Correct me if I am wrong, but to label a block chord, you look at the chord in the bass, then you look at the note or notes in the melody that line up exactly vertically with that chord in the bass, and you try and identify the chord.

But what if we have a broken chord instead? Does this vertical analysis still hold up, or are you supposed to look at the broken chord as one whole (a block chord) rather than separate notes with a corresponding melody note (separate 2 note "chords" in their own right)? If it is as one whole block chord, how do you know which melody note was intended to "line up" with that chord? I suppose it's not possible to know, so you simply label the broken chord without considering the melody? Or take your best guess?

  • What about chord inversions? You'd label the chord wrong if you looked at only the bass. Some notes in the chord can exist outside the scale too.. To find the chord name you need to know the key of the song, and then you can work from there. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 16:32
  • 1
    @BugHunterUK - it's not necessarily necessary to know the key of the piece. In fact, occasionally, it's no real help at all...
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 16:36

3 Answers 3


A succession of notes, whether configured as block chords, an arpeggio, or a mixture of the two, may 'change chord' at any point. We can't offer you any rule as to when this happens, you have to look at each piece of music individually and make your own decision. Sometimes it will be ambiguous.


A broken chord is still a chord! it's just split into an arpeggiated chord, at whatever speed is shown. It will generally have a set of notes which could be played simultaneously, given enough fingers on, say, a piano. So, yes they can be one and the same. Sometimes, though, the melody itself over that chord contains passing notes, which, for chord identification purposes, can be left out as members of said chord.


Generally chords are identified by notes that have associations of 3rds. If you see a group of notes, whether stacked or broken, that have a relationship with surrounding notes in 3rds, it is likely part of the chord. Some chords are in inversion, so make sure to flip the notes around when assessing the relationships. When stacked in 3rds, the bottom note is the root, even if it is not in the bass.

There is usually a rhythmic movement to the chord associations. You can identify syncopation when a note of a new chord starts in before the next beat. Sometimes non-chord tones will be included for color, but that is a judgment call. Is it a non-chord tone, an altered chord, or an expanded chord? The answer will have a lot to do with the piece's style of music.

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