A. R. Rahman was born to R. K. Shekhar, a composer, arranger and conductor for Malayalam-language films. His father died when Rahman was nine years old, and his family rented out musical equipment as a source of income.
During these early years, Rahman served as a keyboard player and an arranger in bands such as "Roots" and "Nemesis Avenue" with friends including Sivamani, embracing numerous music genres. He played the keyboard and piano, in addition to, among others, the synthesizer, the harmonium and the guitar. His curiosity in the synthesizer in particular increased because, he says, it was the “ideal combination of music and technology.” He began early training in music under Master Dhanraj. At the age of 11, he joined, as a keyboardist in the troupe of Ilaiyaraaja, a great composer of all time and one of many composers to whom musical instruments belonging to Rahman's father were rented to. Rahman later played in the orchestra of M. S. Viswanathan and Ramesh Naidu, accompanied Zakir Hussain, Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar on world tours and obtained a scholarship to Trinity College of Music, where he graduated with a degree in Western classical music.