Forgotten Rock Band Drum Controller as a MIDI Instrument

Happen to have an old Rock Band drum controller collecting dust in your living room? If you also have a spare Arduino and don’t mind parting with that plastic college memento then you’ve got the bulk of what could potentially be your new percussive MIDI instrument. In his project video [Evan Kale] outlines the steps necessary to turn that unloved plastic into a capable instrument for recording.

The whole process as outlined by [Evan] in under seven minutes. This looks like a great weekend endeavor for those of us just starting out with MIDI. After cracking the back of the Guitar Hero drum kit controller open, the main board within is easily replaced with a standard sized Ardunio (which matches the present mounting holes exactly). About 4:50 into the video [Evan] explains how to add a basic perf-board shield over the Arduino which connects the piezo sensors in each of the drum pads to the analog pins of the micro-controller. The MIDI jack that comes built into the back of the kit can also be reused as MIDI out when wired to the Arduino’s serial out pin. By adjusting [Evan’s] example code you can dial in the instrument’s feedback to match the intensity of each hit.

The video with all of the details is after the jump. Or you can check out a MIDI hack that goes the other way and uses a drum kit as a Guitar Hero or Rock Band controller instead

14 thoughts on “Forgotten Rock Band Drum Controller as a MIDI Instrument

  1. The kick drum on those controllers is just a mom switch right? I’m thinking of rigging up a spare practice pad to a real kick pedal whenever I find one cheap but in the meantime could I just use one of the digital inputs for it? Also does anyone have any experience creating a hi-hat pedal? I’m guessing that there are ready made controllers for digital drum sets but I’m also interested in just how dirt cheap I could get it done for reasons.

    1. I can’t say for this model, but the original Rock Band pedal for PlayStation 2 and XBox 360 used a reed switch and a magnet as a momentary contact switch. While working on a completely different project I learned that reed switches have extremely clean on/off transitions that didn’t even need software debouncing. Replacing it with a noisy switch might be a problem if the code isn’t expecting it.

    1. If you’re going to do the “window screen” drum heads it may be worth it to look around thrift shops/garage sales for one of those “First Act” sets that have been making the rounds as the rugrats age out. You get almost all the hardware you need, minus an adult sized frame to mount them on. cut the stuff off the original heads and remount with a few layers of window screen sewn onto the original drum rings. Easier than cutting a bunch of round things (round things are kind of difficult at that scale in the shop if you want perfectly round.) You can also cut the drum shells in half and get twice the drums for your money. You’ll probably need to still get a kick pedal and cymbals because the parents usually throw those away after the first day.

  2. Not bad!

    You can dona purely software solution by picking off the USB signals and routing them to MIDI. One really easy way to do this is using GlovePIE.

    But .. This approach has its merits ..

    1. I have been doing this for years using http://www.hermannseib.com/english/vsthost.htm which lets you map any game controller to any MIDI note/cc, great fun with joysticks. Also Reaper has several scripts for controllers built in and you can also roll your own in C if the pre loads aren’t to your liking. If they are the xbox flavor you will have to find the special driver for them, otherwise they are plug and play with vsthost.

      1. Does this program work with the newer RB4 PS4 Bluetooth drums? I’m looking to individually assign every button (pads,cymbals,bass pedal, & ps4 buttons) to it’s own output to use in Fl Studio. Makes me wonder if the only way to sync these drums with my laptop to work enjoyably, is to internally mod the drums and cross breed it with an actual ps4 control. I mean, the rock band drum kit is basically a ps4 controller.

  3. hey doods. i have successfully connected my RB4 PS4 drum kit to fl studio as a midi controller using a Bluetooth compatible laptop with NO LAG. There is some issues, though, that prevent the user from enjoying these drums as a quality midi controller:

    (PLEASE HELP)

    Here’s a video of me showcasing my issues:

    I’m dealing with lack of velocity sensitivity, signal sensitivity, and am unable to independently assign the cymbals to their own output signal as they share the same button signal as their corresponding colored drum pad. If anyone is interested in learning how to sync the drums with my laptop you can email me. (hwoodmike@gmail.com)

    All feedback, comments, questions & concerns are welcome. Thanks!

  4. hey guys
    I’ve successfully connected my drum pads to fl studio as a midi controller using a Bluetooth compatible laptop with Xpadder. NO LAG. It’s as easy as it sounds honestly. Though there is some issues that prevent the user from enjoying these drums as a quality midi controller. I made a video describing and quickly showcasing the 3 main issues i’m having, and so I’m looking for help from the reader. Any comments, opinions, concerns, ideas…are welcome and appreciated.
    Here’s my video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McqNob-lypI
    I’m dealing lack of velocity sensitivity, signal sensitivity, and am unable to independently assign the cymbals to their own output signal as they share the same button signal as their corresponding colored drum pad.

    I’m pretty sure that the RB drum set actually works like as a ps4 controller. With that in mind, im considering modding the drum set internally and re-routing the cymbals and drum pads to un-used buttons like R1,R2,L1,L2. But since those buttons are not on the actual drum pad i wonder if it’s even possible. I might have to take apart a PS controller and cross breed the two.

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