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The Roland AIRA Compact Series - a beautiful introduction to electronic music in the classroom

Written by Chris Koelma27/10/23

Much of the electronic music our students listen to is built on a foundation of a piece of gear called a Roland TR-808. Charlie Puth famously explored this phenomenon in a TikTok post a few months back - check it out here. Now, you can get these sounds into your classroom in a hands-on and super accessible way using the Roland AIRA Compact instruments.

T-8 Beat Machine

The T-8 is an electronic drum machine. It uses 16 ‘triggers’ along the bottom of the instrument to represent a full bar of semiquavers/sixteenth notes. When any of these sixteen triggers is activated (orange light is seen) then the instrument will produce sounds according to the part of the drum kit that is selected. For example, in the image below the ‘bass drum’ is selected and triggers 1, 4, 7, 11 and 14 are activated. A musician might then choose to select the snare drum and program the snare drum in the same way.

As you can see there are also a number of knobs and buttons to manipulate other elements of the drum machine. The T-8 also comes with an epic on-board bass instrument.

J-6 Chord Synth

The J-6 is an electronic chord sequencer. It is designed to help musicians develop chord progression ideas. It has a one octave keyboard and space to sequence an 8-bar chord progression. The basic idea is for a musician to place one chord in each of the 8 ‘steps’ in the sequencer. For example, this can be achieved by pressing ‘1’ and then choosing a chord from the keyboard below i.e. C. Then, pressing ‘2’ and choosing a different chord i.e. F etc.

The J-6 also has some introductory synthesizer elements including the ‘envelope’ and ‘filter’ knobs, which manipulate the sound of the J-6 in incredible ways. It also has ‘delay’ and ‘reverb’ knobs that sound amazing!

E-4 Voice Tweaker

The E-4 is a vocal effects module and looper. It is super fun! The E-4 requires an additional microphone with a jack cable. It can be used to manipulate vocals with a wide range of effects for live performance. The looping function also means that the unit can be used as a stand-alone device for a musician to build vocal layers.

S-1 Tweak Synth

The S-1 is a modular synthesizer. It is a powerful and tactile instrument for exploring synthesis but is a little more complex than the other three units. The inclusion of separate ‘oscillator’, ‘filter’ and ‘envelope’ sections allows for a high level of experimentation. The S-1 also has a ‘sequencer’ with a built–in two octave chromatic keyboard.


All four instruments can be ‘synced’ together using patch cables. This is fantastic for group work or for more extended live electronic music performance. All instruments are charged using USB-C and last for around 4 hours. The instruments are meant for live performance, but can also be recorded using MIDI or Audio directly into any DAW without the need for a separate audio interface.