Roland TR-909

The Roland TR-909 Rhythm Composer is a drum machine introduced by the Roland Corporation in 1983, succeeding the TR-808. It was the first Roland drum machine to use samples for some sounds, and the first with MIDI functionality, allowing it to synchronize with other devices. Though it was a commercial failure, the 909 became influential in the development of electronic dance music genres such as techno, house and acid.

TR-909 front panel
Price$1,195 USD
£999 GBP
¥189,000 JPY
Technical specifications
Polyphony12 voices
Synthesis typeAnalog Subtractive and
Digital Sample-based Subtractive
Aftertouch expressionNo
Velocity expressionYes
Storage memory96 Patterns, 8 Songs
EffectsIndividual level, tuning, attack,
decay, and tone controls for some
Keyboard16 Pattern Keys
External controlMIDI In/Out & DIN Sync In


The 909 was designed by Tadao Kikumoto, who also designed the Roland TB-303 synthesizer.[1] Chief Roland engineer Makoto Muroi credited the design of the analog and pulse-code modulation voice circuits to "Mr Ou" and its software to "Mr Hoshiai".[2]

Roland TR-909 rear view

Whereas its predecessor, the TR-808, is known for its "boomy" bass, the 909 sounds aggressive and "punchy".[3][4] It was the first Roland drum machine to use samples (prerecorded sounds), for its crash, ride and hi-hat sounds; other sounds are generated with analog synthesis.[5] As the clap and snare are generated via the same noise source, they produce a phasing effect when played together.[6]

The 909 was also the first Roland drum machine to use MIDI,[2] allowing it to synchronize with other devices,[5] or for sounds to be triggered by an external MIDI controller for wider dynamic range.[2] Older Roland machines can be synchronized via its DIN sync port (a precursor to MIDI).[2]

The 909 features a sequencer that can chain up to 96 patterns into songs of up to 896 measures, and controls including shuffle and flam.[5] It features an improved accent feature, allowing users to accent particular beats or sounds.[2]

Roland changed elements of the 909 during its lifetime, correcting problems and adjusting sounds. Some users modify their machines to match sounds from earlier revisions.[6]


The 909 was released in 1983[5] and retailed for $1,195 USD, equivalent to $3,251 in 2021.[5] It was a commercial failure, as users preferred the more realistic sampled sounds of competing products such as the LinnDrum.[2] Roland ceased production after one year,[2] having built 10,000 units.[7] The 909 was succeeded in 1984 by the TR-707, which uses samples for all its sounds.[2]


Whereas the TR-808 was important in the development of hip hop, the 909, alongside the 303 synthesizer, influenced dance music such as techno, house and acid.[8][9] According to Gordon Reid of Sound on Sound, "Like the TR-808 before it, nobody could have predicted the reverence in which the TR-909 would eventually come to be held."[5]

The first known commercial use of a 909 is on the album Remission by Skinny Puppy, released months after the 909 launch.[5] In the late 1980s, the 909 was popularized by producers in Chicago and Detroit such as Derrick May, Frankie Knuckles and Jeff Mills, who bought second-hand units.[3] As it was the first Roland drum machine to use MIDI, producers used the 909 as a hub to synchronize and sequence other machines, which Roland had not anticipated.[5] The 909 has also been used in rock and alternative music; Mark Bell used it to create "militaristic" percussion for Björk's 1997 song "Hunter",[10][11] and Radiohead used it on "Videotape", from their 2007 album In Rainbows.[12] Mixmag described the American DJ and composer Jeff Mills as the "master" of the 909.[13]

In 2017, Roland released the TR-09, a miniature version of the 909 with additional features.[6]


  1. ^ Hsieh, Christine. "Electronic Musician: Tadao Kikumoto". Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirn, Peter (2011). Keyboard presents the evolution of electronic dance music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-1-61713-446-3.
  3. ^ a b "Listen to an exclusive playlist of TR-909 classics". FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music. 2016-09-09. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  4. ^ "Nine Great Tracks That Use the Roland TR-909Orbital - "Chime"". Complex. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Reid, Gordon (December 2014). "The history of Roland: part 2 | Sound On Sound". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Roland TR-09 Rhythm Composer review". MusicRadar. Retrieved 2018-04-25.
  7. ^ Butler, Mark Jonathan. "Unlocking the Groove: Rhythm, Meter, and Musical Design in Electronic Dance Music". Indiana University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-2533-4662-2. p. 64
  8. ^ "Nine Great Tracks That Use the Roland TR-909". Complex. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  9. ^ "9 of the best 909 tracks using the TR-909". Mixmag. Retrieved 2018-03-26.
  10. ^ Pytlik, Mark (2003). Bjork: Wow and Flutter. ECW Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 978-1550225563. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  11. ^ Greer, Jim (August 1998). "Björk in progress". Sweater.
  12. ^ Randall, Mac (2011). Exit Music: The Radiohead Story. Delta. pp. 248, 249. ISBN 0-385-33393-5.
  13. ^ "Jeff Mills celebrates the iconic Roland TR-909 through his history and cherished secrets". Mixmag. 9 September 2018. Retrieved 2022-02-08.

Further readingEdit