Arpeggiators are great creative tools that allow one to build up melodic patterns that they might not have produced otherwise. But have you ever tried chaining arpeggiators together? Taking this extra step can allow one to create intricate changing patterns. I am going to be using Ableton to show you how to chain arpeggiators together in both serial and in parallel. Making use of these techniques can really open up ideas for your productions.
Let's create the first Arp. I have created a MIDI track (Shift-Command-T). On this I have inserted a software instrument. I am using Massive, but any synth can be used. Now drag an Arpeggiator MIDI device before the software instrument. This can be found under the Live Devices > MIDI Effects.
With the arpeggiator I have set the Style to Up with a straight Groove. I have set the Rate to ¼ with a Gate of 110% and a Distance of +12 st.
Now for the ‘serial arpeggiating’. Add another arpeggiator after the first one. This time use different arpeggiator settings. For my second arpeggiator I have changed the Rate to 1/12 with a Gate at 48% and a Distance of -13st and the Steps set to 3. I have set the Style to Up & Down.
Take a listen to this arpeggiator effect:
The second arpeggiator feeds off the first, and creates a different effect than if you had either of the arpeggiators by themselves.
Take a listen to what happens when I switch the arpeggiators around. I have dragged the second arpeggiator to the front. So now this is the first arpeggiator in the signal chain, and the other follows. Here is what it sounds like now:
This demonstrates how the order of effect in the serial chain can change the end result.
Let's try something different here. Serial arpeggiators are one way to go, but it's also possible to use Ableton’s Racks to create a ‘Parallel-Chained’ Arpeggiator effect.
Do the same as I did in the previous steps. Set up your MIDI track with the desired software instrument. Drag the Arpeggiator MIDI Device before the synth. Select the arpeggiator device only and press Command-G to group the device and create a Rack.
Make sure the second button on the Rack is highlighted. This will show you the chains available. You will see the first Chain, which is simply named ‘Chain’ for now. I am going to rename this Chain Up 1/4 (Command-R), as this chain will make the arp go up ¼ notes.
Next create a new chain, by right-clicking in the area below the chain and selecting Create Chain. Rename this chain Up & Down 1/8, this will have an arp on it that changes the notes and up and down a scale by 1/8-notes. Insert another arpeggiator on this chain. I have set the Style to Up & Down, the Groove as Straight. The Rate is set to 1/12, with a Gate of 48%. To finish off I have set the Steps to 3, with a Distance of -13st.
Here is what my first parallel arp chain sounds like:
And here is what my second parallel arp chain sounds like:
This is what the Parallel Arp chain sounds like together:
Making use of different Gate and Rate settings can really change what arpeggiator effect you have.
As you can see, you can achieve different results by making use of more than one arpeggiator in serial and parallel signal chains. Ableton allows you to make use of Ableton’s Racks for further options such as the parallel-chained arpeggiators.
Try this technique out in your future productions, and see what different arpeggiator patterns you can achieve with your tracks.
For other Ableton tips and trick go check out the following tutorials:
Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the last 10 years, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary has been a devoted Logic and Ableton user for the last 7 years. He also dabbles in ProTools, and esoteric sound design tools, such as Max/MSP and CSound.