A Basic Guide to Arpeggiators

When putting together melody laden projects arpeggiators can be an indispensable tool. Before you get stuck into your first arpeggiated patterns it's worth becoming familiar with the basic modes and t  

When putting together melody laden projects arpeggiators can be an indispensable tool. Before you get stuck into your first arpeggiated patterns it's worth becoming familiar with the basic modes and types of arpeggiator there are.

This tutorial on Arpeggiators and their modes is applicable to Reason, Ableton Live, Cubase and many, many more 3rd party Instrument and Effect Plug-ins.

For a guide on how to use Logic's built-in arpeggiator check out this tutorial.

To learn more about arpeggiators and their modes read on...

Arpeggiation Modes

Whatever flavor of arpeggiator you decide to use you'll find that they all share similar DNA. The modes that arpeggiators use are usually pretty similar, so if you learn how to use one you can generally use them all.

An arpeggiator works by taking the notes you play on the keyboard (or program in the piano roll) and transforming them into an ordered, syncopated pattern. So if your keyboard skills aren't great this really is perfect.

The key to setting up your arpeggiator is understanding how it goes about constructing it's patterns. If you play a three note chord into an arpeggiator you then have to tell it what order to play these notes back in. This is often called the mode and there are sometimes a few to choose from.

You will tend to see things such as 'up', 'up and down','down' and even 'random'. These different modes will simply change the order in which your inputted notes are played back. This change in order makes a huge difference to the patterns created, so try them all.

There will also be other options in most devices, such as note length, speed / timing and you may even find gates and a latch control for playing held chords. Every appreciator will differ slightly but the learning curve is not too steep.

Standalone Arpeggiator Devices

Onto the different types of arpeggiators you're likely to find in your different apps. The standalone device is probably the most flexible and powerful, Reason's RPG-8 is an excellent example of breed.

The RPG-8 has all the parameters you could possibly need to create stunning arpeggios. As with other standalone devices though this needs to be connected physically to the instrument you are using. Reason uses a virtual CV/Gate system to do this but other applications may require similar devices to be loaded as inserts.

Audio - The RPG-8 connected to a Subtractor synthesizer:

Built-in Arpeggiators

Some of the easiest arpeggiators to use are actually integrated into an instrument's interface. There are less connections to make and usually the syncopation is tighter and reacts more quickly.

There are quite a few synths that include arpeggiators of this type, although they do vary in complexity you should find they are all very useable. A few examples of synths with integrated arpeggiators are the Korg Polysix, Arturia Jupiter 8V and the Novation V-Station. There are literally hundreds more out there, so make sure you double check if your favorite plug-ins sport this feature.

Audio - The Polysix arpeggiator in action:

MIDI Plug-in Arpeggiators

Finally, there is one more kind of arpeggiator, the MIDI plug-in. These plug-ins are often bundled with DAWs and can be loaded directly onto a MIDI track and effect your MIDI directly.

This is an alternative route as the arpeggio can be applied to existing MIDI parts. So chords from previous projects can easily be treated the arpeggio treatment, a great trick for remixing or creating alternate parts.

Want to know more about creating sublime arpeggiator patterns, sounds for Electronica, or just learn how to get the best out of your music production software? Check these tuts out!

Mo has been a professional in the music industry for around 15 years. He has released material with the world's leading record labels and also produces music for TV and Film. Mo is also a prolific writer and is a regular contributor to magazines such as Music Tech, Future Music and EQ magazine. There isn't a piece of music software tha... Read More


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