Look again at FIGURE 8-2. On beat three of measure five, you will see the notes G#, B, D, and F. Alone, this outlines a diminished seven chord. However, given that there is an E in the bass, these notes really outline an E7 flat 9 chord. Rather than thinking of this passage as an outline, think of it as a broken chord. In musician's parlance, this is called an arpeggio.
Arpeggios allow pianists to play chords in a more spread-out fashion. Often, they can be used to ornament the music while maintaining the purity of the chord progression. When playing an arpeggio, you do not hit every chord tone simultaneously. Instead, you strike each tone separately as you travel up or down the keyboard.
When played very fast, arpeggios sound like rolls up or down the keyboard. The most common way to “roll” a chord is from the lowest pitch to the highest pitch. This is notated using an arpeggio symbol, which looks like this: . On occasion, a songwriter asks you to roll a chord from the top pitch to the bottom pitch. In this case, a downward arrow is attached to the arpeggio symbol signifying a descending roll. The arpeggio symbol is not used in this book, but you will see it in sheet music so you should know what it looks like and what it means.
FIGURE 8-2: Using the Harmonic Minor over i, iv, and V Chords
When playing arpeggios, pianists will often depress the sustain pedal. By doing this, you can better connect the notes of the chord. When you connect notes, you are playing legato. Legato allows notes to flow seamlessly into one another. However, in some contexts, you may not want to play legato arpeggios. In contrast, you may want chord tones to be detached or staccato. When arpeggios are staccato, they can be used as a melodic device. J. S. Bach was the master of this. If you return to the arpeggio in FIGURE 8-2, you will see that the E7 flat 9 chord described earlier takes on a melodic role since it is played in a detached fashion.
Arpeggios allow chords to “open up” or “breathe.” They have often been described as harplike since they really make chords sparkle. Moreover, when you play arpeggios, your chords will sound denser and thicker. Executed properly, arpeggios can add expression and excitement to your music.
Look at a basic minor i chord arpeggio in FIGURE 8-3. You will see that scale degrees one, three, and five are used to create a broken A minor chord. Feel free to add pedaling for a fuller effect. When you do this, depress the pedal before you strike the first note and hold it down for the duration of the arpeggio. Since you're playing all chord tones, the pedal will not make this arpeggio sound muddy or incoherent.
FIGURE 8-3: Minor Arpeggio
Be mindful of the fingering in this arpeggio. Your hands cross over each other and play in both clefs. Be very careful of the fingering in this exercise. It is indicated in brackets. You may also play major arpeggios. FIGURE 8-4 shows the same pattern as
FIGURE 8-4: Major Arpeggio
As you might have guessed, you can turn any chord type into an arpeggio. Diminished, half diminished, augmented, major sevenths, minor nines can all be turned into an arpeggio. Think about how you might use arpeggios to add sugar and spice to your own songs.