I wonder what would be the main difference between arpeggiated accompaniment and counter melody.

Could it be the rule that an arpeggiated accompaniment would be more repetitive (because it consists mainly of chord notes), whereas a counter melody would vary more in terms of notes used (without sticking to chord notes only and repeating itself as frequently as it would in the accompaniment).

The song I'm going to refer to:

In this song, I believe that the piano is playing arpeggiated chords accompanying the voice of the singer. Counter melody would be, I assume, when the piano was doing entirely its own thing without as much repetition. What are your thoughts about it?

  • Depends on how loosely you define countermelody. I am assuming we are talking about counterpoint. There are certain "rules" to constructing it. Accompanying chords (arpeggiated or not) can be placed according to a lot of algorithms, including counterpoint expansion.
    – Pyromonk
    Aug 3, 2019 at 13:04
  • Yeah, I was talking about counterpoint. My question is kind of thing that I can "hear" but I'm not fully certain how to describe it in different cases. Like the one I posted, voice is melody and piano would be an accompaniament, I believe. But sometimes there could be a human voice singing one melody and guitar/piano playing another that does not really accompanies it, but rather is doing its own thing.
    – Toby
    Aug 3, 2019 at 14:43
  • So what exactly is the question? I am confused after reading through your comment.
    – Pyromonk
    Aug 3, 2019 at 16:00
  • I was asking about some guidelines/rules that would help me diffrentiate the two, because I'm not always certain about it.
    – Toby
    Aug 3, 2019 at 17:21

1 Answer 1


I do not think there is a way of distinguishing between "vat-produced" counterpoint and arpeggiated accompaniment, unless said accompaniment repeats the arpeggiated chord as an exact same sequence of notes every bar/division of a bar, whether it be by ear or on paper. Even then, counterpoint can be repetitive as well. There's too much to say here, as different musical genres employ different techniques: one might almost always have 1 chord per bar in some (for example, blues), and one might have many chord changes within the same bar in others (for example, progressive rock/metal).

If you take a look at some of Bach's fugues, you will notice that they contain repetitions as well. In other words, counterpoint can be repetitive as well. Polytonality doesn't imply variation necessarily.

That being said, I personally (and I am no expert: I am just a musician who doesn't have a degree in music or music theory) see this as a question about squares and rectangles. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.

Arpeggiated chords are one of the ways for constructing counterpoint. You can split a chord into different voices, remove some of the notes and construct counterpoint therefrom. Similarly, you can create counterpoint and build chords on top of that. Which method is taken depends largely on the composer, and I do not think it is possible to know for sure unless the composer clearly states how they have constructed the work in question.

Perhaps, the only cases where arpeggiated chord use is obvious, are when notes "go out of scale". Classical counterpoint usually has no accidentals (unless it's a piece in melodic minor or a trill/grace note). If there is a chord accompaniment going on, a chord can be borrowed from a parallel or relative key, and that's where chord-based composition kind of becomes apparent. However, even older classical pieces can employ this technique for constructing counterpoint. So the divide between the two is really muddy.

I guess, it's just important to know what genre you're dealing with and what era it comes from. Older classical music will be based on the idea of polytonality and counterpoint, whereas jazz and genres derived from it (rock, blues, metal and such) will have chord-based progressions most of the time.

I hope this sheds some light on your problem.

  • I've ended up characterizing two boss themes as having "arpeggiated lines", even though those lines don't strictly follow chord arpeggios on later analysis. I didn't think of either of them as countermelodies--I ended up not transcribing one such line for one of the themes for solo piano because it was too quiet and too high, but I did end up transcribing portions of the line for the other theme.
    – Dekkadeci
    Aug 4, 2019 at 18:07
  • 1
    I think I like this answer :) squares and rectangles are probably good metaphore for that.
    – Toby
    Aug 5, 2019 at 8:21
  • @Dekkadeci So the piece you transcribed was kind of a blend between arpeggiation and countermelody? That's interesting. Can you give a link to this theme?
    – Toby
    Aug 5, 2019 at 8:23
  • @Toby - The theme I didn't transcribe any of the "arpeggiated line" for because it was too high and quiet for solo piano without discarding the melody is here, while the theme I did transcribe some of the "arpeggiated line" for is here.
    – Dekkadeci
    Aug 6, 2019 at 1:58

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