How to Use an Arpeggiator in your DAW

January 31, 2012

DAW Fundamentals, Logic Pro

This tutorial takes you through a step-by-step process on how to create your own arpeggio synthesizers in Logic Pro.  We cover sound selection, routing your arpeggiator in Logic’s Environment window, arpeggiator settings and much more.

Take a listen to the arpeggio we are going to create:

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Arpeggiated synthesizers have slowly gained steam throughout the years making their way from Electronic music into mainstream Pop and Hip Hop.  These days you can see the their impact across the board from Lil Wayne to Skrillex.  In this article, we’ll dive into the world of arpeggiated synths, learn how to create them and when to use them.

The modern music producer must have an arsenal of tools and skills to be successful in an extremely competitive market.  This means he or she must stay on the forefront of trends and technology.  Once upon a time, arpeggiators were only found in hardware sequencers, but with continued technological growth they’ve quickly ended up in most major DAW’s and soft synth workstations.

An arpeggiator is a note-based step sequencer.  It takes input from the chord being triggered and runs that sound through a sequence of notes, to in effect, arpeggiate it.

Lead arpeggiators are extremely popular and generally arise from some type of trance synth – typically a lead.  Here’s how to easily create this type of sound in Logic Pro.

Step 1 – Pick a trance synth sound.

Essentially, you can choose to arpeggiate any sound you want, but the ES1, ES2 and EXS24 have some great sounds to start with.  In this example, we’ll choose Logic’s Classic Trance synth from the Synth Leads folder.

Synth Leads Folder

Synth Leads

Here is what that sounds like:

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Once you choose this sound, bypass the reverb processor on your signal chain for now.  This sound comes with a preset processing chain that we’ll get into later.

Step 2 – Setup Your Environment.

To load up your Environment Window hit command+8 on your keyboard.    You should then see a window like this.

Environment Window

 

In the upper left corner there is a drop down arrow next to the word Mixer.  Click on it and choose Clicks and Ports.  You’ll be redirected to a different environment window and you’ll want to click on the New drop down menu to select the Arpeggiator.

Step 3:  Routing Your Arpeggiator

The simplest way to route your arpeggaitor into your sequencer is to drag a cable connection from your keyboard input to your arepeggiator and from your arpeggiator to your sequencer input.  I know this sounds confusing but it’s actually quite simple once you’ve done it a couple of times.

Here’s the signal chain after routing.  Notice the black cable connections going from keyboard to arpeggiator to sequencer.

Step 4:  Playing Your Arpeggiator

Note:  For the arpeggiation to take place your arrangement must be playing even if you don’t have any other sounds in your session.  The effect will not work otherwise, so if you’re sitting there twiddling your thumbs wondering why there’s no change in the sound – that’s most likely the reason.  Setup your loop markers and get playback started.

To get the most out of this arpeggiator you will need to play chords.  Here’s an example:

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Step 5:  Tweaking your arpeggiator settings.

Logic’s arpeggiator gives you several options for manipulating your arpeggiations to achieve desired results.  Here are some of the key functions in a nutshell.

Arpeggio Controls

Arpeggio Controls

 

Direction – determines the direction of the arpeggiator, whether the arpeggiator arpeggiates up or down in octaves or both.

Velocity – determines the velocity of the arpeggiation.  Selecting Original will use the velocity info that was registered from your MIDI trigger when you struck that chord.  Try setting the Velocity to Random for a larger dynamic range between arpeggiations.

Key Limit – allows you to decide what range of keys is to be effected by the arpeggiation.  For general purposes you can leave this as is, but this parameter is useful when your arpeggiation only occupies a few semitones on your keyboard.  Keys outside this limit will be unaffected.

Resolution – the rate of arpeggiaton.  For music with faster tempos like Dance and Techno, 1/4th notes up to 16th notes will work pretty well in most situations.  However, I’ve found for music with slower tempos like southern Hip Hop 16th notes to 32nd notes generally work the best.

Here’s the difference in an 8th resolution compared to a 16th resolution.

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Length – determines the actual length of the notes being arpeggiated.  Normally, with faster resolutions you choose shorter note lengths and vice versa, although this isn’t always the case.

Here’s an example of the effect Length has on your arpeggiation.

8th Note Length

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32nd Note Length

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Octaves – decides how many octaves the arpeggiation will rise or fall over a given period of time.  Whether or not the arpeggiation will rise, fall, or both (in octaves) is dependant on the Direction setting you have chosen.

Up and Down +/- 3 octaves.

The image above shows the correlation between Octaves and Direction.  With Octave set to 3 and Direction set to Up/down my arpeggiation travels up 3 octaves, back down 3 octaves and then repeats that progression for the next chord triggered.

If I had my direction set to Up it would look something like this – the arpeggiation travels up 3 octaves and then repeats itself.

Up

Up +3 octaves.

The aforementioned parameters are the dominant controls on Logic’s arpeggiator.  Get to know them well.

Once you have a nice arpeggiated riff don’t forget to sauce it up with some delay, reverb, phasing, etc.. You can create some cool atmospheric arpeggios with some spatial processing.

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Experimenting with different sound sources can produce quality results as well.  One of my favorite sounds to arpeggiate is a synth string sound – it works great in RnB and Hip Hop music.

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Another great way to get your hand on quality arpeggiations is to purchase sample libraries from Platinum Loops.  They have loads of affordable sample packs that come with modern, professional grade arpeggiated riffs so you can skip right to the fun and start producing.  Any one of their electronic products is bound to carry plenty of arps and all of their products come with free loops as well!

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