When playing a chord on the piano, I'm increasing tending to 'roll' the chord i.e. play the notes in a very fast sequence rather than at once - too fast for it to be really scored . It's more akin to playing a chord slightly slowly on guitar where the 6 strings are plucked in sequence.

Does this technique have a name and is it considered good/poor technique? I do do it even in some scored pieces where the score has two written as played at the same time - probably like a 16th beat gap or even less - because to me it just sounds nicer, but I'm not sure in this context if that is playing the piece 'wrong' or within the bounds of personal playing style?

  • 3
    I want to say 'arpeggio' but I'm not sure if it's the exact thing you're looking for Jun 5, 2015 at 10:53
  • Isn't this strumming?
    – T. C.
    Jun 6, 2015 at 6:04
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    @TheodorosChatzigiannakis - in my dictionary strum is to play strings - carelessly...
    – Tim
    Jun 6, 2015 at 7:40
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    @TheodorosChatzigiannakis Not on piano.
    – user28
    Jun 7, 2015 at 16:46

8 Answers 8


'Roll' is a term used, but arpeggiate is a better one. An arpeggio can be as quick from one end to the other as you like, or as slow. The same thing can be done with chords on the guitar, usually designated on the dots by a squiggly vertical line before the notes themselves, showing the chord, and an arrowhead telling which way the strum goes;up,or more often, down (in direction, rather than pitch).

As far as personalising a song, do what you want with it.The composer may or may not be happy, after all, he wrote what he wanted played. The old adage - if it sounds good...

  • Exactly what I would have written if you did not beat me to it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jun 5, 2015 at 11:59
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    Sometimes on piano it's called "quasi-arpeggiation" since "arpeggiation", strictly speaking, means to play each note distinctly in the manner of a harp. The term "arpeggio" comes from the Italian word "arpa", which means "harp".
    – user1044
    Jun 7, 2015 at 20:07
  • @Mr.Boy One further note on the stylistic front: while it is well within your rights to roll chords in a song as a stylistic choice, be aware that stylistic techniques can be prone to overuse. A rolled will chord draw attention to itself, much like an accent, but if the majority of chords are rolled, then it can lose its special uniqueness and potentially become mundane, or even annoying. YMMV. Jun 16, 2015 at 17:49
  • Is it possible that the notes would be written as appoggiaturas/gracenotes? Sep 10, 2017 at 20:53

I'm not sure in this context if that is playing the piece 'wrong' or within the bounds of personal playing style?

The short answer is "depends on who you ask," as is so often the case. Compare the beginning of these two performances of Chopin's Ballade No. 3. The first is Rubinstein, and the second is Paderewski, both Polish pianists (Rubinstein used to snicker at the "foreign accent" of most Chopin interpreters), and both considered great Chopin interpreters.

You will see that Paderewski is quite happy to roll chords (and yes, we call them "rolled chords" as well as "arpeggiated chords"), whenever he feels like it, even though they aren't notated as such (Rubinstein is playing the score as notated), where Rubinstein avoids doing this. (In fact, Rubinstein would often not roll chords that were annotated with an arpeggiation mark; he had huge hands and could block chords that most people couldn't. Showing off a bit, I'd say. :) To see for yourself, compare his performance of Brahms' first concerto, second movement, with that of others.)

This was part of the more wide-open style of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and fell out of favor later on, as performance practice began to stress fidelity to the score over personal interpretation. More recently, things have moved back towards the middle--after all, if you stress the score too much, you'll lose track of your own inspiration and your performance will sound uninspired.

So, as you can see, Paderewski at least was most certainly in the "within the bounds of personal playing style" camp. For what it's worth, so am I.


Doing something unintentionally is always a sign of poor technique, muscle weakness, or some related issue. If you cannot avoid rolling your chords it is likely that you are playing too fast or ahead of your skill level — you're starting into the chord before your hand has fully assumed the correct position to just press down.

You might try practising playing chord inversions, for example C Major in root position, up to first inversion on the E, up to second on the G, up to the octave in root position again, and then reverse. Ensure that you are sounding all notes clearly and at the same time, and be as slow as you need to do that. Increase your speed slowly as you improve.

If you wish to be accurate to the composer's intention, it depends on what style of music you're playing — but in general, if an arpeggiation is not marked, you are likely not meeting it. As an example off the top of my head, Chopin's Prelude in C Minor absolutely should not be played with this kind of rolling; it destroys the power and presence of the huge multi-octave 7-note forte chords. There are undoubtedly many other such songs.

  • To clarify: it is deliberate not a limitation of my playing (for once!)
    – Mr. Boy
    Jun 8, 2015 at 11:20
  • @Mr.Boy That's good to know. Certainly play the way you want to play! I will leave this advice here for anyone else coming across this question.
    – user28
    Jun 8, 2015 at 13:27
  • @MatthewRead: "in general, if an arpeggiation is not marked, you are likely not meeting it" I tend to disagree. There's a good deal of evidence that 19th century composers felt entirely free to improvise on their own scores, as well as not minding when other performers did. There's of course the anecdote of Chopin admonishing LIszt to play his Etudes as written, but then Liszt probably went overboard, turning everything into the Franz Liszt show. The fact that Liszt's contemporaries noted that he played Beethoven's Sonatas as written suggests that this was uncommon practice at the time.
    – BobRodes
    Jun 16, 2015 at 17:48
  • @MatthewRead Furthermore, it was very common in Bach's time to roll chords, and not common at all to mark them. That said, I wouldn't roll the chords in the C Minor Prelude either!
    – BobRodes
    Jun 16, 2015 at 17:54
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    This answer helped me because I do do this unintentionally, almost all the time.
    – Flounderer
    Jun 16, 2015 at 23:35

You could categorise this effect as a flam. Where by notes are played together but a few ticks apart. I personally like this sound which has a a unique feel.

This video shows a typical example used by Dr Dre. Flam effect

  • All flam definitions I know of consider it a sequence of only two notes/strikes whereas piano rolls can have more than two notes. Also flam is usually considered a drum rudiment. May 22, 2020 at 12:21

I enjoy Stefani Trick playing Boogie and she has small hands so she ROLLS the big chords such as a 10 so it is not poor technique. One can also play CLOSE, as many great pianistss do, a 10 note is also a 3 in the relevant scale so play the inversions of a chord to get smooth fingering.


Given that you haven't nominated any particular style of piano, this sort of arpeggiation would not be out of bounds. After all, any technique employed by both Mozart (Rondo all Turca) and Chico Marx (A Night at the Opera) can't be all bad.


You've noticed that arpeggiating chords has become a habit. You suspect that you're over-doing it. You're almost certainly right! Take control of your playing.


I think you are referring to a glissando. When playing a chord that is notated as glissando, you arpeggiate the chord, but in a very fast manner compared to an actual arpeggiation, therefore it is not an actual arpeggio (since that would require "time"; i.e. notated rhythm).

Note chopin g minor nocturne op 37 No. 1; the end of the B section has a glissando. I, personally, like to play this where the first F# note "duration" is a bit longer than the rest, and then (very) quickly play the rest, likely at the same speed as you described. This is how I like to play it, however there is no right or wrong way.

End of B section

While a glissando's purpose is not to separate the notes completey, an arpeggio's purpose IS to separate the notes completely (think arpeggios when playing your scales/arpeggios). <- This is my opinion and open to interpretation.

  • 3
    Glissando is something different. It is written as a wavy line connecting two notes: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glissando. The vertical wavy line in your example signifies arpeggiation, which is I believe what the OP is looking for. Jun 6, 2015 at 1:25
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    Just plain wrong I'm afraid, lobi. That's an arpeggio notation. It tells us nothing about the speed of the arpeggio. A glissando is indeed something different. It can be notated as a wavy line or a straight one. The label "gliss." is often added.
    – Laurence
    Jun 6, 2015 at 13:24
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpeggio has some details. It's common to play the arpeggiation quickly with this marking, but I think Laurence is correct that speed is not denoted by the marking. I think your answer is basically correct apart from mixing up the definitions.
    – user28
    Jun 7, 2015 at 16:53
  • The word "glissando" is an Italianization of the French glisser: to slip or slide. The word "arpeggio" is from the Italian "arpeggiare": to play the harp. These origins should clarify the distinction.
    – BobRodes
    Jun 16, 2015 at 17:42
  • I agree that speed is not denoted by the marking.
    – BobRodes
    Jun 16, 2015 at 17:56

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