I've been looking at trap/rap tutorials and sometimes the 808s are formed like a bass, where it can even have a bass line, where each has a pitch (note). And other times it's just used like a drum where they don't really talk about its pitch, it just sounds like a heavy kick drum. So which one is it?

Edit: I'm not talking about the actual tr-808 machine. I'm talking about how an 808 sample (or synth that sounds like 808) is used in trap/hip-hop. I'm confused of if it's used as a drum or a bass instrument.

4 Answers 4


The 808 was an early drum machine and has many sounds. One of the more famous sounds is the bass drum which I believe there were several of, varying in length.

Since these were not real drum sounds but synthesized sounds it does have a low pitch to it and a lot of sustain.

If I recall the actual 808 had only one pitch to the bass drum however you can creat your own 808 type kick with a bass drum and a tone generator and a gate. Or even with a bass a bass drum and a gate and then can create a 808 style drum that has a bass line in it. To do this you have the gate open (triggered) by the bass drum signal and have the gate control the sound of the bass or tone. You can control the length of the gate by varying the speed at which the gate closes. Too long and it no longer sounds like a 808 but a drum and a bass. Too short and you don’t hear the effect you are going for. If done correctly the effect is pretty cool.


Thus spoke Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_TR-808

The Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, commonly known as the 808, is a drum machine manufactured by the Roland Corporation between 1980 and 1983.

In electronic music, pitched drum sounds such as kick and snare sounds, are often tuned to fit the key of the song, so that they support the harmony instead of fighting against it. For example if the song is in Cm, you might tune the kick to C and the snare to something like F or G.


As the Sound-on-Sound answer above says, it's good to do the tuning of the sounds by using a sampler and pitching the samples up/down in the old-fashioned way instead of trying to use pitch-shifters, because "intelligent" pitch shifters tend to spoil the attacks and other percussive characteristics of the drum sounds.


Trap producers (along with practioners of many other and earlier styles) revere the sounds of the old Roland TR-808 drum machine, particularly the bass drum. They use it 'as is', and they process it into a pitched sound by adding harmonics. So it's both (as you said in your question).

'808' seems to be also sometimes used as a generic term for the whole style of music that features an annoyingly heavy bass beat, stemming from the (apparantly false) information that in the American penal code an '808' is 'Disturbing the peace'. This is not a musical culture much concerned with rigorous academic definitions :-)

  • 1
    I like the info in this answer, but -1 because you call an entire genre annoying, which I disagree with.
    – jdjazz
    Nov 3, 2019 at 20:35
  • See if you like it any better after my changes. You may not use the term this way. It seems that some people do though.. Anything, thanks for explaining a downvote.
    – Laurence
    Nov 3, 2019 at 21:10
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    Trap certainly isn't the first genre of music to make use of the 808. The first wave of house music in the 80s used it extensively, to the extent that one famous English group named themselves 808 State.
    – Graham
    Nov 4, 2019 at 8:03

The TR-808, and other machines in the TR series were drum machines. The TR is an acronym for "Transistor Rhythm".

Another machine in the TR series, TR-606, was designed to be paired up with the legendary bass synthesizer, TB-303 (Transistor Bass). They could be synchronizes using a special synchronization cable (this was before the MIDI standard was introduced).

As far as I know, their intended market was to provide a cheap rhythm backing for soloists or small bands.

However, their destiny turned out to be quite different. While the TR-808 and TR-909 found heavy use in both Techno and Hip Hop genres, the sound of the TB-303 was more or less the source for the acid techno and acid house genres (as some ingenious pioneers discovered that you could make interesting music by turning the dials as the it was playing).

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