How to Roll Chords on Classical Guitar

In this lesson we’ll look at how to roll chords on classical guitar. We’ll discuss when you should and shouldn’t roll chords along with other tips.

Rolling chords is a very idiomatic, characteristic element of the classical guitar. It’s in part because the guitar is so welcoming to the strumming technique. And there are different ways to roll chords. You can use the thumb, or the thumb and fingers together, or drag a finger across the strings.

Rhythm of rolled chords

What can happen is that your roll chord is a bit uneven. A useful way to approach these rolls is to think of them rhythmically. We’ll start with just two notes and organize them rhythmically one eighth-note apart.

It’s important that you place the last note of a rolled chord on the downbeat. So if we play just two notes, we’ll play the first note one eighth note before the downbeat, so that the last note is right on the downbeat. If we then add three notes, we’ll start playing the first note one eighth-note earlier so we still end up on the downbeat with the last note.

This rhythmic approach may feel a bit slow for a rolled chord at first. But it’s going to give you rhythmic control and make your rolled chords more beautiful.

We can continue breaking this down into finer and finer rhythmic subdivisions and add more notes to our rolled chord as well. Eventually we’ll have a fast, but rhythmic roll that sounds natural and beautiful.

Accenting the Downbeat

As you’re landing that last note right on the downbeat, we can give it a slight accent so that the rolled chord sounds directional. Moreover, often the top note will be the melody note in a rolled chord. So we want to work on bringing it out. We can use different right-hand techniques to do this, but your focus should be on bringing out that top note on the downbeat.

Don’t over-roll chords

We have to be cautious not to roll every chord. It’s really a kind of ornament and so arpeggiating a chord should be used sparingly in just the right moment for special effect. One thing that will help the rolled chords have their most effect is to contrast surrounding chordal textures as block chords. That is, if you don’t split every chord, the rolled chord stands out more. In that way it becomes more special.

Take, for instance, William Walton’s Bagatelle No.2 played at the beginning of the video. The rolled chord is surrounded by block chords. Thus the arpeggiated chord is more mysterious as a result.

Uncommon chord rolls

In some instances we’ll need to roll chords out of order. For instance, we may roll a chord with a backwards strum, like at the end of Jose Luis Merlin’s “Evocacion.” Or we may have an “asymmetric” roll, where we have a melody note in the middle instead of on the top of the chord. A great example of this is the beginning of Isaac Albéniz’s “Granada.”

Likewise, sometimes the downbeat is at the beginning of the roll or even in the middle of the roll. So we have to pay close attention to the musical context and identify where the melody is in relation to the other notes in the chord. We still want to think rhythmically with the rolled chord. But we may need to place our accent in a different place than the downbeat in these instances.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on How to Roll Chords on Classical Guitar. You’ll find many other free right-hand technique lessons on our Technique Resources page.

If you’re looking for a structured approach to playing classical guitar like you get in this lesson, we encourage you to check out Classical Guitar Corner Academy, our online school for classical guitar. The Academy has a structured curriculum where you can work at your own pace, but with clarity and direction. Join CGC Academy today.