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How to Match Sounds and Arp Patterns on the Keyboard

No keyboard law defines what sounds you can and can’t arpeggiate; feel free to experiment away! That said, here are some tips and practical advice for matching sounds and arp patterns:

  • Sounds with a fast attack work well at any tempo. If a sound has a slower attack and you’re playing at a fast tempo or using a fast timing subdivision, the results can be kind of unclear. The sound just doesn’t have enough time to speak before the next note is being triggered. In this case, you need to adjust the amp envelope attack to a faster value.

  • Sounds with long releases don’t work as well. You have to adjust the amp envelope release to a shorter value. Soft string ensembles, spacey vocal pads, and other atmospheric sounds typically need this type of edit to work.

  • Most synth sounds are great to use. People associate arpeggiators with synths, so this pairing is a match made in synthesizer heaven. However, swirly sound effects and evolving imaginative synth sounds may not work that well, especially at faster tempos/timing.

  • Plucked and short decay sounds are good choices. Consider guitars; other plucked string instruments (including ethnic sounds); mallets and tuned percussion; and keyboard sounds such as piano, electric piano, clav, and harpsichord.

  • Short noises and non-pitched percussion work well. Not everything has to be about chords and harmony; sometimes a unique arpeggiated sound effect adds a nice texture to a part.

Be sure to match the arp range to the sound used. Some sounds don’t sound good at their extreme ranges (either at the top or the bottom), so be sure to pick your trigger note range carefully and consider how many octaves to set the range to. Judge where the sweet spot is for a given sound or arp pattern.

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