First Impressions: Playing Rock Band with Real Drums


Just wanted to share some thoughts on how using a real set of electronic drums (my Yamaha DTXplorer) has changed my experience playing Rock Band.

First off, let me say that I have not had nearly as much free time as I would like to play now that my DTXplorer all hooked up to play Rock Band. Thats what being in law school and having a research job and looking for a post-graduation job will do to you.

The first song I tried with my real kit was “Dirty Little Secret” on Expert. This is, in my opinion, a really fun song to play and its one that I have been able to Five-Star consistently on the original RB drum controller (as a result of playing it so many times). However, playing that song immediately exposed all the adjustments I would have to make to be able to play successfully with the real kit.

For one thing, my brain just couldn’t handle the reversed positions of the crash and ride cymbals and the corresponding green and blue notes on the screen. What I mean is that it was way too confusing to have the blue notes (indicating ride) on the left and the green notes (indicating crash) on the right while my real crash cymbal trigger is on the left and ride cymbal trigger on the right. This problem is further complicated by the fact that blue is assigned to the low tom and green to the floor tom (again, positions switched). Pretty quickly, I just decided to switch the positions of my real cymbal triggers and be done with it.

Another problem was crosstalk, but as I covered in the previous post, there was an easy fix for that.

To be honest, it was a little disheartening trying to play on my real kit when I was finding it difficult to reprogram myself to play the RB notes on the right trigger. In an effort to improve my real drumming skills, I am really trying to play the notes on the “musically correct” trigger as well (i.e. play blue notes on the ride when its a ride note and on the low tom when its a tom note).

So, I decided to take a little detour on my journey to earn the AN-I-MAL!!! achievement (I’m three tiers into the Expert tour). I committed to completing the entire Hard solo tour with my real kit to train myself. Like I said, I haven’t had a whole lot of free time, but I’ve managed to make a good deal of progress and now I have only one tier + one song to go before I finish.

A few observations:

  • Using the real bass pedal ALONE is worth all the work I put into this mod. It’s not that using a real pedal is an advantage over using the plastic RB pedal, its just so much more comfortable. One reason being that I’m not afraid I’m going to snap it in half every time I step on it.
  • The benefit of rebound cannot be overstated. If you’re like me and wore your forearms out easily on the RB drum controller, you’ll really appreciate this.
  • The durability of the real kit/trigger pads opens up some options. Specifically for me, I preferred using a pair of Vic Firth SDCs to the rather dinky stock RB drumsticks. I would never use these with the RB controller for fear that the heavier sticks would demolish the fragile plastic kit. Also, you can just play harder, in general, if thats what you prefer.
  • Play on the real kit is infinitely more fun (at least once you’re used to it). You feel like you’re really playing the song because, if you are hitting the right pads for the right notes, you basically are.

I’ll post again when I’ve logged a few more hours on the real kit. I really want to do the Endless Setlist again (did it once on Medium), but I’m debating whether to go for it on Hard or wait until I’m ready to do it on Expert.

Until next time…


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35 Responses to “First Impressions: Playing Rock Band with Real Drums”

  1. bluecollar49 Says:

    Hi There!

    I’m finding these posts about using real drums for this game very intriging. I also play real drums for a hobby. I’m a Neil Peart disciple and have an acoustic kit based on his drum setup.

    I have not entertained the thought of playing Rock Band, but I do have Guitar Hero, and I just love it when I get to have the time to play it.

    Not sure how much it would cost to have the type of kit that you have for the game made, but it certainly makes the appeal of playing Rockband from the drummer perspective ( and as a drummer ) very appealing indeed. I look forward to more posts about this in the future.



  2. theflash0000 Says:

    Hey Lew,

    Thanks for reading!

    I’d recommend to any amateur drummer to at least give Rock Band a try. The bottom line is that the skills required to play the drums in RB are very similar to those required to play drums for real, even though its highly simplified. Therefore, its something that you’ll be able to do well in and have fun right away.

    I think that what a bunch of other RB drummers and I have done with this mod just kind of takes the game to the next level.


  3. Anonymous Says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that many songs use the blue pad to represent an open hi-hat. Based on what I read in your original post, it should be trivial to map the midi note 26 “open hi-hat” to toggle blue, correct?

  4. theflash0000 Says:


    The short answer is “Yes, its possible.”

    The long answer is that it depends on what electronic drum kit you’ll be using and what you want to accomplish with your mod.

    The reason it depends on the drum kit is because not all kits allow you remap MIDI notes. My kit, the DTXplorer, for example, does not allow this. Therefore, in order to take full advantage of all eight triggers on my kit, I had to employ all eight relays on the MSA-P. This was necessary in order to play Green on both the Crash Cymbal and Floor Tom, etc. See my Guide to Playing Rock Band with a DTXplorer for more info.

    If like mine, your kit cannot remap MIDI notes, then you are stuck with a maximum of eight triggers with the MSA-P method. So, you could assign Hi-Hat Closed to Blue, but you’ll have to give up either the Ride Cymbal or Lo Tom (or some other trigger) to make room.

    If your kit is capable of remapping MIDI notes (i.e. changing the MIDI note to which each trigger is assigned), then you can simplify the process significantly. Basically, what you do is choose five MIDI notes, one each to represent Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, and Kick/Bass. Then create a new custom kit on your electronic drum brain and assign those MIDI numbers to whatever triggers you want. For example, say you have two ride cymbals, a lo tom, and (as in your case) open hi-hat, which you want to assign all to Blue, for which you’ve chosen MIDI note 3. Just go through your custom kit on the brain and assign MIDI note 3 to each of those triggers. Repeat for each “color” and you’ll be set. It doesn’t matter what the notes sound like, because you’ll be using this custom kit for Rock Band.

    Sorry if this is confusing but I hope it helps.

    Also, I am curious, which songs have you notice open hi-hat notes played as blue? In my experience, all hi-hat notes are played as yellow and blue is used only for ride cymbal and lo tom parts. Thanks for reading!

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Wow, great explanation. I have the Roland TD-3 drum brain which can change the midi mapping, so I’ll have to play around with that.

    As an example of blue hi-hats, Radiohead’s Creep on expert in any of the verses. There have been others, though, particularly on expert. I find the straight runs of yellows on some medium and hard songs have been accented with open hi-hat blues on the harder difficulties. I’m short on time or I’d go find some of the other examples.

    I could be totally mistaken on the sound though, as I’m pretty new to drums!

  6. j Says:

    Wonder how the rock band kick pedal..if it’s just an stereo plug, so, could i just plug in a KD-8 and at least have something better than that god awful pedal.

  7. theflash0000 Says:


    Unfortunately, that’s been tried and doesn’t work.

    My understanding is that the Rock Band bass pedal just uses a simple reed switch while the KD-8 and other electronic pedal systems use piezos (sending voltage).

    There are numerous threads and guides available that provide solutions for modding a real pedal for use with Rock Band, but all involve setting the pedal up to trigger a momentary switch of some kind (unless, of course you go with the MIDI-to-relay mod like I did).

  8. Dorkmaster Flek Says:

    Flash, this sounds amazing and I’m looking into doing this myself. I play on expert and the RB drums just do not cut it. I’ve tried everything in my power to get them to respond properly to the really fast roll sections (drum roll in Train Kept A Rollin’, the entire Run to the Hills, the end of Working Man) and I either end up getting double hits sometimes, or they get triggered by hitting the other pads. I’ve come to the conclusion that the RB kit is just not good enough, period. The sensors are working as best they can, but the design of the kit was to minimize costs, not maximize performance. I must know, how does this setup handle expert level charts? It sounds like it should rock, but I want to be sure before dropping a load of cash on the set, but I like the sound of it.

  9. theflash0000 Says:


    Unfortunately, I’m not good enough to get through Run to the Hills on expert yet, so I’m not sure I’m the best authority to answer your question, but I’ll try.

    You are spot on with your assessment of the RB kit (low cost ahead of performance). The RB kit is meant to be a toy, and it is.

    Put simply, using a real electronic drum kit with Rock Band removes any limitations that the RB kit imposes on expert players. Rebound, adjustability (of position), responsiveness, etc. are all customizable with a real kit.

    I have had no problems with double-hits, missed-hits, or anything of the sort. My experience has been that if I miss a note, it is always because of my playing, not the kit.

    Good luck!


  10. Dorkmaster Flek Says:

    Awesome, that’s what I wanted to hear. 🙂 I’m definitely sold on this. One last question though. Is there any lag from going from the MIDI kit through the MSA-P to the RB controller? I would imagine it would add some kind of delay when compared to the stock RB kit, but my hope is that it’s so small as to be imperceptible, or at most a minor adjustment. Did you have to adjust your calibration in the game for the new kit? Thanks a lot for your help!

  11. theflash0000 Says:

    No perceptible lag. Other forum users have confirmed that lag is not a problem.

    I’ve been using the “Plasma TV” pre-set in the calibration menu. That seemed to work best for me on the RB kit and now with the DTXplorer.

  12. Dorkmaster Flek Says:

    Also, have you played around with the length of each toggle on the MSA? I think 40 ms should be fast enough to reset in time for even the quickest rolls in the game, but I’d like to be able to adjust it if necessary. I guess I can try it myself once I get it working. Thanks again for all the info.

  13. theflash0000 Says:

    I am using 40ms pulses (as is just about everyone else doing this mod, I think) and it works perfectly. Check out Highly Liquid’s page for info on how to change the pulse length via SysEx message sent to the MSA-P.

  14. Dorkmaster Flek Says:

    Yeah I can mess with that if needed, but it sounds like 40 ms is fine. Question about the set itself for you though. Do the pads on this set have multiple zones? I noticed in the DTXplorer manual that it has normal and rim hits for the cymbals and toms which trigger two different MIDI notes, and also 3 for the snare and 2 for the hi hat. The hi hat is always going to be open I presume, since you’re not using that pedal, but what about the other drums? From what I read, the drums in this kit are supposed to be single zone, which is actually exactly what we want in this case. The cymbals I’m not so sure about though. Sorry for all the questions, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning with this. 🙂

  15. theflash0000 Says:

    I’m pretty sure the DTXplorer brain can handle up to 3-zone pads, but the stock set comes will all single-zone (including cymbals).

    Don’t forget though, the DTXplorer is NOT capable of re-mapping MIDI notes. For MSA-P users, what this means is that you’re limited to 8 triggers switching each of the 8 relays on the MSA-P.

    This can present a problem if you add dual-zone triggers to your DTXplorer (because each additional “zone” is really another trigger with a unique MIDI note). I think I explain this a bit better in the guide I posted.

    Other kits do allow MIDI re-mapping, which lets you assign as many triggers (and zones) as you want for each RB button.

  16. Dorkmaster Flek Says:

    Not being able to remap the MIDI notes isn’t really an issue, however multiple zones on the pads would be since you only have 8 relays available. In the case of RB, the single zone pads are actually exactly what you need. That is perfect, I’m looking at picking up this set. I’m going to have to fiddle with the setup to try and get the pad positions close to the original RB layout so it’s not too jarring to switch. 🙂 Thanks so much for all your help!

  17. Richard Kuo's Personal Blog : Using an electronic drum set with Rock Band Says:

    […] with a Yamaha DTXplorer (How-To)Eliminating Cross-Talk on the DTXplorer (for use with Rock Band)First Impressions: Playing Rock Band with Real DrumsVideos of electronic kits connected to Rock Bandrawws6 – Roland TD-3 – […]

  18. Trigger Happy Says:

    Hey Flash great work!

    I went out and bought a Roland TD6 this weekend and want to convert it to play on Rock band eventually. In the mean time I have set rock band on practice and try to drum along. I noticed the exact same problem with the ride and crash. Not so bad on the slower songs but all together too confusing in fast parts. Just wanted to clarify when you say you “switched the postion of the real cymbal triggers”, did you just switch the ride and crash on your DTExplorer? Would that be considered a drum faux pas? I am a drumming novice and don’t want to get into bad habbits.


  19. theflash0000 Says:

    Trigger Happy,

    Congrats on taking the plunge.

    Like I said, I found it necessary to switch them (have blue/ride on the left and green/crash on the right), but I’m also kind of worried that it will mess with my IRL drumming chops.

    At some point, I plan on adding another cymbal as a second crash. Then I’ll set up my kit so that (from left to right) it will be green/crash, blue/ride, green/crash. This should be perfectly usable and more true-to-life.

    I think it will also help with certain songs, especially on fast tempo songs that require jumping quickly from the hat to the crash. Good luck!

  20. chris Says:

    Instead of switching the position of your ride/crash, wouldn’t switching to left-handed work?

  21. theflash0000 Says:


    Unfortunately I think that would just make things worse 🙂

    Then I’d have to mentally reorganize how the other notes correspond to hi-hat, snare, toms, etc.

    The bottom line is, given enough practice, you should be able to assign any color to any pad and read the note chart as.. well, a note chart. I just got frustrated early and took the easy route…

  22. Chris Says:

    I got the last Aelius enclosure from Banddaddy, and I will soon be taking this journey… After reading all of the posts, I’m still not too sure how things get wired up in the MSA-P. I’ve seen all the pics of soldering to the controller, but I just don’t understand how to connect that inside my enclosure..

    Let’s say I use CAT5 cable from xbox controller. Now, it plugs into a jack inside the enclosure. WTF do I do now!? LOL! Does it matter which spot on the MSA each wire goes to? I’d guess not, since it’s programming should handle it?

  23. Chris Says:

    ok… i must have finally saw this:

    ignore me until i get my enclosure!

  24. theflash0000 Says:

    Haha, no prob, Chris.

    Good luck!

  25. justin Says:

    I am dying to test this system out, i have the Roland V-drums Pro series. I would like to know if anyone has this system set up nearby where i could visit and test it out. I am in San Rafael, California, know anyone?

  26. theflash0000 Says:


    I don’t personally know anyone, but post this in the HOWTO thread and you might find someone nearby.

  27. dblue Says:

    Howdy. I was wondering a few things.

    Do you have any latency with the MIDI controller? Did you have to re-adjust your lag? If so, how many milliseconds did it change?

    Also, I saw that you set the switch time to 40milliseconds. I may just be asking a dumb question, but does this prevent you from playing rolls? A lot of hits in the game on expert are much closer to each other than 40 milliseconds. Maybe I am just not understanding that setting.

    Thanks in advance!

  28. theflash0000 Says:


    I did not experience any additional lag, but even if you do, all you have to do is re-calibrate and you should be good to go.

    The 40ms pulse issue has come up before and is actually under some discussion in the forum HOWTO thread now. Another user (DorkmasterFlek) has suggested that he gets better results from a 25ms pulse (but that 15ms and 20ms is too short).

    I am using 40ms on expert and have not found it to cause any problems so far, but I am probably going to reprogram my MSA-P for a 25ms pulse in the immediate future to test it out.

  29. Link Says:

    I have a Roland TD-3 and the MSA-P, and play on expert. I initially programmed using a 40ms fixed pulse but was having trouble with drum rolls — I couldn’t get more than 72% on the drum roll on Train Kept a Rollin after a dozen attempts. Once I switched to a 25ms pulse, I got 97% on that drum roll on the first try. Much better!

  30. theflash0000 Says:


    I played around with using a shorter pulse length a couple months ago. Long story short, I had major problems with anything shorter than 30ms. At 25ms and 15ms, my kit dropped notes very frequently. I wound up back at 40ms, have no dropped notes, and the only time its a problem is on the exact snare roll you are talking about (in Train Kept a Rollin).

    If you get a chance, let me know if you notice any dropped notes on simple 8th note beats at 25ms (maybe play through I Think I’m Paranoid or the middle section of Enter Sandman a few times). These are the sort of songs I would notice dropped notes on (i.e. songs that are easy enough that I know its note me missing the notes, it was either the MSA or my kit that was dropping them). Thanks.

  31. Methodologically Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Methodologically

  32. Cameron Says:

    Is there anyone or where that does the whole process for a fee? This is not modding I can do. Any information would be great and I look forward to hearing back on my email.

  33. Vu Says:

    Hey dude, this looks sweet and all but I play lefty mode, and my dad was gonna buy me a Yamaha DTXplorer and he was gonna do this for me. Do I have to solder the wires differently? Or do i just have to change the set up? REPLY PLEASE

  34. theflash0000 Says:


    Lefty flip is no problem. You just need to re-work your Sys-Ex message so that you assign the correct MIDI notes to each color Rock Band note. So, for example, you need to map the snare drum note to the green button switch, not the red.

    Also, don’t forget that you need to double-up on the red, yellow, and blue switches, not the green one (only one green note-snare-in lefty-flip). Sorry if this sounds confusing but the mod is definitely possible with lefty-flip. Good luck.

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