Percussion Using MIDI Devices

In last month's newsletter article, we showed you how to do percussion using the features built into the KeyMusician Keyboard.

This month, we explain how to do percussion using other MIDI devices (purchased separately), such as MIDI Drum Pads, or MIDI Keyboards.

In doing research for this article, I discovered a short-coming in the application with how it displays notes from an external MIDI Drum Pad (or keyboard). I fixed this problem, and you are welcome to access your member pages, and re-install the latest version of the application (you need version 1.27 or later for this fix).

I tried out five different MIDI devices for use with percussion, and will tell you about each of them.

But first, we need to understand how percussion works within the General-MIDI standard.

Percussion In The General-MIDI Standard

Though most synthesizers support the General-MIDI standard, not all of them do, in which case the percussion instrument names will not match what you see below. You may be able to select the use of General MIDI (GM) by your synthesizer.

In the table below, the left-most column shows the MIDI note-number, and the right-most column shows the percussion instrument name. With MIDI devices, the MIDI note-number is used for playing each percussion device.

You can play multiple notes at the same time, resulting in multiple percussion instruments sounding at the same time.

In the General-MIDI standard, channel 10 is used for percussion. Many synthesizers assume this, and often you can't use channel 10 for anything other than percussion.

When using the FluidR3_GM soundfont (and other soundfonts), there are 6 additional percussion instruments above the ones shown above, and 8 additional percussion instruments below the ones shown in the table below.

Here is a table showing the percussion instruments defined by the General-MIDI standard, along with the MIDI note number used to access them:

General-MIDI Percussion Instrument Notes

MIDI Note #

MIDI Note Name

MIDI Octave #

KMK qwerty

key

Percussion Instrument Name

82

B

4

`


81

A#

4

1

Open Triangle

80

A

4

2

Mute Triangle

79

G#

4

3

Open Cuica

78

G

4

4

Mute Cuica

77

F#

4

5

Low Wood Block

76

F

4

6

Hi Wood Block

75

E

4

7

Claves

74

D#

4

8

Long Guiro

73

D

4

9

Short Guiro

72

C#

4

0

Long Whistle

71

C

4

-

Short Whistle

70

B

3

=

Maracas

69

A#

3

bksp

Cabasa

68

A

3

\

Low Agogo

67

G#

3

]

High Agogo

66

G

3

[

Low Timbale

65

F#

3

P

High Timbale

64

F

3

O

Low Conga

63

E

3

I

Open Hi Conga

62

D#

3

U

Mute Hi Conga

61

D

3

Y

Low Bongo

60

C#

3

T

Hi Bongo

59

C

3

R

Ride Cymbal 2

58

B

2

E

Vibraslap

57

A#

2

W

Crash Cymbal 2

56

A

2

Q

Cowbell

55

G#

2

A

Splash Cymbal

54

G

2

S

Tambourine

53

F#

2

D

Ride Bell

52

F

2

F

Chinese Cymbal

51

E

2

G

Ride Cymbal 1

50

D#

2

H

High Tom

49

D

2

J

Crash Cymbal 1

48

C#

2

K

Hi-Mid Tom

47

C

2

L

Low-Mid Tom

46

B

1

;

Open Hi-Hat

45

A#

1

Low Tom

44

A

1

/

Pedal Hi-Hat

43

G#

1

.

High Floor Tom

42

G

1

,

Closed Hi-Hat

41

F#

1

M

Low Floor Tom

40

F

1

N

Electric Snare

39

E

1

B

Hand Clap

38

D#

1

V

Acoustic Snare

37

D

1

C

Side Stick

36

C#

1

X

Bass Drum 1

35

C

1

Z

Acoustic Bass Drum

Note:  MIDI Note #’s are 0 thru 127

            KMK qwerty-key assumes 'Z0' keyboard layout

In the table above, the MIDI note numbers and note names are used when connecting a MIDI keyboard or drum-pad.

MIDI note numbers are described by the table below:


In a nut-shell, the above information says that regardless what MIDI device you use, when you play any notes in the note-number range of 35 to 81, on MIDI channel 10 (if your synthesizer follows the General-MIDI standard), you will play percussion instruments.

You can play a MIDI Drum Pad (or keyboard) through the KeyMusician Keyboard, displaying the “Drums” pane (assuming you have the fix mentioned earlier in the article), by specifying your MIDI device, as a MIDI “Thru” Input device is shown in the screen-shot below:


Having done that, click on the “Drums” tab of your KMK window to display the Drums pane, and play notes on your MIDI device. For example:

After connecting an M-Audio KeyStation-49, and setting it so it sends on MIDI channel 10, I can now play keys on the MIDI keyboard, and see them displayed on the Drums pane.

As shown in the picture below, I pressed the (black key) C# (in MIDI octave 1, or C1#), at the same time as the F key (F1):


When pressing these keys, I see what's shown in the following screen-shot:


Notice that the keys I pressed in the picture of fingers-on-keyboard, are the same as shown in red in the keyboard diagram above, and the actual percussion instruments played, are marked in blue.

They're different because of the need to map white keys (played by the typing keyboard) to the percussion instruments (which are assigned to notes that include black keys).

So just be aware, the keyboard (or drum-pad) keys played are shown in red, and the instrument(s) that sound are shown in blue.

So, as you can see, you can play a MIDI keyboard or drum pad through the KMK application, which has the advantage of showing you which percussion instrument you're playing.

Connecting Your MIDI Device Directly

But you don't have to play it through the application at all. In fact, there are advantages to connecting your MIDI drum pad (or keyboard) directly to the synthesizer you're using.

The advantage of connecting it directly, is that once connected, you can play percussion on the same machine, at the same time as you (or another person) is playing a totally different instrument on the KeyMusician Keyboard, using a different performance pane.

By connecting the MIDI drum-pad or keyboard directly, no keyboard-focus is required for playing percussion – even on the same machine. You and the percussion person can be playing simultaneously, different instruments, yet on the same machine.

You connect the MIDI device directly by specifying it as one of the MIDI input devices on your VST host (such as Cantabile) on Windows. On Mac, you similarly specify your MIDI device as an input source for GarageBand or MainStage.

On Linux, you connect your MIDI device directly, by using the “Connect” button of the “qjackctl” application on Linux. The “Connect” button displays a window something like the following:


In the above screen-shot, I'm connecting the LPK25 MIDI keyboard to qmidiroute (a MIDI router).

Since there is no independent synthesizer for the Java Sound (Gervill) Synthesizer, the only way to connect to it, is to play it through the KeyMusician Keyboard application.

Results Of Trying Various MIDI Devices For Percussion

I tried four different MIDI keyboards, and a MIDI drum-pad. Here is a picture of one of my test systems:


The synthesizer with the full-size keyboard (which also works as a MIDI keyboard, where it's connected to the computer below it, using a MIDI interface), is a Yamaha S90-es.

Sitting on the left side of the synthesizer (just to the right of the mixer-box), is an Akai MPD218 Drum Pad, which I also tested.

The Yamaha S90-es synthesizer has piano-action, weighted keys, which are fine for keeping your strong fingers from racing (too fast) in a musical phrase.

But in using this keyboard for percussion, those same weighted keys slowed me down in trying to do drumming.

I found that the lighter (non-weighted, or semi-weighted) keys of a MIDI keyboard worked better for percussion.

The M-Audio KeyStation-88 shown below, worked fine, and also gives you a full 88-key traditional keyboard:


If you want to spend less, a MIDI keyboard with fewer keys, such as the M-Audio KeyStation-49 (shown below) will work fine. I saw similar MIDI keyboards in stores recently for under $100.


A 49-key MIDI keyboard gives you enough keys for the entire set of percussion instruments defined in the General-MIDI standard.

But if you want to play it like a piano keyboard, your hands will keep running off the lower (or upper) end of the keyboard.

A 61-key keyboard will work for most pop music, but if you play classical piano, you'll still run off the ends of the keyboard (mostly the lower end).

The keys on both of these MIDI keyboards were good at picking up even soft hits (for drumming at a low volume level), as well as hard (loud) hits. Also, there are enough keys so that you don't have to worry about transposing up or down.

If you need to simulate a fast run of drum-hits, try this two-handed, two finger method (alternating hands) shown below:


This picture is captured in stop-motion, with the finger of my right hand hitting the key, as the finger of my left hand is coming down to hit it again.

Keep in mind, that as described in a prior newsletter article, playing a MIDI keyboard through the application gives you instant accidentals, and velocity sensitivity, yet (when playing it through the application) you still don't need to learn and practice all the possible key-signatures.

I also tried a 25-key Akai LPK-25 MIDI keyboard, shown in the picture below (behind the typing-keyboard):


I don't recommend this keyboard, because it has a stiff action, and to get low volume levels (soft drum hits), your fingers had to actually be moving slowly (just trying to hit it softly didn't work very well).

Also, with only 25 keys, to get all of the percussion instruments, you have to hit the Octave-Up (or Octave-Down) button multiple times. And to get it to send on MIDI channel 10 (needed for percussion) required the use of its proprietary editor software, which only runs on Windows (and they're very stingy with their license – only letting you put it on a single machine).

On Linux, I had to use a MIDI router to change its channel 1 output, to channel 10 output.

Using A MIDI Drum-Pad

I tested the Akai MPD218 MIDI drum pad, shown in the picture below (to the right of the mixer-box):


The white keys below it aren't part of it – it sits on a Yamaha synthesizer. Putting it on a synthesizer as shown might not be a good idea long-term, because the vibrations drumming on the drum-pad might eventually damage the circuitry of the synthesizer.

It has 16 rubberized, velocity-sensitive pads. By default, these pads play the lowest 16 MIDI notes of the General-MIDI set of percussion instruments. There are switches letting you go up to the next 16 instruments of the set, and again, to go up to the top 16 instruments of the set (3 times 16 = 48 percussion instruments).

By default, it sends on MIDI channel 10, which works well for General-MIDI percussion.

It plugs into a USB port on your computer, and gets its power from that USB port (making one less power-adapter to have to worry about).

You can use their proprietary editor software (which runs on Windows, or Mac OS X, but doesn't run on Linux) to edit which MIDI notes each pad sends, letting you select your own set of 16 percussion instruments.

Here is a screen-shot of their editor software, running on Windows:


You select the drum-pad you want to edit (which is highlighted at the bottom of the screen), and edit its values in the wider window at the top.

So the first drum-pad (in blue) is currently (by default) set to send MIDI note 36 (Bass Drum 1), but you could change it so send, say, MIDI note 41 (Low Floor Tom).

Click on another of the drum pads shown, and you can edit it like you did the first one.

When you're done, save it in a file, which you can load into the editor later, and from there, into the MIDI Drum Pad device, and as long as the device is powered-up, those new settings will remain in-effect.

That way you could set up several different sets of percussion instruments, that you use in different pieces (or sets of pieces).

Notice that the MIDI octave number and note name (such as C2) differ from the octave numbers used by other manufacturers (it should be C1). But since you only edit the note number, it'll work out right.

The knobs can be edited to manipulate different MIDI controller values. I didn't see any way I could easily use these controls, but they may prove useful for you, nevertheless.

My Experience Using The MPD218

This device costs about $100 (USD).

The pads are meant to be drummed-on using your fingers. They are not large enough (or sturdy enough) to drum on them with drum-sticks. But drumming on them with your fingers is easy, and straight-forward.

Women, beware - I broke a fingernail doing this drumming, and it didn't take long to break it.

Though I am not a drummer, I could drum the rhythm (bass drum and snare drums) used by my high school marching band many years ago, and it sounded fairly similar.

The main problem I encountered, was trying to drum at a low volume-level (play softly). It wasn't very good at detecting soft drum-hits. Possibly as evidence of that short-coming, the device has a button you can press (labeled “Full Level”), after which every drum-hit you do on it, is sent at maximum loudness.

In a store, I tried some much-more-expensive drum pads that were better at detecting soft drum-hits, but they were still not as good as I hoped for.

I hope this article was interesting, informative, and maybe saves you from wasting money trying things that might not work as well as you had hoped.
- Aere

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