In playing arpeggios, should notes be played in order (eg. major 7th arpeggios, notes R, 3, 5, 7 in scale degrees), or anything you fancy?

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Since I see a guitar in your profile, I'm guessing that's what you play. In which case we have 2 basic types of Arpeggios:

  1. Chord Form Based- Notes are played in the order determined by the voicing of the chord you are playing, and whatever patterns you apply to them. Think Babe I'm Gonna Leave you, Hotel California etc.
  2. Scale Based- The notes are played like a scale. When diagrammed on the neck they will appear in alphabetical order just like a scale. They are a bit tougher than scales, you should apply all the same practice patterns to them you do with scales. In either case if you keep your pick moving so you sound all the relevant strings without changing the pick direction, its called a sweep.

Standard/Safe/Inside Usage for Improvisation:

You can use any arpeggio that is a subset of the scale you are playing, regardless of the particular chord you are currently over. You can also use the arpeggio of any chord that is currently being played regardless of what scale you are playing.

One way to remember them is to memorize them in terms of being the subsets of a scale. For Diatonic modes there will be one 4 note arpeggio for every note in the scale as you can see on my website:

A Minor Arpeggios at the 5th Fret

Or alternatively in the 5 Caged Patterns:

Dominant 7th Flat 9 Arpeggio- All 5 Caged Patterns

Whichever makes more sense to you.


Without any other information, the order of an arpeggio is bottom to top. The basic criterion which may lead to a different order is "voicing".

If you are playing a string instrument like the guitar or the violin, individual strings often correspond to voices in order of the strings. This is particularly true when arpeggiating on a violin since it is quite infeasible to play the strings out of order when doing a bowed arpeggio.

Now if lower strings are fingered in a high position on the neck, they may sound higher than unfingered higher strings. In that case, the arpeggio would quite naturally contain inversions of pitch order.

Again with bowed instruments, "arpeggio" might be given as an instruction for a longer passage (the Ciaconna from Partita II of the Bach solo violin pieces BWV1004 comes to mind). In that case, the execution will tend to be in back-and-forth manner across the strings, going from low to high and back again repeatedly, with the bow doing most of the action and the fingers just changing chord patterns on the main beats.

The same can obviously be done by back-and-forth strumming on a guitar but would likely not be called arpeggio.

When playing polyphonic music on a keyboard, it might be conceivable to convey voice crossings by a pitch inversion in the arpeggios. However, that would require either a really skilled player to execute or it would require a deliberately chosen distribution of voices across the hands, or both.


If you're being asked to play an arpeggio in an exam, then yes, the examiner will probably expect you to play the notes in order.

If you're not in an exam, then of course you play anything you fancy, so the question then is just what the definition of the word arpeggio is so you know if you're playing an arpeggio or not! The etymology of the word means roughly 'played like a harp', which may imply ascending or descending (as if you're strumming the harp), but it's hardly decisive.

Online dictionaries seem to differ on whether an arpeggio is the notes of a chord played separately ascending or descending, or whether it's just the notes of a chord played at separate points in time. If you want to go deep into it, that might be a question for English stack exchange, or if you prefer, your local Italian expert...


If you're looking at printed music, a chord with an arpeggio line beside it or the intruction "arp", the composer is telling you to play from the bottom note upwards. There is also a notation for a downward arpeggio. Chords can, of course, be played in other ways. If you're not following notation, it's completely up to you. We're not interested in arguing whether a certain figuration should be labelled "arpeggio", "broken chord" or anything else, are we? If there's any room for doubt, don't use a label - write the actual notes and rhythms.

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