Synth arpeggios are popular in many different genres, including synth pop, trance and synthwave. While you can create arpeggios manually, they’re typically created by using an arpeggiator. But where do you get one of those?
Many synths and sequencers, as well as many modern DAWs, have built-in arpeggiator effects. If you’re not happy with these or your synth or DAW doesn’t come with an arp feature, this page is for you. In the following list, I’m collecting the best free arpeggiator VST and AU plugins available today.
Note: The plugins on this page do not create any sound on their own – you will need a sound source (for example a synth plugin like Serum or Massive) to hear anything.
How to use an arpeggiator in your DAW
Before we get to the list, here’s something a lot of new producers struggle with:
How do you use an arpeggiator plugin in your DAW?
While it’s hard to give a general answer, in most DAWs you will have to find a way to insert your arpeggiator plugin into the signal chain before your synth (or other instrument). Arpeggiators are not audio effects like reverbs or compressors, they are MIDI effects and should affect the MIDI data before it arrives at your synth. If you put an arpeggiator after a synth in the effect chain, you will typically not hear an effect at all! If you’re not sure how to add MIDI effects to your DAW, a look into the manual or a Google/YouTube search should help.
The Best Free Arpeggiator Plugins – A Collection
Format: VST, 32 bit
You want to get the traditional arp sound but don’t want to spend a lot of time tweaking settings? Then you should check out Arpimedes by Tobybear. While it is the simplest arpeggiator VST on this list, it is also easiest to use. Set the speed, the number of steps (eight is the maximum), the number of octaves and the mode (up, down, up-down, down-up, as played, random) and you’re set!
This plugin is a good starting point when you’re new to arps but will probably not be sufficient if you need a little more control over your arp sound. As this one is an older release, it’s only available for Windows and runs in 32 bit.
Arpimedes is part of the Tobybear MIDIBag, which you can download here.
Format: VST2, 32 bit + 64 bit
The cleanly designed RandArp is a VST plugin by CodeFN42. After choosing rate, note order and octave order, you have the possibility to play with certain settings that can then be randomized to your liking. These include number of octaves, velocity, gate, shift and swing. You can also choose the percentage of the note probability – this refers to how likely it is that a note is generated. Setting this below 100% means that more notes will randomly be skipped.
All in all, it should be noted that RandARP focuses (as the name suggests) almost completely on randomization features. There is no step sequencer where you can draw in notes and there is no feature to transpose notes (you’ll have to do that via MIDI), for example. So, if you want to design your arp sequences step by step, this will not be the right VST plugin for you. However, if you’re looking for an arpeggiator that helps you create ever-changing sequences, you definitely should check RandArp out.
RandARP can be scaled up to 200% and comes with different skins for optimal usability. Although the plugin is mostly self-explanatory, the download folder contains a 25-page manual that goes into detail on every feature and setting – perfect for anyone who wants to know how to get the most out of this free arpeggiator plugin.
Format: VST, AU, 32 bit + 64 bit
OS: Windows, Mac
You want to have maximum control over your arp sequences? Then you should try out BlueARP VST by Oleg Mikheev (also known as Graywolf). When I first opened this plugin, I was a little overwhelmed by all the settings and boxes. However, after playing around with it a bit and watching the following video by howtomakeemusic, I found it’s actually quite easy to use:
Besides a typical arp engine where you can control settings such as gate time, swing and number of steps, there is also a detailed step sequencer that gives you the option to change velocity, step type and transpose the note (octave or semitone). Step type includes normal, off, rest and tie. I particularly like the tie feature, which creates a gliding effect between steps.
If you want to play chords, you have the option of playing all the notes of the chord at the same time or you can choose exactly when each note of the chord will be played.
Additionally, BlueARP has countless advanced features, like setting a range for filtering out input notes or forcing the arpeggiated notes to a particular scale. If you use arp sequences a lot in your music, BlueARP will give you plenty of features to get the exact sound you’re looking for. You can find more information about the different features in the manual that’s included in the download files.
Format: VST, AU, 32 bit + 64 bit
OS: Windows, Mac
Before BlueARP appeared on the radar, Kirnu by Arto Vaarala was pretty much the number one recommendation when it came to free arpeggiator plugins. Like BlueARP, Kirnu boasts a powerful step sequencer which can help you modulate settings like note length, gate time, accent, transposition and shift.
Of course, you also have control over the rate, note type (normal, dotted, triplet), sort order (when you’re playing multiple notes) and octaves. You can even choose from a long list of scales (including modes) if you’d like your arp sequences to stick to a certain scale.
Despite its compact design, Kirnu is a powerful arpeggiator that can do a lot of fun things. Here are some examples from the developer:
I found Kirnu a little confusing in the beginning because not all of its features are self-explanatory. The download files don’t include a manual either – luckily, I found it on the developer’s website. After reading more about its many features, I found it much easier to create interesting sequences with it.
Note: Kirnu isn’t the same as Kirnu Cream, which is its commercial successor (if you’re interested in the paid version, please be aware that some stability and compatibility issues have been reported lately).
Looking for alternatives? Here are some more arpeggiator plugins you can try:
- mucoder hypercyclic (note: more step sequencer than arp) (VST, AU / Windows + Mac / 32 + 64 bit )
- Xoxos arp4midi (VST / Windows)
Over to you…
Your favorite free arpeggiator plugin was not included in this list? Let us know what you’re using!