adjacent buttons. Styrian harmonicas have three or four rows with different arpeggiated chord arrangements that switch to the dominant when changing from push to draw.

Bandoneons are a hybrid: basically diatonic, they've been stuffed with additional buttons until you can play them chromatically if you know the typewriter-like button layout logic by heart. Still, tango music tends to feature the wide-ranged arpeggiated minor chords that are basically accessible on draw in the core right hand rows, augmented with scales and scale fragments to be played on the irregular parts of the button layout.


Yes, it is somewhat true. Arpeggios are relatively hard for a singer but much easier for a guitar or a harp.

That is why you need to take notice that if your melody questions demand that the melody is written for voices you should refrain from jumping large intervals.

In closing, it all has to do with what sort of intonation the instrument has. If it is a piano or guitar where the intonation is done for you then jumping intervals is not a problem but if it is a singer you are writing for where the intonation has no visual representation then jumping on key become very difficult. Not impossible but still hard.

Jumping the interval of a Major Seventh is probably the hardest thing a singer can do.

  • Thanks, nice insights. I can see why the M7 would be hard. You can't do the octave and you probably can't "hear" it easily beforehand. I can only hear it now relative to the +octave.
    – squarism
    Feb 8, 2016 at 18:25

I definitely think so, and it has a substantial effect on how different instruments are played.

On guitar, for example, two octave arpeggios are rather easy to utilise in an improvisation. Three octave arpeggios are too if you think ahead a little. On the other hand, although they're physically quite straightforward, they require a lot of pattern-learning to memorise them all over the neck as arpeggio patterns don't repeat from one set of strings or frets to the next on the guitar neck in the way that they do from one octave to the next on the piano.

On the other hand, arpeggios fall rather nicely under the hands for piano players - they're also easy to see, easy to learn, and you have an effectively unlimited range. Horn players not only have the bother of having to learn the arpeggios, but the tessiturae involved can quickly get physically demanding, as you say.

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