Check out these six MP3 examples that correspond with the "Arpeggiator Tips and Techniques" sidebar of this article.
Bass.mp3 Using a 2-note arpeggiated bass line can add tremendous tension to a song.
ArpLengths.mp3 To make a gated effect, keep the note length shorter in measure than the resolution timing. For example, if the arpeggiator time is set to eighth note, then set your note length to 16th, 32nd, etc.
Pad.mp3 Arpeggiating pad sounds can be tricky because of the amount of sustain usually inherent to a pad sound. More often than not, that leads to a sound that moves with the notes; however, at times it can almost sound indistinct, negating the point of an arpeggiator.
Glide.mp3 Set an arpeggiated synth patch to monophonic with a high glide to add some excitement.
Velocity.mp3 To imply the beginning of a phrase, set the Velocity of the first hit to 127, with the rest at 60 to 80.
Reverse.mp3 If none of these ideas muster any musical inspiration, there''s always the age-old trick of bouncing the arpeggiated phrase to audio and then reversing it.
We've all heard arpeggiators at some point or another. They've been used in everything from hip-hop to trance, techno and even glitch. Arpeggiators are integral to any producer's toolkit because they contribute to everything from lead sounds to subdued pads, or even an effect on a drum hit.
Nearly as long as synthesizers have been around, there have been artists using arpeggiators to their potential. From Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer's “I Feel Love” to Evil 9's “Devils Play” and Whitey's “Leave Them All Behind,” arpeggiators have displayed their power for decades. While not all synths have one, the majority of DAWs have some means of implementing them.
The general practice of arpeggiating is a means of repeating notes as long as they're sustained. If you hold down chords on a keyboard, an arpeggiator plays only single notes in those chords one after another. Typically an arpeggiator has some — if not all — of the following parameters: speed, pattern (direction), note length and quantize. The speed function should be obvious: It determines how slow or fast the note repetitions will be. More often than not with digital systems, speed can be synced to a MIDI Clock. The pattern parameter is used to set the direction the notes will play in respect to one another on a keyboard. Those are usually up, down, up then down, etc. Note length might appear to be trivial, but it can come in handy in an instance when you don't need or want the notes to sustain past one another. Note length can also be used to achieve a gatelike or staccato sound. Another great feature that you might find only on DAWs is the ability to quantize a pattern to the grid during recording. That occurs occasionally outside a DAW in certain models of samplers with built-in sequencers. For example, Akai's MPC series calls it “Note Repeat” and dispatches it with the Timing Correct button. You may also find other arpeggiator parameters such as octaves and repetitions; however, the aforementioned four parameters tend to be the most common and most helpful.
Arpeggiators can be used in any type of music, but some styles gravitate toward them more than others. You've heard arpeggiation in trance ad infinitum. That is usually done in the higher register of sounds, adding to the blend of harmonics that is a trance trademark. Also, the notes being played are rarely more than a few semitones apart. A set of four notes usually does the trick, with the sequence kept in time and in key with the rest of the song.
Techno also frequently exploits certain arpeggiator tricks. It's a style that may use arpeggiators on bass lines and on more mid-range sounds. Because techno is generally light on melody, it typically features notes played on repeat. If your setup allows, that doesn't always have to be produced with a synthesizer and can be done with a sampler or drum machine. The secret is to use the patterned hits sparingly — almost like cymbal-crash hits — in the interest of breaking up the loop a bit. Techno is one of a few genres that will use multiple arpeggiated parts to build drama and tension in a track, so go wild and be creative.
Interest in minimal and glitch music is growing, so it's important to note that the sounds used in those styles don't always have to be made by looping the split-second parts of a sample. In fact, certain arpeggiators can actually work with time signatures as short as 1/768 time (Apple Logic Pro has a great one for that). If you do decide to make note length that short, set the attack and release up a pinch to avoid a constant popping, giving you more bleep for the buck. Of course 1/768 time may be a bit extreme, even for die-hard glitch fans. If you're looking to break away from the static sound of this method, try adding an effect. Something as simple as a chorus or phaser is a great way to add character to the loop. Consider modulating the effect so it's not quite in time with the music. Keeping it in time may imply to the savvy listener that it's just a synth patch with an effect on it — hardly the case.
Finally, hip-hop has its own approach for using arpeggiators as well. Because this genre depends on the message and lyrics, the arpeggiated parts tend to be placed in the track more like a sound effect, filling in around the vocals to support them. Sometimes you also hear certain lines dropped into the background of a beat. That is a great way to fill space if your track is sounding hollow or sparse. Any special effects such as reverb can also be used here to add depth.
MINT IT AND PRINT IT
Just like mixing anything else in music, there are no hard-and-fast rules for mixing arpeggiators, just general guidelines. As long as your arpeggiated parts are repetitive, which they usually will be, you might consider keeping them softer in the mix, compressing them to keep your levels even and possibly dropping off the low end. Also, a bit of reverb should help, and be careful of delaying the signal because it will thicken the presence of the pattern. Oftentimes, mixing an arpeggiator resembles mixing a pad sound. Both usually add filler to a mix and more often than not support the lead sounds harmonically. With that in mind, in order to avoid fatigue in the listener, try changing the notes being played. Even moving the sequence up one semitone can have a huge impact on the song. Also try experimenting with different automation techniques. For example, the arpeggiated line could slowly release a lowpass filter from the low frequencies to the high, right as your song reaches its peak. Also remember that due to the repetition factor, you should consider filtering off the low end of your sequence to avoid too many muddy frequencies.
Never mistake arpeggiators for trivial toys. If you've ever been short on inspiration, they may be the first step to something great.
Hear some examples of the arpeggiator tips and tricks atremixmag.com.
ARPEGGIATOR TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
- Using a 2-note arpeggiated bass line can add tremendous tension to a song.
- To make a gated effect, keep the note length shorter in measure than the resolution timing. For example, if the arpeggiator time is set to eighth note, then set your note length to 16th, 32nd, etc.
- Arpeggiating pad sounds can be tricky because of the amount of sustain usually inherent to a pad sound. More often than not, that leads to a sound that moves with the notes; however, at times it can almost sound indistinct, negating the point of an arpeggiator.
- Set an arpeggiated synth patch to monophonic with a high glide to add some excitement.
- To imply the beginning of a phrase, set the Velocity of the first hit to 127, with the rest at 60 to 80.
- If none of these ideas muster any musical inspiration, there's always the age-old trick of bouncing the arpeggiated phrase to audio and then reversing it.