A good arpeggiator can really help bring excitement and a whole new depth to your simple chord sequence. For drums, it can get you out of your comfort zone of pencilling or playing notes into the grid by creating drum beats in a whole different way.
Ever wondered if there might be any free options out there? This article will cover some of the best arpeggiators out there today. So there’s no need to wonder anymore! Only a need to try as many of these plugins as possible. They’re all good in their own way and perfect for different circumstances.
Most plugins work for both Mac and windows, but the ones that don’t will be made clear in the title (for you Mac users out there).
Hypercyclic by Mucoder
Hypercyclic can be used as an LFO-driven MIDI arpeggiator, as a step sequencer or for a gate effect on your synth or drum machine VSTs. The first version of Hypercyclic won 2nd place at the KVR Developer Challenge in 2007, but has received many updates since then and still holds up to this day. Here are some of the features:
- There are two LFOs which are tempo synced, and can be used to change a wide range of parameters.
- A groove function, useful for playing slightly off the beat.
- Built in synth if you don’t have or don’t want to use the ones you already own.
- It can be used as a standalone application, or as a VST in your DAW.
- If you have a MIDI compatible outboard synth, you can use this to send MIDI information and track that synth.
The two LFOs can be used, in conjunction, to get different chord variations and rhythmic effects. Because of the unique feature of being able to change the step size in the sequencer, some super glitchy sounds can be used. Combining this with an outboard synth, there’s a lot of experimentation that can be done using this software.
The groove function can prove to be really useful too. If your aim is to get something to sound more organic and human, using this will definitely help you to get there. Sometimes having things play outside the grid is all you need to drastically alter the feel of your music, for the better.
Mucoder have said themselves that this plugin aims to capture the fine line between regularity and chaos. So the groove can be manipulated in such a way that makes it totally out of time before lining back up again. Using this could be wonderful for creating tense, atmospheric soundscapes for a movie or video.
Overall, this plugin is perfect for anyone willing to explore the potential of a synth without having to learn to play that yourself (a lot of which is physically impossible, anyway). You can make things sound human or totally alien, it’s all up to you.
Podolski by U-he
Here we have another free plugin from U-he. This time, it’s in the form of a synthesizer, which comes with a built-in sequencer. This is a stripped back version of the FilterscapeVA and comes with one filter, one envelope, two LFOs and one oscillator. Some of the features on this plugin include:
- A multimode filter that has a highpass, lowpass and bandpass with FM and drive effects.
- A Skinnable UI, if you want to customize its look.
- An extra modulation source on the 16-step sequencer.
- More than 300 factory presets, to get you started.
- Variable symmetry on the oscillator. Sawtooth, PWM and triangle are all options along with glide.
- 4 different envelope modes. These are HDSR, ADSR, exponential or limiter.
- Oddsound MTS-ESP support.
As this is primarily a synthesizer, it’s not necessary to run other VSTs alongside it. All sounds happen inside this plugin. Also, there’s delay and chorus effects within it, so you can create some interesting sounds straight out of the box.
Perhaps one of Podolski’s strongest points, is how effortlessly it can blend between three waveforms. This is great for experimentation and fantastic when used together with automation. You could use a different blend of waveforms or the waveform itself throughout different parts of your track.
The click parameter it has is really useful for emphasizing the filter attack. This would be great for creating a synth sound that really jumps out of the mix.
BlueARP VST by Oleg Mikheev
Oleg Mikheev’s BlueARP, is an Arpeggiator plugin that works specifically with MIDI, and is tailored towards electronic music (though that doesn’t mean it can’t be used for other styles too). It was created to work in the same way as many hardware devices do, such as the Novation Nova and Korg Electribes. The features on this plugin include:
- Being able to trigger chords with one note, thanks to its chord recognition capabilities.
- A generous 64-steps per pattern.
- For keyboard-split performances, input range settings are available.
- The ability to edit the sequence instantly with real-time input quantization.
- Different color schemes to choose from.
The intuitive design of the matrix editor makes editing the step-sequence a breeze. The fact that it comes with 64-steps is awesome too, it means that you can create some crazy arpeggiated sequences that change a lot before looping round again. It can be routed to any hardware synth or software VST, so the sky's the limit when it comes to the sonic potential of this plugin.
Another cool aspect of this plugin is its compatibility. It can be used as a VST plugin for Windows and Mac, but it can also be used as a MIDI-FX plugin on Mac for use on Logic Pro X. Having the ability to run it here makes it easier to organize your channel strip and gives the possibility of running a MIDI-FX signal chain, so other kinds of automation can be applied to the synth running through it.
If you like to create electronic music in the realms of trance, house or trap (or want to start experimenting with these genres), then this plugin is perfect for you. Although not its original purpose, It can also be really useful for drum programming too, as it comes with a swing feature.
Download: OMG Instruments
Kirnu Cream by Arto Vaarala
This one is a MIDI performer plugin by Arto Vaarala. For a free plugin, this one is crazy in-depth, with a lot of cool things to experiment with. It could be used on synths of all kinds, including bass, piano and electronic sounds. It also has the ability to be used as a drum machine too. Here are some of the features:
- A chord memory system, for triggering chords with a single finger on the keyboard.
- There’s an in depth pattern sequencer, that we’ll talk about further in.
- 4 independent tracks that let you run 4 different patterns simultaneously.
- A really accurate MIDI sampler, that doesn’t skip notes and has low CPU usage.
- 12 patterns that can be switched between for every track.
The chord memory system has sixteen memory slots, so you can trigger a bunch of different chords with it. These chords can also be inverted with the inversion tool, so you can come up with some interesting chord sequences. Another cool little feature with this is that you can copy and paste between the memory slots.
With the pattern sequencer, there are 12 patterns in every track. These can be used to create extremely complex patterns, as the simple patterns can be strung together using this. You can also switch between the patterns in real time using a MIDI controller, which is super helpful and very easy to do.
The fact that it comes with 4 tracks, means it can be so versatile. You could have your chords arpeggiated in 4 different ways simultaneously. Doing this, you could create some fascinating polyrhythms and soundscapes. Even just using 2 of these can get really crazy, so 4 is just next level for a free plugin.
There are lots of other cool features that haven’t been mentioned here. So grab yourself a copy and start experimenting! You’ll learn something new about it and also realise the true potential of your synth VSTs or hardware.
Dirty Harry by De La Mancha (Windows only)
As hinted by the name, this plugin aims to capture a dirtier, more lofi sound compared to the other plugins mentioned on this list. It's based on the samples of two home-made noisemakers. One of which being the Atari Punk Console and the other being the BugBrand WOM. Here are some of its top features:
- Pitch instability.
- 89 presets that contain sounds for lead, drone, arpeggiators and bass.
- Bad contact emulation, for capturing a nice lofi sound.
- A built-in arpeggiation system.
- 20 different waveforms, all sampled from the previously mentioned home-made synths.
- Ring Modulation.
- 3 oscillators.
- 2 LFOs that are able to be synced to the tempo of the song.
- 2 envelopes for pitch, filter and volume.
The pitch instability setting is something really useful. Using this will pitch shift the notes you are playing slightly to get a chorus-esque sound out of it. Adding to the lofi-ness of the synth, there's also a really cool bad contact emulation which copies the sound of a badly put-together synth.
In terms of the arpeggiator, it's built into this synth VST. Rather than being a MIDI trigger, like others on this list, this one is an instrument that has its own sounds. The arpeggiator menu is very simplistic. There are just three drop down menus; one for how many beats, another for the note length, and the last for the number of octaves that will be used.
Though it's simple in its design, it definitely serves its purpose and helps to focus more on the sounds that it can create as opposed to getting too caught up with what the arpeggiator is doing. If it is too lackluster for your liking, you could always run it through one of the free MIDI performers on the list.
The two LFOs on this are worth talking more about. Apart from being able to tempo-sync, the filter, pitch and contact can all be adjusted. But not only that, one LFO modulates the depth and frequency of the other.
As for how this could be used in a track, I like to use it for industrial rock basslines, electro-punk grating leads and lofi (with a high cut to dampen the harshness). Saying that, you could use it for dubstep leads, trance or anything else electronic related, really.
As you can see, this plugin comes with so many options to use in creating a unique, but brilliantly trashy sound. With 89 presets to start from, you can get a feel of all the different sounds it's capable of making. You might be wondering how a free plugin could come with so much right out of the box…
This one used to be a payware synth, but was later made free by the developer when they decided to stop selling plugins. So, you're actually getting a synth that was paid for in the past, totally free.
Download: De La Mancha
ARPG8R by Pentacom
ARPG8R is a MIDI arpeggiator created by Pentacom. Its straightforward design aids it in being really easy to get the hang of. If you've ever wanted to arpeggiate one of your monster synth sounds, or even acoustic orchestral instruments like a violin or piano, this will get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Some features are as follows:
- An internal oscillator.
- 5 preset arpeggio modes. This included the settings up/ down, manual, poly, up and down.
- A custom arpeggio mode, if you want the arpeggio to be played in a particular way.
- A step-sequencer with 32 steps.
- The ability to insert notes.
- Gate and Shuffle note length controls.
Even though it might be simpler when compared to the other free plugins on the list, this can be a good thing, as it's much easier to wrap your head around it. There's also a decent amount of buttons and knobs to mess around with here.
Step rate lets you select which note divisions you want to use. The options available are 1/8, 1/16 or 1/32. Changing this will alter how frequently notes are played within a bar.
The octave setting is so handy too, playing around with these settings, along with the arpeggiator mode, will yield some awesome and vastly different sounding results. Adding the insert mode to it, makes it even wackier.
Accompanying those selectors, are a bunch of knobs that control different aspects of the arpeggiator. Shuffle is in charge of how swung your groove is. Use this if you want to create a groove with more character and humanness.
The next one is a gate, for controlling the type of gate controlling the synth. Using this can create room in your track if the synth is going a little bit crazy whilst still maintaining the same arpeggio pattern.
The ‘Trans' knob affects how the transients are affected. You could use this to accentuate different notes in the sequence.
Lastly, there is a master knob for controlling the overall volume (or dynamics in the case of a MIDI arpeggiator), and a knob that controls how many steps there are in the sequence.
The many choices for arpeggio mode is really useful. Not only can you select some presets, but you can also customize which kinds of arpeggio you are using. This means you can create some really intriguing rhythms that create a beautiful atmosphere in a song.
Tonus 2620 by KBplugs (Windows only)
The Tonus 2620 is modelled after the ARP 2600 but isn't intended to be a carbon copy. So you can get a sound like the ARP 2600 with some different characteristics too. There's so many dials and knobs to mess around with on this thing, and with no presets, it's hard to know where to start.
If you're familiar with the ARP 2600, then you’ll feel right at home here. And if you’re not, think of it as a way to get to know how hardware arpeggiators work. This one is an instrument too, so you could combine it with the other MIDI arpeggiators in this list to create more two variations at once.
Download: Plugins 4 Free
No need to wonder anymore, these free plugins should be more than enough to start creating arpeggios for your existing software or hardware synths, and even for experimenting with a totally new synthesizer all together. If you’re ever stuck in a writing rut, simply crack one of these out, and you’ll be transported through a rabbit hole of creativity in the blink of an eye.
Top Free Arpeggiator VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
So which of these free Arpeggiator VST plugins are for you? BlueARP? Tonus 2620? Other? It’d be great to hear which you choose.