Arpeggiators are perhaps one of the simplest and most audibly recognisable sequencing tools available. They originated in the early days of hardware synthesisers. In essence, an arpeggiator is a very basic real-time sequencer which takes a chord as an input and turn it into an arpeggio. In other words, it automates the sequencing aspect of some sound. It operates a bit like a gate sequencer but gives you way more control over the parameters of each note in the sequence.
All things considered, the arpeggiator in FM8 is a monster. In fact, it effortlessly generates exotic, unimaginable textures. As an introduction, check out this basic pattern the arp generated with just one note on a percussive, tube-like, sound.
In the first place, FM8’s arpeggiator consists of 5 parts: the PATTERN editor, the GLOBAL controls, the REPEAT MODE menu, the TIME resolution window and the EXPRESSION window.
1. THE PATTERN EDITOR
Rows (top down)
- Step Number: a visual aid. shows where the arp is in its cycle
- On: for programming rhythms, click boxes to consequently enable “note-on” for that subdivision
- Tie: for interpolating enabled notes and syncopating/articulating. Tying one note to the next will therefore disable the second note on message.
- Accent: for emphasizing particular notes and creating dynamics
- Note order: Tells FM8 how to handle simultaneous note on messages (voices). There are 3 ways….
- All: all pressed notes will be triggered for that step
- Rdm: chose a random note out of the chord for that step
- 1 – 32: means the lowest pressed note will be triggered by steps numbered 1, the next lowest pressed note will be triggered by steps numbered 2… etc. I will delve into this topic further in the next section when I talk about repeat modes.
- Octave: transposes the pitch of the step up/down by multiples of 12 semitones.
- Transpose: shifts the pitch of the triggered note up/down by the selected number of semitones.
- Left and right arrows: shift the pattern backward/forward one step.
Columns (left to right)
- Reset: reloads the default settings for that row
- Rnd: randomizes the settings for that row
2. GLOBAL CONTROLS
- On: enables arpeggiator
- Copy: copies the pattern and settings
- Paste: loads the copied pattern and settings into a new instance or over the current settings
- Drop-Down Menu: contains pre-set arp settings to browse and modify
- Save: for overwriting presets (select a preset as the location) or saving a custom set (select user).
3. REPEAT MODE MENU
- Hold: Sustains the arpeggio after lifting the key until pressing a new key. Therefore, this tool allows you to focus on parameters of the sound without having to hold a key down throughout the process.
- Down: Inverts the note order such that #1 triggers the highest held note, #2 triggers the next highest note… etc
- One Shot: In this mode, the pattern will play through just once when a note is triggered. Also ideal for non-looping motifs. In addition, most effective with key sync on. When disabled, the pattern runs freely and constantly.
- Key Sync: tells the pattern to reset to step 1 each time a note is played. Ideal for preserving a repetitive theme.
- Tempo Sync: links FM’s clock to the DAW’s clock such that the pattern can be subdivided into musical divisions that are accurate to your song.
- Repeat Mode Menu: This is where things start to get complex. The warp menu determines how FM8 will order held notes when there are more available voices (note numbers) than notes held. For example, if there are 8 available voices and you press C, D, and E simultaneously….. the remaining voice numbers (4-8) could be satisfied in the following ways….
- Wrap: notes will play in the same order until all 8 steps run out. (CDE, CDE, CD)
- Wrap+: transposes the remaining voices up an octave (C1D1E1, C2D2E2, C3D3)
- Wrap-: transposes the remaining voices an octave (C1D1E1, C0D0E0, C-1D-1)
- Ping: pattern returns in the opposite direction without repeating endpoints. (CDE, DCD, ED)
- Pong: pattern returns in the opposite direction, repeating endpoints (CDE, EDC, CD)
- Last: the last note pressed will be repeated for the remaining voices (CDE, EEE, EE)
- First: the first note pressed will be repeated for the remaining voices (CDE, CCC, CC)
- Random: chooses from pressed notes at random for the remaining voices (CDE, CED, DC)
- Pause: the remaining voices will be silent (CDE, —, –)
As you can hear for yourself, my patch has seriously improved by simply experimenting with the repeat modes and note order on a C minor triad with 5 available voices (note numbers). Keep in mind, it doesn’t sound like a C minor triad when arpeggiated because I’ve transposed several notes. Furthermore, notice the steps marked random trigger a random note out of the chord and the steps marked all trigger the full chord.
4. TIME RESOLUTION WINDOW
In short, this window is where you determine the speed at which the pattern plays back in BPM. In addition to this, you can also determine the beat value of each step.
- Note Length: Of course, this determines the global duration of triggered notes. (staccato or legato)
- Shuffle: Accordingly, this offsets the grid quantization by a certain amount. Creates a swing/trip-hop feel.
Given these points, check out the same patch with shuffle turned to about 3 o’clock.
5. EXPRESSION WINDOW
- Vel: enables velocity sensitivity
- Velocity: determines how much velocity has on level.
- Accent: determines how noticeably accented the accented steps are
- Split: divides the keyboard into 2 sections, arpeggiated and non-arpeggiated – defaults to the high-range being arpeggiated.
- Bass: when enabled with split, the low-range of the keyboard will be arpeggiated and the high-range will not be
- Learn: click to map the cutoff point for the split. Or, type in a note name in the box to it’s right.
All in all, If the soft synths and sequencer you use contain arpeggiators and pattern generators, you should now be in a better position to exploit their capabilities for your own productions. In addition, you can also feed one arpeggiator in to another, or even use the arpeggiator to trigger less obvious instruments such as sampler or drum machines. All things considered, This is a great way of generating interesting rhythm patterns quickly and coming up with new ideas.
To conclude, check out my complete patch with split parts and some accompaniment. You can download it HERE.