THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE AIRA TR-8 RHYTHM PERFORMER
The Ultimate Guide to the AIRA TR-8 Rhythm Performer
The AIRA TR-8 is the next step in the evolution of Roland TR- drum machines. This ultimate guide has everything you need to know about the TR-8!
Unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in the 1980s, the TR-808 and TR-909 produce arguably the most influential drum sounds in modern music. Not only have they appeared on thousands of dance tracks over the course of three decades, they’ve helped define the sound of entire musical genres. From rap and house to techno and trance, the TR-808 and TR-909 have left an indelible mark on the art and culture of music.
THE NEXT STEP IN THE TR- EVOLUTION IS THE AIRA TR-8
The AIRA TR-8 combines the best sounds and features of the legacy Roland drum machines and adds performance features and effects to take this Roland TR- drum machine into the next generation.
The TR-8 is an instrument designed to be played. All of the knobs, buttons, switches and sliders are there to get hands-on and perform so that you can create a beat never heard before! But if you have never played with a drum machine before, the array of blinking lights and instruments can be a little daunting. What’s a sequencer? What does shuffle do? How can I add a roll/fill?
That’s why we have composed THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE AIRA TR-8 RHYTHM PERFORMER. These tips will answer all of your questions and help you get straight into making a beat. But be warned: Once you make your first beat, we guarantee you won’t be able to stop!
Each tip comes from this video below. This guide will go into more detail and provide a few “pro” tips too. Here’s a list of the tips.
Let’s start at the very beginning. To make your first drum beat, you will need to use the 16 buttons at the bottom of the TR-8. These 16 buttons are steps and are collectively known as a sequencer. This 16-step sequencer is the same one used in the classic Roland drum machines of the past and is a great visual way to record and edit (“program”) your drum beat.
If you have ever programmed beats before in your DAW, the 16-step sequencer acts in the same way. The 16-step sequencer has become the traditional way to program drums as it easily allows you to program four bars, each with four counts. The first count of each bar are marked as blue for reference.
To program your first beat, you will need to select TR-REC mode, then select one of the INSTRUMENT buttons. Start with the BD (bass drum).
So let’s make a four-on-the-floor beat. Make sure the BD button under the slider is lit up and then press buttons for the first count of each bar (Steps 1, 5, 9 and 13). They should light up as red now – this marks a programmed step. Hit theSTART/STOP button (make sure the BD SLIDER and VOLUME are up) and you will hear a kick drum every four beats.
While still in TR-REC mode and the beat playing, select SD (snare drum) and program Steps 5 & 13. You will now hear that classic four-on-the-floor rhythm. Congrats! You have made your first beat or “pattern”.
You have 16 patterns at your disposal, each selected via PTN SELECT. Each pattern has an “A” and “B” mode allowing you to have two 16-step beats per pattern. This is a great way to add variations to your main pattern for performance.
To clear a pattern, hit PTN SELECT, hold CLEAR and select the PATTERN NUMBER. Press START/STOP and you shouldn’t hear any beat.
Sometimes when you have a specific rhythm in your head, you might want to “tap” out the pattern in real-time instead of programming steps. INST REC mode allows you to record individual instruments by playing the specified 16-step button.
To record a closed hi-hat (CH) for example, find the 16-step that is marked with CLOSED HIHAT, press INST REC thenSTART/STOP. When the green light scrolls to Step 1, tap in your closed hat rhythm and it will automatically record it as a pattern.
The great thing about INST REC mode is that it will auto-quantise your tapped beat. Quantisation is the process of moving off-time beats onto the closest beat. Programming couldn’t be easier
You can also fine-tune your pattern by then going into TR-REC mode, selecting the CH INSTRUMENT button (under the volume slider) and add/remove more closed hat hits.
The TR-8 has two main drum kits – the classic TR-808 and TR-909. Each drum kit has their own individual sound and response and has been meticulously recreated by the engineers of the originals.
To access the 808 and 909 kits, go to the DRUM SELECT section and press KIT. The 16-step buttons will light up in blue, each one indicating a saved kit. Step 1 gives you access to the 808 kit with Step 2 the 909 kit. The other 14 kits are variations of the 808/909 instrument sounds and you can mix and match your own and save them.
Within each drum kit, you have a choice of selecting a number of instruments. Go to DRUM SELECT section and pressINST. Then select the bass drum via the BD INSTRUMENT button.
You will see the 16-step buttons turn purple, and depending on the instrument selected, two to three buttons will illuminate. Step 1 is the 808 sound, Step 2 is the 909 sound. If there is an additional purple-lit button in Step 3, this is either a modified kit sound (BD has a heavier, distorted 808 kick) or another instrument all together… we will get to that shortly
You can modify the decay and pitch (TUNE) of each instrument with the Bass Drum and Snare Drum having individualATTACK (or SNAPPY for snare) and compression controls (COMP) to cut through any mix.
BUT WHERE IS THE COWBELL?!?
Looking across the instruments from BD to RC, you might notice there are some classic 808/909 sounds missing. The congas, maracas, claves and cowbell have become iconic drum machine sounds in their own right, and were present in the original TR-808. Don’t worry… all of these instruments are in the AIRA TR-8 and here’s how you can access them.
Some instruments, when selected in DRUM SELECT – INST mode, have three options. This third instrument in Step 3 is one of these other 808 instruments. The Low, Mid and High Toms have their respective Low, Mid and High Conga. You can find the Claves in the Rim Shot instrument and maracas in the Hand Clap. Finally, the original TR-808 had only one cymbal (RC) – the Crash Cymbal is actually the Cowbell
If you have followed Tips #1 through to #4, you will have quite a full pattern already, complete with all of the maracas and cowbells you could want. But say, you want to add a few hand claps on-the-fly without recording it to the pattern. You just want to “play” the TR-8 to add some variety to your beat. You can with INST PLAY mode.
After programming your pattern and while it is playing, select INST PLAY and use the 16-steps to play the corresponding instrument labelled below the step button. This is also a great way to work out the rhythm you’re hearing in your head before going over to INST REC mode and recording the pattern.
If you look at the 16-step sequencer, you will see Steps 12 – 15 marked ROLL. You can add either an 8th or 16th roll or two variations of fills to your pattern in real-time performance. To play rolls and fills, select INST PLAY MODE, hold down the roll or fill you want and strike one of the eleven instruments from Step 1 -11.
Another dynamic way to mix up your pattern is to use AUTO RESTART. If you hold down TAP and press the START/STOPbutton, the pattern will reset to Step 1. Tap in any rhythm with the START/STOP button and you can add a build-up with the push of a button.
So your pattern is pumping away, but it feels very “stiff”? You might want to add some groove, some swing, someSHUFFLE!
The SHUFFLE knob changes the dynamic of certain hits and can push certain instrument strikes ahead or behind the beat. If you are into hip-hop beats, you will want to play with that SHUFFLE. At 12 o’clock, the beat stays straight on the count – move it clock-wise to move your hits ahead of the grid or turn it anti-clockwise for some behind-the-beat swing.
Key in the desired tempo using either the TAP button to tap in your desired speed or the TEMPO and FINE knobs. The LCD display indicates the speed of the beat in beats per minute (BPM). The LCD display is a classic function found on the original TR-808 and continues to this day with the TR-8.
By the way, the original TR-808 didn’t have swing or shuffle. That was introduced in the TR-909. The TR-8 gives you shuffle for both so get swinging!
By now you will have a pattern swinging away that’s filled with classic 808 and 909 sounds. But what makes the AIRA TR-8 stand out from the drum machines of yesteryear are the accents, effects and side chain functions that can transform your classic beat into one that is truly your own. This section is where your creative voice as a musician will shine, inspiring hours and hours of beat-making and song producing!
If you have ever produced a beat, adding reverb can make or break a great jam. Too much reverb and it will get lost in a mix, not enough and the whole track can sound a little flat. Having eight reverbs built-in (specifically designed for rhythm) enables you to get that reverb mix right, straight out of the TR-8. In-built effects keeps you in the moment of creating which is all-important when programming beats.
To program reverb to your beat, follow the same steps as in Tip#1. Select TR-REC, choose the STEP button in theREVERB section and then program the steps (1 – 16) that you want your reverb on. Easy!
When in REVERB mode, press the INST button in the DRUM SELECT section. You will see Steps 1 to 8 highlighted in purple. You have eight reverbs to choose from including rooms, plate, hall, reverse… the choice is up to you.
Adjust the LEVEL, TIME and GATE controls to taste. You might want a deep drum track so crank that level! You might want to get that classic gated snare sound. Select your preferred reverb, place it on your snare hit steps and tweak theGATE control to cut just before the next drum hit. The power of reverb is at your fingertips!
Adding delay to your drum hits is great for adding to your rhythm. Tweaking the TIME control can make the repeats sit on the beat or fill in the gaps between the beat.
Programming delay works in exactly the same way as adding reverb (refer to Tip #8). Select TR-REC, choose theSTEP button in the DELAY section and then program the steps (1 – 16) that you want your delay on.
When in DELAY mode, press the INST button in the DRUM SELECT section. You will see Steps 1 to 8 highlighted in purple. You have eight delays to choose from including tape echo, stereo delay, panning delay to name a few.
Cranking the FEEDBACK control into self-oscillation is a great way to create a build-up and you can manipulating theTIME knob gets you some cool pitch-shifted sounds!
Control which instruments will be delayed by pressing the KIT button in DRUM SELECT section. You will see the INST SELECT buttons under the sliders illuminated. If they are lit, then delay will be applied to all instruments. Depress a button until not lit and that instrument is now delay-free.
The TR-8 features two jacks marked EXTERNAL IN and allows you to connect another instrument, sampler, synthesizer (drum machine?) to your TR-8. The external instrument can then be effected using the EXTERNAL IN section (top left of the TR-8) with the 16-step sequencer. Using the same procedure as programming reverb and delay, you can program a sequence in that will either block, or allow, the external audio to pass through.
What is that SIDECHAIN control you might ask? Sidechaining is the process of controlling the output level of a secondary audio chain (sidechain or EXTERNAL IN) with your primary audio chain (in this case, the primary audio source is the drums of the TR-8). This is a common technique used to “duck” background music out of the way when someone speaks into a microphone, and has made its way into electronic music with sidechain compression responsible for those huge pumping basslines.
To use the EXTERNAL IN function in the TR-8, connect your instrument and make sure it is playing. With both LEVEL andSIDECHAIN at zero start turning LEVEL up until you can hear the external audio. Now follow the same procedure as Tip #1, #8, and #9.
Select TR-REC, choose the STEP button in the EXTERNAL IN section and then program a sequence using steps 1 – 16. Try Steps 1, 5, 9 and 13 – the first counts of each bar. Now start turning the SIDECHAIN control up and you will begin to hear the external audio being “ducked” in volume. Now you’re pumping!
Perhaps the most exciting feature in the TR-8 is the new SCATTER function. This effect is very powerful, and once mastered, will give your live performances something very unique. This could be the sound that you will hear in future electronic dance tracks to come!
The SCATTER works by chopping up your pattern, in a rhythmic way, that adds a whole new variation to the term “fill”. There are 10 types of SCATTER with 10 levels of DEPTH. That’s 100 ways in which you can modify or mangle your rhythm track! Of the 10 SCATTER types, there are slicer effects, reverse effects, pitch and filter effects… they are all there for you to experiment with and to make your own.
To use SCATTER, make sure your pattern is running, dial the SCATTER dial to 1 and hit the ON button (it should be lit when ON). You will now hear your pattern unlike what you first imagined. Press the DEPTH control and turn the SCATTER dial up. You will hear the SCATTER effect become more and more aggressive as it goes up to 10. Hit the ON button again to turn off the effect. Pretty powerful stuff, right?
But learning how to use the SCATTER effect with subtlety will make you a true SCATTER master. Want to know the secrets? Okay, read on…
Firstly, the more instruments you have playing, the more wild and aggressive the effect will be. There will always be the time to mangle your beat beyond recognition, but to use the SCATTER frequently, you will want to use it with some control. Keep the number instruments playing simple, like bass drum and hand clap. Turn the SCATTER on, with DEPTH at say 3. You should now hear a shuffling, reverse effect. Add in the snare. Next add in hi-hats. Then add in some toms. Hear how busy the effect is now?
So, first SCATTER tip: less is more.
Next, timing is everything with SCATTER. You don’t want the effect running the whole time. Practice turning on SCATTER on Step 9 and off at Step 16. Try and do this five times in a row. Once you can pull that off, try Step 11 to Step 16. Hear how different the SCATTER pattern is? The timing on each step will give a different fill/effect.
Last SCATTER tip: Try tweaking the SCATTER dial with DEPTH on while the SCATTER is on. Turn SCATTER on at Step 9, spin that dial and off again at Step 16. Depending on the SCATTER mode, this will give you some head-turning effects that will leave people on the dancefloor asking, “How did they do that?”
Becoming a master of the SCATTER will take some practice so you best get started!
TR-8 System Program update v1.11 introduces colour codes for your kits when in INSTRUMENT mode. This lets you match instruments when editing a kit, and to easily identify when on stage what kit you are currently playing. The code is:
- Pink – [TR-808]
– Yellow – [TR-909]
– Orange – [TR-707]
– Blue – [TR-727]
The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion contains some instruments that contain an alternate sound e.g. the 707 BD has both BD1 and BD2 in the same step. This allows you to create more complex patterns and variations by accessing more sounds.
To program an alternate sound, go to TR-REC mode, hold down the INSTRUMENT button and press the programmed step. The step pad should change from red to pink.
This is a matrix representing the sounds found in the 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion. The numbers across the top indicate the Step Number required to program the sound per instrument.
A flam is a note (series of notes) written ahead of the main beat and takes on the effect of a grace note. The original TR-707 only allowed flam strikes on the snare and toms. The 7X7-TR8 Drum Machine Expansion allows you to program a flam strike on any instrument of any kit and control the flam spacing.
To program a flam, hold down the TR-REC button in TR-REC mode and press the programmed step. The pad should be lit purple.
To specify the spacing, hold down the TR-REC button again and turn the TEMPO knob. You can choose no flam (0) and spaces 1-8.