Using A Roland TR-8 To Play Expressive Synths In Ableton

The Roland AIRA TR-8 is an incredibly powerful standalone performance and production tool – but what would happen if you super-charged it with a bit of creative MIDI mapping and sound manipulation in Ableton Live? In part one of a new series, Ean shares his technique for taking the tom-tom channel on the TR-8, adding resonance to create a synthesizer-like sound, and then adding more effects on top. It makes for an expressive and fun performance tool – watch the full video inside.

MIDI Mapping Roland TR-8 In Ableton

Basic Setup Instructions

As a reminder for if you’re setting this up for yourself, here’s what Ean did in this video:

  • Connect the Roland TR-8 to Ableton Live via USB
  • Send the TR-8’s audio output into Ableton Live – set up a new audio channel for each instrument on the TR-8
  • Make sure the TR-8 is also set up as a MIDI input device in Ableton’s preferences – this allows you to MIDI map the controls on the device
  • Add an Ableton Resonator device to the Tom channel – in the video, Ean applies the Berlin preset.
  • Hunt for expressive controls inside of the Resonator (Color, Decay, etc), find a solid range, and MIDI map the TR-8’s knobs to them. Use Ableton’s mapping interface to set the start and end points for the knobs’ controls!
  • Note that the original control of the knob will still exist – for example, in the video Ean maps the resonator’s decay to the decay knob for the tom channel. Try to find controls that work well together!
  • Add a Grain Delay audio effect, apply the Kick Toner preset to detune and repitch the synth – and map the

Gear Used In This Video

Want to see this technique in action in a performance? There’s a full performance video in this series coming out soon, but int the mean time, see a similar setup in a performance that posted to Ean’s Facebook page back in October:

Back in action with a fresh One Take Track #LiveMusic

Posted by Ean Golden on Sunday, October 4, 2015

Stay tuned to DJTT in the coming weeks for more tutorials from Ean on making music production more interesting and playable. 

ableton livechroma capsean goldenGrain Delaymidi mappingRazerresonatorroland airaRoland AIRA TR-8
Comments (18)
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  • Cody Nash

    I have a Roland Tr-8 that I am playing with in Ableton. It can act as an audio interface and I can ultimately pull in all of the drums as individual inputs/channels within ableton. There are a number of ways detailed out there on how to set up effects to be controlled by the midi knobs on the Tr-8, the issue that I am running into is that I can’t turn off the self monitoring on the TR-8. Are there any workarounds for this?

  • Clint Schmidt

    Why not just use a drumrack in ableton with a cheap midi-controller? Why use the (expensive) TR-8 at all? Everything is in Ableton?

    • maybe

      I think he’s using the hardware for drums, not triggering drum samples via Ableton; he’s also simultaneously controlling Ableton’s synths via same knobs that affect drum parameters. could be wrong, though. my impression is it’s an external gear/software-synth hybrid performance. impressive stuff either way!

      • Clint Schmidt

        Yes, I get that. I also get that someone likes the hands on feeling of the TR-8 instead of a mouse and keyboard or a Push. But the TR-8 isn’t an analoge machine, it uses samples. And if I’m correct, you could easily load the same drum or tom samples in a drumrack in Ableton and use the same syntersysers for just those toms. In other words, why use a expensive machine (which is connected via USB, digital signal) when evertyhing is ready tot use in Ableton? BTW it’s not that I don’t like the work or the setup, each to their own and i like the video’s with new ideas!!

        • Chris Wunder

          The TR-8 is totally self reliant its processes its own sound internally and has the ability to to mapped and also send/receive midi. So what your hearing is being made by the TR-8 and then filtered in abelton.

          • Chris Wunder

            filtered in ableton and on the tr8 at the same time due to ians mapping trick.

    • Jake Bergeson

      Everything is not in Ableton in this setup. He’s using the sound from the toms, and then manipulating them in ableton with things like the resonator to create a unique sound.

  • Chris Wunder

    Look Razor got someone that knows what they are talking about! Awesome video Ian, and thanks for not telling us how to make it “very very way more stronger” lol.

  • Tarekith

    Nice job, I finally have a use for the Resonator effect in Live now 🙂

  • Eonkenshi

    First off, nice video! Loving the idea!

    Second, great to see you back Ean, hope to see you more often in 2016. 🙂

    woha, no Macbook? This is the first time I rember seeing a video with
    you, without a Macbook (not that I would complain). Little bit curious,
    did you switch from Macbook to the Razer Blade and Windows?

    • Juli Petric

      I assume this video might be as well on the Razer website, since they have a whole section dedicated to using their computers in music production, and might have asked Ean to do some demo performance; so that might be the reason.

      Great tutorial! Thanks DJTT

    • Dan White

      Ean wrote a response over on YouTube, thought I would share it here as well:
      “Razer sponsored this series which allowed us to seriously upgrade our production quality and make a really nice looking video. I was personally curious about switching to the Razer Blade anyway so this was a good test opportunity. We will be publishing my Laptop review of the Blade on DJ TechTools soon, in which I make the call on if a switch is possible”

      • Eonkenshi

        Thanks Dan, you rock!
        Very curious about the review, since the Razer Blade is quite an expensive unit, similar to Macbooks I think. Very curious about it!!