Getting to Know the volca FM Arpeggiator

What better way to liven up your performances than with some patterns and movement? Here's how the volca FM's arpeggiator works, plus a few insider tricks...  

Although the volca line of synthesizers are physically quite small, each of them tend to have more than a few special features. The volca FM has one particular feature I’d like to jump into with you. FM’s built-in arpeggiator is amazing for enhancing and even creating some amazing performances. In this tutorial, let’s go over some fun strategies for deploying the arpeggiator, along with some additional features that send the experience of it right over the edge!


Curiously, the volca FM has two on and off functions for disabling and enabling the arpeggiator. It may seem a little extreme to have two safeguards/parameter toggles for enabling the arp. It’s easy to jog that Type knob, though, when you’re using the Algorithm and the Program/Parameter knob. 



The two safeguards, or parameters enabled are:

  • Func+ Keyboard Button 5 (Arp Enable) must be illuminated.
  • The Type knob must be in any position other than the Off position.

To the initial user, this may seem like a lot to go through to enable something. However, if you think of how you can use this particular setup, strategically, there’s quite a bit of method to the madness.

Tip: Cue Arps Like A DJ

Try this out: With the Arp Enable deselected (light is not illuminated on Keyboard Button 5) begin selecting an Arp Type, with the Type knob and the resolution (speed, rate) at which the arpeggiator will play in comparison to the sequencer tempo and resolution. I highly recommend experimenting with this tactic a few times to lock in a timing division, or resolution, with a pattern direction that to your ears really brings a a cool sequence to life every time the arp is applied. Once you’ve got the Type and Division locked in your favorite setting, use FUNC+Arp Enable (Button 5) to launch the arpeggiator and bring a whole new melodic interpretation to life.  



I love that the volca devices let you save parameter settings, like whether the arpeggiator is on or off. As this is the case, I find that it’s sometimes fun to set up the arpeggiator, but save the sequence with the arpeggiator off. By doing this, it’s like I’m adding a little trojan horse to the sequence that I can unlock while I’m jamming out, and unleash a wave of melody and notes that were not there before. To my audience, it sounds like I suddenly played all of that. But, volca FM and I both know it’s just helping me out, a little bit in the background. 

Tip: Hide it Away for Later

Save your Arpeggiator settings within sequences without enabling the Apeggiator. By doing this you can enable the Arpeggiator after loading a sequence, while performing,  and you’ll already have a great arpeggiator setting that grooves with the current sequence.  


Timing Is Everything!

The arpeggiator enable isn’t the only storable parameter however, when it comes to saving sequences. In fact, if you consider that you can store the resolution of the sequence (Keyboard buttons 6-8, or 1/1, 1/2, 1/4), the number of active steps (Active Step Mode), and that all of these parameters not only affect the internal sequencer but the arpeggiator as well this leads to complex manipulation possibilities for sequences, that can evolve as melodies. 

Tip: Build Out...


It’s tempting to want to start a performance out, full bore, with all 16 sequencer steps a-blazin’, full speed ahead. Starting from a lower tempo resolution and fewer sequencer steps is a fun way of keeping a few cards in your hand before throwing everything down on the table. 


If the club speakers are huge and you suddenly use the Clear Active Step, bounce to 1/1 Tempo Resolution, it might seem like a small thing to you. But slowly opening up like that allows you to extend your sets much farther out and gives you a lot of room to tweak in between. Enable the Arpeggiator in lower timing resolutions and with some disabled steps to add a little chaos to your set.


volca FM is full of tricks that seem a little innocuous at first. But when you begin employing them with the Arpeggiator things can get very interesting and oddly expressive! Try different combinations of your own to form your own workflows!

Learn more about volca FM in the Ask Audio Academy here. 

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


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