Tuning TR-808 and TR-909 percussion in interesting ways can generate plenty of creative sparks. Here are half a dozen ways to go about it.
1. Melodic toms
The tonal nature of 808 and 909 drums means they can be used as melodic or tuned elements. In this first example, we’ve used the TR-808’s toms as a simple bass pattern over a kick. The notes are separated onto different channels so each can be processed differently.
2. Sub toms
Pitched-down toms can generate enough sub energy to become a forceful bass element – a familiar trademark of harder styles of house and techno. We’ve taken an 808 tom and pitched it down six semitones in a sampler before arranging notes around a mid-heavy 909 kick.
3. Minimal claves
Short, clicky claves can assume both percussive and melodic roles in a track when pitched up and down. We’ve assigned the sampler’s pitch to respond to velocity changes – drawing in velocity variations gives our 16th-note clave pattern a minimal house vibe.
4. Ambient cowbell
The ringing cowbell is one of the most recognisable TR-808 sounds. By treating it as a tonal synth note, you can generate interesting melodic patterns and sequences. We’ve swamped ours in reverb to transform the raw sound into an ambient riff.
5. Trap ‘n’ roll
Pitching 808 snare rolls and fills are essential in hip-hop and trap. Load a basic TR-808 snare hit into a sampler, program suitable MIDI notes, then draw in pitchbend at the end of a phrase to sweep the pitch of the snares up or down.
6. Extreme pitch
More extreme pitching and processing can be used to completely mangle a drum machine sound. This TR-909 open hi-hat has been pitched down by two octaves, creating a cavernous FX hit. Creative stuttering and gating then generates a psychedelic rhythmic effect.