When it comes to iconic musical instruments, the legendary Roland TR-808 drum machine never fails to make its presence felt. With its distinctive sounds and unparalleled versatility, the TR-808 has shaped the sonic landscape of multiple genres since its release in 1980. While it’s well-known for its booming kick drums and snappy snares, our instructors and students here at Point Blank L.A. have found some unique and downright weird ways you can incorporate the TR-808 into your music. Check out the video below on how Point Blank L.A. instructor and Aftermath Records Engineer, Adal Jamil used Roland’s 808 sounds, but in the meantime, here are some other unique ways you can use Roland TR-808 sounds in your music. Let’s get it!
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1. Experimental Soundscapes:
The TR-808 isn’t just for creating trap beats and hip-hop grooves. Artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, and Flying Lotus have pushed the boundaries of sound using the TR-808 to create experimental soundscapes in their music. By tweaking its parameters and exploring unconventional sound design techniques, you can transform this classic machine into a generator of extraterrestrial soundscapes. Use the 808’s built-in sequencer to program a hypnotic rhythm and then experiment with pitch modulation, filter sweeps, and resonance to create eerie, atmospheric textures. This approach allows for boundless exploration and can give your music a futuristic twist.
2. Bass-Heavy Melodies:
Did you know that you can actually generate melodic patterns with the TR-808? Songs like Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” are great examples that showcase the Roland TR-808 being used as a melodic instrument. Utilize its ability to produce long decays and subtle pitch variations to create extraordinary bass lines. The resonant kick drum, especially when tuned low, can serve as a foundation for catchy and unique melodic riffs. Combine this with the machine’s built-in sequencer and experiment with playing your melodies chromatically, transforming your 808 from a drum machine into a musical centerpiece.
3. Vintage Hi-Hat Chords:
Surprise your listeners by using the TR-808’s hi-hat sounds in a whole new way – as chords! By programming specific patterns on the sequencer, you can create harmonic layers that add depth to your arrangement. Artists like Dixon, Tale of Us, and Ólafur Arnalds have employed this technique to create mesmerizing soundscapes. Experiment with different hi-hat sounds, such as open and closed hi-hats, and stack them up to create unique sonic textures. This technique can be particularly effective in genres like house and techno, where intricate percussion plays a crucial role.
4. Talking Basslines:
Now if we’re talking basslines, look no further than the TR-808’s onboard “accent” function. By using a combination of accented and non-accented bass notes, you can create a talking or animated effect. This technique can add a playful, almost vocal-like quality to your basslines, making your music stand out from the crowd. New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky” are perfect examples that demonstrate how accentuated basslines can breathe life into a track.
5. Percussion Versatility:
Expand the horizons of your percussion section by incorporating the TR-808’s drum sounds in unusual ways. Experiment with layering the distinctive “handclap” sound with other percussive elements, such as shakers or tambourines, to create new and exciting textures. The legendary 808 cowbell and handclap can be heard in countless disco and early hip-hop tracks, contributing to their infectious energy. Additionally, try combining the TR-808’s percussion sounds with other instruments like guitars or synths to add unexpected rhythmic elements.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine has more to offer than meets the eye. By thinking outside the box and utilizing its unique features, you can transform your music into something extraordinary. From experimental soundscapes to talking basslines, these fun and unique techniques can help you unlock the full potential of this iconic instrument, taking your music to new and exciting realms. If you don’t have a TR-808 on hand, don’t fret – Roland Cloud is here to save the day! With over 50 Roland virtual instruments, including the TR-808 for you to make any sound your own.
If you want to try out these techniques in-person, come and join us in one of our Music Production, Beatmaking, or Sound Design programs, where we often pull out these incredible pieces of gear to showcase how they’ve earned their place in music production. Enroll in Los Angeles, London, or online to start your sonic journey!
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