Programming the MSA-P and your drum brain for use with Rock Band


This is part 7 of the Using an electronic drum kit with Rock Band FAQ.

The MSA-P is a flexible MIDI decoder that can perform a number of different functions.  Now that your drum controller has been modified and your MSA-P has been built out, you're almost done.  Now, we just need the MSA-P to be configured for our special use case, which is that we want it to decode the notes coming from our electronic drum kit and trigger the inputs of the Rock Band drum controller.  Here's how we going about doing just that.

Get your computer ready to program the MSA-P

Connect your M-Audio Uno USB (which you bought from the shopping list, right?) to a USB port on your computer. 

If you have Windows XP, you will need to install the drivers that came with the M-Audio Uno USB.  If you have Windows Vista, you don't need to install any drivers.  It will just start working.

Now, download Bome's SendSX program and install it.  We will use this program to send the command to the MSA-P through the M-Audio Uno USB.

Figure out what command to send the MSA-P

Everything here is documented in the MSA-P manual.  I'm just going to give you the abbreviated version.

The command you are going to send does three major things.

  1. It tells the MSA-P how to behave when it receives a MIDI note.  In our case, we ask the MSA-P to produce fixed width pulses so that we can use the pulses to trigger the controller inputs on the Rock Band controller.
  2. For each output of the MSA-P, it tells the MSA-P what MIDI note should activate it.
  3. It tells the MSA-P how long each fixed width pulse should be.  Some generally accepted testing amongst the community has determined 25ms to be a good length.  However, I have been informed by at least one PS3 modder that a 40ms length was required for his controller mod.

Here's an example SYSEX command.  I'm going to break this down for you.

Header: F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 26 03 30 03 2D 03 29 03 24 03 00 03 00 03 00 00 31 F7

Nothing to change here.

Outputs (8 total): F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 26 03 30 03 2D 03 29 03 24 03 00 03 00 03 00 00 31 F7

OK…this is worth explaining.  There are 8 2-byte pairs here…each representing one of the eight outputs on the MSA-P.  The first byte of each pair represents the output mode.  In our case, it will always be "Note Trigger – Fixed Length" and hence always be "03".  The second byte represents the MIDI note which will trigger this output.  This is what you need to pay attention to.

Pulse length: F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 26 03 30 03 2D 03 29 03 24 03 00 03 00 03 00 00 31 F7

This number represents a 25ms pulse.  A 40ms pulse would be 00 4F.

Footer: F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 26 03 30 03 2D 03 29 03 24 03 00 03 00 03 00 00 31 F7

Again, nothing to change here.

Drum Kit Note Numbers

The following list shows what MIDI note numbers represent the different drums in your Roland kit.  Below is what represents the mapping for my Roland TD-3 … your mappings may be different.

The strikethroughs in particular instruments represent "edge" or "rim" shots produced by hitting the edges of the pads on your kit.  Rock Band really has no concept of this, and the last thing we went is the occasional off center hit to not register as an actual hit in the game.  So we need to remap the edge/rim shots to the "primary" instrument note number.  Please follow the instructions for your drum brain to do this.

The italicized instruments don't really have a clear equivalent in Rock Band (that I can see).

The bolded instruments have obvious equivalents in Rock Band.

  • 22 – CLOSED HI-HAT (Edge)
  • 26 – OPEN HI-HAT (Edge)
  • 36 – KICK
  • 38 – SNARE (Head)
  • 40 – SNARE (Rim)
  • 41 – TOM 3
  • 42 – CLOSED HI-HAT (Bow)
  • 44 – PEDAL HI-HAT
  • 45 – TOM 2
  • 46 – OPEN HI-HAT (Bow)
  • 48 – TOM 1
  • 49 – CRASH 1 (Bow)
  • 51 – RIDE (Bow)
  • 52 – CRASH 2 (Edge)
  • 53 – RIDE (Edge)
  • 55 – CRASH 1 (Edge)
  • 57 – CRASH 2 (Bow)

Rock Band instrument mappings

Remember, Rock Band has only five lanes in the game, but in reality there are more instruments than that in each song.  So what ends up happening is that multiple instruments are mapped into the same color lanes.

Fortunately, Rock Band does tend to map multiple instruments into the same lanes consistently, with few exceptions.

  • Red – Snare
  • Yellow – Closed Hi-Hat, Tom 1
  • Blue – Ride, Open Hi-Hat, Tom 2
  • Green – Crash 1, Crash 2, Tom 3
  • Orange – Kick 

Let's outline the approach we are going to take to remapping.  First, we need to identify five primary instruments, one for each lane in Rock Band, whose notes will trigger the outputs on the MSA-P.  We will pick one instrument for each color.

Let's use the following instruments. 

  • 36 – KICK
  • 38 – SNARE (Head)
  • 41 – TOM 3
  • 45 – TOM 2
  • 48 – TOM 1

In hex, this is

  • 24 – KICK
  • 26 – SNARE (Head)
  • 29 – TOM 3
  • 2D – TOM 2
  • 30 – TOM 1

And ordered by drum color, it is

  • Red – 26 – SNARE (Head)
  • Yellow  – 30 – TOM 1
  • Blue – 2D – TOM 2
  • Green – 29 – TOM 3
  • Orange – 24 – KICK

So now we have our SYSEX command.  It is:

F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 26 03 30 03 2D 03 29 03 24 03 00 03 00 03 00 00 31 F7

Save this for later use.  Also note that the last three outputs of the MSA-P are unused…hence the three "00".

MSA-P – Send the SYSEX command to it from your PC

Connect the MIDI Out of the M-Audio UNO USB (which is somewhat confusingly labeled as "To MIDI IN") to the MIDI In port of the MSA-P.

Connect your MSA-P to your modified drum controller using a standard CAT-5 cable.

Remember, we are powering the MSA-P from the drum controller.  So make sure your drum controller is connected to your XBox 360.  Then turn on the XBox 360.  The LED on the MSA-P should light up green when powered up.

Run SendSX.

From the Midi Out menu, select the "USB Uno MIDI Interface".

Cut and paste the SYSEX command you generated above into the Midi Out window on the left hand side.

Click Send.

There will be no indication of success from the PC side, but once you send the command to the MSA-P, the green LED on the MSA-P will blink 3 times in quick succession.  Depending on whether your MSA-P is sitting inside an enclosure, you may or may not be able to see this happen.

MSA-P – Set to listen on a specific MIDI channel

The standard MIDI channel for drums is 10.  By default, that's the MIDI channel your drum brain will be outputting on.  So, following the instructions in the MSA-P manual, you want to physically set DIP switches 1-4 on SW1 on the MSA-P board to the following:

  1. ON
  2. OFF
  3. OFF
  4. ON

MSA-P – Connect to your drum brain and test

Now, disconnect the M-Audio Uno USB from the MSA-P and use the MIDI cable you purchased from the shopping list to connect your MSA-P to the MIDI Out of your drum brain.

With the MSA-P now connected to the drum brain, if everything is working properly, you should now be able to navigate into Rock Band with your drum controller and play the game with your electronic drum set.  Only the five instruments you've mapped so far will play in the game.

Drum brain – Remap note numbers

But wait, there's still more.  You can, and probably should, reprogram the drum brain so that all of the non-primary instruments are mapped to one of the primary instruments of the same color that Rock Band uses.  And we still need to fix the edge hits so that they trigger in the game as well.  That way we can hit the "correct" instrument on the drum kit, rather than limiting ourselves to the five Rock Band drum colors, and still trigger the correct color drum in the game.

Any instrument that is bolded in the first list, but not a primary instrument, needs to have its note number remapped to the primary instrument of its color.  The following is for a Roland TD-3 … your settings may depend on your drum brain.

  • 42 – CLOSED HI-HAT (Bow) -> 48 (Yellow)
  • 46 – OPEN HI-HAT (Bow) -> 45 (Blue)
  • 51 – RIDE (Bow) -> 45 (Blue)
  • 49 – CRASH 1 (Bow) -> 41 (Green)
  • 57 – CRASH 2 (Bow) -> 41 (Green)

And any edge variation needs to be mapped to the primary color instrument as well

  • 40 – SNARE (Rim) – > 38 (Red)
  • 22 – CLOSED HI-HAT (Edge) -> 48 (Yellow)
  • 26 – OPEN HI-HAT (Edge) -> 45 (Blue)
  • 53 – RIDE (Edge) -> 45 (Blue)
  • 55 – CRASH 1 (Edge) -> 41 (Green)
  • 52 – CRASH 2 (Edge) -> 41 (Green)

Use these remappings on your drum brain and you should notice that all of your cymbals and pads now trigger the correct lanes in Rock Band.

Drum brain – adjust crosstalk and mask time settings

Crosstalk refers to vibrations from hitting one pad reverberating through the stand and triggering another pad.  In Rock Band this is especially bad because it will break your streak.  Once I realized I had crosstalk issues, I checked the crosstalk for each pad, adjusted the setting, and my scores went way up.  Be sure you save yourself the trouble and check for crosstalk issues ahead of time.

Most drum brains have adjustable per pad crosstalk settings, but the way to configure it is specific to each drum brain.  Just be sure to read your instruction manual.  Simply watch your drum brain and give each pad several especially strong hits.  If your drum brain indicates that a pad other than the one you hit registered its own hit, then you'll need to adjust the crosstalk settings.  On my Roland TD-3 drum brain, you adjust the crosstalk setting of the pad that is registering the erroneous extra hit.

Mask time is a setting which prevents extra notes from the same pad that appear too soon after an original hit from registering.  Basically, the assumption that is that another hit within the mask time of an original hit must be accidental or a mistriggered extra hit.  Again, this is adjustable per pad.  Personally, I haven't found changing this setting to be necessary.

There are other settings to play with, but I'll leave those to you to explore.  In Rock Band, crosstalk is the important issue you'll want to address proactively.


That's it…your MSA-P and drum kit should now be configured properly.  Use the above as a guide to go back and tweak your settings further, if needed.  Congratulations…and get ready for a truly rewarding musical and gaming experience!

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