This article will discuss the difference between sequencers and arpeggiators and their applications in electronic music production.
Electronic music has a long history of utilizing arpeggiators and sequencers to create complex and intricate soundscapes. Arpeggiators and sequencers are particularly useful in electronic music because they allow producers to create repetitive patterns and sequences that can form the basis of a track’s rhythm and melody.
Arpeggiators, in particular, are commonly used in electronic music to create fast and intricate melodies. Producers can create complex arpeggios that form the basis of a track’s melody by inputting notes or chords into an arpeggiator. Arpeggiators are particularly useful for creating synth-heavy tracks, as they allow producers to create complex melodic sequences that can be difficult to play manually.
Sequencers, however, are often used in electronic music to create repetitive patterns and loops. Producers can create complex rhythms and patterns that form the basis of a track’s beat by programming a series of notes or sounds into a sequencer. They are specially used for live performances.
Both sequencers and arpeggiators are tools used in electronic music production to create complex and repetitive patterns. However, they operate in slightly different ways and serve different purposes. Now, let’s address how they are different from one another.
Sequencer vs. Arpeggiator: What’s The Difference?
A sequencer is a device or software program that allows you to record and playback musical notes in a predetermined sequence. Essentially, it’s a way to program a melody or rhythm by individually inputting each note or sound, specifying its duration, pitch, and other parameters, and then playing it back as a loop or a sequence.
Let’s break that down.
- Basic Difference
Sequencers can be hardware-based or software-based, varying in complexity and functionality. Below is Stepic by Devicemeister, an advanced polyphonic software step-sequencer that allows you to modulate and program any soft synth parameters in your DAW in up to sixteen steps and create complex and interesting melodies and rhythms.
In contrast, an arpeggiator is a tool that automatically generates a series of notes from a single chord. It takes a chord you play on a keyboard or MIDI controller and breaks it into individual notes played in a specified sequence. This can create complex and fast-paced arpeggios that would be difficult to play manually. Arpeggiators can also vary in functionality, with some offering additional features such as note probability, swing, and randomization.
- Difference in Applications
Sequencers and arpeggiators have different applications in electronic music production and are often used in different ways to achieve different musical effects. Sequencers typically create complex and layered musical arrangements where multiple tracks or instruments are played simultaneously in a predetermined sequence.
Sequencers can be used to program drums, basslines, melodies, and other musical elements, and they can be used to create repeating patterns or variations on a theme. Sequencers are also useful for creating precise and intricate rhythms and experimenting with different musical ideas.
Arpeggiators, on the other hand, are typically used to create complex and evolving melodic patterns. Arpeggiators can create fast and rhythmic arpeggios, add movement and interest to chord progressions, or create evolving and unpredictable melodic lines. Arpeggiators can also be used to create interesting textures and effects by combining different arpeggios or by modulating the parameters of the arpeggiator in real time.
DAWs like FL Studio allow you to arpeggiate your MIDI pattern, as given in the image below. Similarly, Logic Pro also has an arpeggiator plugin that allows you to arpeggiate your MIDI notes. In FL Studio, you can access that by selecting the MIDI chords and pressing ‘alt + A’ on your keyboard.
How to use a sequencer?
Using a sequencer can be a bit daunting if you’re new to electronic music production, but with some practice and experimentation, you’ll soon get the hang of it. Here are some general steps to using a sequencer:
- Choose your sequencer
First, you must choose a sequencer that suits your needs and preferences. Many hardware and software sequencers are available, each with unique features and capabilities. Some popular software sequencers include Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Cubase, while some popular hardware sequencers include Elektron Octatrack, Roland MC-707, and Arturia Beatstep Pro.
I will be using the Stepic sequencer by Devicemeister as an example.
- Set up your MIDI or audio inputs.
Next, you need to set up your MIDI or audio inputs, depending on what you want to sequence. If you’re using a hardware sequencer, you’ll need to connect your MIDI or audio devices to the sequencer using MIDI cables or audio cables. If using a software sequencer, you must set up your MIDI or audio devices in your DAW software.
For example, in my DAW “FL Studio,” I connected the MIDI device using the MIDI settings and by selecting the MIDI device. You can also do the same in the MIDI settings of your DAW.
- Program your sequence
Once your inputs are set up, you can start programming your sequence. That involves inputting notes or sounds into the sequencer in a predetermined sequence. The specifics of this process will depend on the sequencer you’re using, but most sequencers allow you to input notes or sounds using a piano roll, a step sequencer, or a grid-based interface.
- Adjust your parameters
After programming your sequence, you can adjust various parameters to change the sound and feel of your sequence. That may include adjusting your notes’ tempo, swing, velocity, or length or adding effects such as reverb, delay, or distortion.
- Play back your sequence.
Finally, you can repeat your sequence and make necessary adjustments until you’re happy with the result. You can then export your sequence to a MIDI or audio file or use it as part of a larger composition.
Lastly, the Specic sequencer allows you to select the song’s scale and restrict the step-sequencing in that particular scale. Plus, it also allows you to sequence chords instead of notes.
How to use an arpeggiator?
Using an arpeggiator is relatively simple and can add depth and complexity to your music. Here are the general steps to using an arpeggiator:
- Choose your arpeggiator
First, you must choose an arpeggiator that suits your needs and preferences. Many hardware and software arpeggiators with unique features and capabilities are available in the market. Some popular software that includes arpeggiators is Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol, Xfer Records Cthulhu, and Serum by Xfer Records.
Given below is Serum by Xfer Records, which is a Wavetable synthesizer. Notice the tab below the Osc B in the plugin to see the arpeggiator in action. Here, various parameters in the plugin follow the curve in the 1st modulation window. That results in interesting movements that follow the BPM and the song’s key. The plugin allows in-depth tweaking and customizations.
Some popular hardware arpeggiator-based synths include Korg Volca Keys, Arturia Keystep Pro, and Moog Mother-32.
- Select your sound source.
Next, select the sound source you want to arpeggiate. This can be a synthesizer, sampler, or any other MIDI instrument simultaneously playing multiple notes.
In Serum, the arpeggiator and the sound source lie in the same interface. The sound source(s) are the oscillators: A, B, Noise, and Subs. So, go to the “Osc” tab and select your sound sources.
- Set up your arpeggiator.
Once your sound source is selected, you can set up your arpeggiator. The specifics of this process will depend on the arpeggiator you’re using. Still, most arpeggiators allow you to adjust parameters such as the arpeggio pattern, the octave range, the speed, and the note duration.
For setting up the arpeggiator(s) in Serum, open the LFO tab, select the time (as 1/2, 1/3, bar, etc.) as per your taste, click on “OFF” in “MODE,” select the number of grids in the time you choose, and finally draw the arpeggiator line by clicking on “Shift,” and clicking on the pattern.
Then drag and drop the LFO on the parameter you want to modulate. You will apply the LFO on the pitch (in semi-tones) for the arpeggiator. However, you can arpeggiate anything from the volume, pan, or any effects/modulation parameters in the synth.
- Play your notes
Now, you can play a chord or a series of notes on your MIDI keyboard or controller. The arpeggiator will then play these notes in the specified pattern, creating a fast and rhythmic arpeggio. You can draw these notes on a MIDI piano roll or play them and record the MIDI data in your DAW.
- Adjust your parameters
After playing your notes, you can adjust various parameters to change the sound and feel of your arpeggio. That may include adjusting the arpeggio pattern, changing the octave range, or adjusting the note duration. Finally, you can use your arpeggio in your composition as a standalone melody or as part of a larger musical arrangement.
In conclusion, arpeggiators and sequencers are essential tools in electronic music production that allow producers to create complex and repetitive patterns. Arpeggiators are commonly used to create fast and intricate melodies, while sequencers often create repetitive patterns and loops that form the basis of a track’s beat.
They have different applications in electronic music production and are used in different ways to achieve different musical effects. Producers can easily learn to use arpeggiators and sequencers to enhance their electronic music productions by following general steps. I hope the article answers your question. Thank you for reading.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.