Rocking out to Guitar Hero on my Roland TD4

As many of you know, I own a Mapex Venus drumkit. It's a brilliant kit with a fantastic set of cymbals as well – but it does have on annoying problem: it's loud. Drums don't come with much volume control and it limits my practise times quite a lot in order not to bother the neighbours.

So on Saturday I expanded to a Roland TD4 electronic kit. Which is quite awesome (when it comes to electronic drumkits Roland and Yamaha are just about the best there is) and has the advantage that it can play into headphones. 

This being in place, an odd thought occurred to me shortly after – my geeky side came out and I found myself wondering if I could use this proper electronic drumkit to play rockband or guitar hero on the xbox as opposed to the crappy toy-kits they come with. 

A bit of googling confirmed this could be done. The more recent toy-kits have midi-inputs which can be connected to the drumkit's midi-output to play through – all you need to do is remap the midi-numbers to the same ones the controllers expect. On the Roland this is quite easy as midi-remapping is a standard feature (further googling taught me that many people who use less advanced electronic drumkits use PC's with midi-in-out as an intermediary to alter the numbers from what the kits output to what the controllers expect).

There is also a specialized and dedicated midi-input port on the market but I couldn't find any vendors who sold those in South Africa. So I hopped on gumtree and started looking for a second hand rock-band or guitar hero drum-set – I quickly located a logitech one, which even came with guitar-hero 5 included and bought it cheaply second-hand (after verifying that it did have a midi-input).

I took the wireless controller from it, hooked it up to my drumkit via midi, and fired up the drumkit. I then took my preferred kit configuration (the "Heavy" one) and copied it over to a new one I named "Guitar H". Then I went into the midi numbers on the menu – most were already the same, but I had to change a few of them. Since the Roland also has rather more drums than the xbox kit has, I mapped some of the others to be duplicates for some features (one blue-tom, two green toms, and two orange-cymbals). The whole process took about 5 minutes.

Then I fired up guitar hero, and started playing. It was awesome, but the TV sound of the songs soon had a bothersome neighbour complaining about drumming at night again. At first I was sad – after all the whole point of the Roland was to allow me to play without bugging the neighbours. 

For an experiment I played a bit with the TV on mute, this worked but it kind of sucked, sure you can play to the visual cues only but you lose the fun of playing along with a favourite song. Then I had a great follow up idea, I was already using my head-phones along with the TV sound so I could hear the kits' best simulations rather than the (less impressive) simulations in the game. I took a two-way jack cable and ran it from the TV to the drumkit's mix-in port. 

A quick test confirmed, I could mute the speakers on the TV while piping the sound into the drumkit to be mixed in with whatever I was playing and get all the sound nicely mixed together into a pair of good quality head-phones.

I was having some fun, and even my new drum teacher thinks it's a valuable way to get in extra practise (particularly on timing), and the setup is effectively silent (apart from the the sound of the sticks hitting the pads which is really quite soft) unless you turn up the sound on the TV. So should Caryn want to listen in, she can do that at a low volume (for example).

All in all, the entire setup took only a little bit of time, and it works very nicely. Not to mention the sensitivity on the roland kit is much better than on the crappy xbox controller kit (I tried it once just to see) which means much fewer problems of not scoring for a note I did in fact hit.

  • Jon

    Thanks for posting! This is exactly what I will be trying to do. After two years, do you have any updated pointers or tips? :)

    Jon ( jm(dot)horvatin(at)gmail(dot)com )