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How to use the Rock Band Drum Set as MIDI Drums

use the Rock Band Drum Set as MIDI Drums
computer image by martini from Fotolia.com

If you are a fan of the music game "Rock Band" for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Playstation 2, you know that the included drum set is one of the most innovative, well-built and fun video game controllers created. Using a Windows computer, MIDI messages and a couple of simple steps, you can use your "Rock Band" drum set to play or record an infinite number of realistic drum kit sounds.

use the Rock Band Drum Set as MIDI Drums
computer image by martini from Fotolia.com

Things You'll Need:

  • Soundcard, Either Pci Or Usb/Firewire
  • Joy2Key 3.7.4 Software (Free)
  • Desktop Or Laptop Computer Running Windows Xp
  • Audio Recording/Sequencing Program That Supports Midi

Plug the "Rock Band" drum set into an available USB port on your desktop or laptop. You do not need your PS3 at all in this process. Your Windows XP computer will auto-recognize the drum set as a joystick.

Convert the joystick inputs (from your "Rock Band" drums) into MIDI messages by mapping the different colored drum pads and the kick pedal to keys on your keyboard. To do this, download a free program called Joy2Key. Run a search on it, and make sure to get it from the official developer website.

Open your audio suite, such as the cheap-but-excellent REAPER, Ableton Live or Reason as well as the Joy2Key program you have just downloaded. Load a software MIDI-based drum kit. In Ableton Live, any of the Impulse drum kits will work. If you are using REAPER, try Native Instruments KORE. Redrum will work in Reason as well. Now, enable computer keyboard control of MIDI if it is not already.

Run your fingers along the center row ("A" through ";") of your keyboard, and you should hear the drums sound off, one by one. Pay attention to which computer keyboard keys correspond to each snare, kick, tom, hat, cymbal tone, etc.

Go into Joy2Key to configure your drum set, which is being handled by your computer as a joystick, to convert your inputs with the drum sticks into keyboard messages. Do not close your audio sequencer software before you do this. Now, hit the drum set's four colored pads, and kick pedal, one by one. Note the on-screen button that flashes when you hit each of your drum pads. Each will correspond to a joystick button numeral; for example, the kick pedal is "5."

Double-click on the buttons that correspond to the drum set pads, and map them to the keyboard keys you have decided to correspond to the MIDI drum samples you want to use in your audio sequencing software. Do not close Joy2Key. Go back into your audio sequencing software and try hitting the pads. If you hear nothing, go back over the steps listed and make sure you have done everything correctly, or consult the help files associated with your specific software.

Note that there will be a downside to this process. And that is, no matter how good of a soundcard you are using, there will be a slight delay, which is virtually inaudible when playing slow, but noticeable if you are really banging away. To avoid screwing up your playing, try killing the volume on the track your drums are located on, and just jam along with your bass lines, or any of your MP3 files. Simply listen to the sound the pads make when struck to make sure you stay in rhythm.

Turn the volume on the track back up, and take a listen to what you have played. Not only is this a great way to make drum beats that sound "human," but you can practice your rhythm and hand coordination as well.


This tutorial assumes you have a general working knowledge of how to manipulate and record MIDI tracks in your favorite audio sequencing software. If you don't know how to do this, read the manual that came with your software first, and then give this project a shot.

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