Arpeggiators are extremely simple real-time sequencers that require a chord as an input. They are a type of broken chord in which the notes that compose it are played or sung in an ascending or descending order. An arpeggiator does not play or sing its notes at the same time. Yet, listeners are able to hear the sequence of the notes that form the specific chord. Contemporary synthesizers usually include one.

Arpeggiators: When It All Began

The first arpeggiators had basic hardware synths. As time went by, these sequencers became an inevitable part of the most popular analog synthesizers, such as Roland Jupiter 8, Oberheim OB-Xa, Roland SH-101, Roland Juno-6, Sequential Circuits Six-Trak, and Korg Polysix. Some years later, the arpeggiator feature wasn’t popular among the most recurrent synthesizers. Nevertheless, the fashion rose again when some dance music hits began incorporating arpeggiator sequences.

To Better Understand

Although music is usually based around the progression of chords, many musicians might not play the notes of the chords in a simultaneous manner. To state an example, think of a guitarist playing finger-style while using intricate plucks to create a more complex pattern. Since this effect is based around simple chord shapes, the progression of chords might not be that obvious.

An arpeggiator provides the synthesizer player with an easy way of playing complex synth parts via the use of simple chords. When the arpeggiator switches, there comes an instruction to the synth. Said instruction is to listen to the specific notes played by the guitarist, so that then it creates a pattern using particular notes played at an established master tempo. In order to achieve the specific pattern, the player only has to hold the notes or hit the chord once. This occurs if the latch function is active in the arpeggiator. If the latch function is on, the pattern will remain the same until another the player choses another chord or note.

Modern Arpeggiators

Plain old arpeggiators simply cycle through the notes, playing each note to a specific length. In contrast, modern arpeggiators are more sophisticated. This means that they have more functions, such as switching between up, down, and up-and-down modes. These contemporary arpeggiators are capable of changing tempo and note lengths. They have multiple variations; the most advanced versions involve more complex pre-programmed patterns or the possibility to create customized programs. Some versions even provide the possibility of polyphonic patterns, which means that the chords are tempo-synchronized. Workstation style synths involve very complex arpeggiators, as they allow the player to program multiple layers of sounds with different patterns. This feature allows the player to create extremely complex and evolving layered sounds.