Many guitar players will simply strum through chords without giving much thought to the individual notes of the chords, but if you want to play advanced, sophisticated, pleasing arrangements of songs on solo guitar, spice up your rhythm playing, or work on classical/Spanish guitar styles, you’ll need to get very familiar with broken chords and arpeggios

Broken Chords on Guitar

Put simply, a “broken chord” is a chord whose notes are played one at a time rather than all together. On guitar this generally means you finger a chord with your left hand, and then instead of quickly strumming across all six strings you pluck each string in turn.

In practice, you might only pluck a few of the strings, and play around with the order you play them in. The notes might sound one at a time, or you might allow them to ring out, so that their sounds combine. The key point about broken chords is just that the notes are played in a sequence, rather than all at once.

Guitar Arpeggios

An “arpeggio” is a particular type of broken chord, in which all the notes of the chord are played, in order of pitch. This most commonly means you play the root, then the third, then the fifth (and then any additional notes such as the seventh). You would often play up and then down the arpeggio.

This is a very common way to play chords on guitar or piano, and the sound will certainly be familiar to you! In fact, the second of the broken chords in the example clip above is an arpeggio.

If you learn your triad fretboard patterns you’ll have a way to play easy guitar arpeggios.

Ear training for broken chords and arpeggios

Learning to appreciate the different ways a chord can be played is essential if you want to play guitar well. You need to know the different options available to you, their characteristic sounds, and the musical impact they will have.

Broken chords and arpeggios are important tools in a good guitarist’s skill set—but it’s not enough to just train your fingers to play them! How well they will work for you all depends on your ears and the ear training you’ve done to appreciate the differences.

  • Spend time doing active listening on different types of music and specifically listening out for chords played as broken chords or arpeggios.
  • Experiment with different ways to play the songs you’re working on in your guitar practice, and hear how changing a strummed chord into a broken chord affects the musical mood.
  • Try incorporating arpeggios into your solos, rather than just wandering up and down scales and fretboard patterns.

Start with your ear, connect it with your guitar, and your broken chord and arpeggios skills will be a formidable addition to your guitar skills.

→ Full guitar “broken chords” lesson

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • What are the different ways I hear guitar chords played?
  • What ear training helps with guitar broken chords and arpeggios?
  • How can I recognise broken chords and arpeggios on guitar by ear?
  • What guitar chord ear training helps with broken chords/arpeggios?

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