How to Lay Drums on a PC Using a Joystick

Written by darhel baker
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How to Lay Drums on a PC Using a Joystick
Joysticks can be used as drum controllers. (joystick 1 image by danimages from

With the wide variety of plug-and-play options available today, it should come as no surprise that using a joystick to cut a drum track in your home recording or software synthesizer program is not too difficult a task.Though the option isn't immediately available and your joystick or game pad may not be directly compatible with your music program, daisy-chaining a few bits of software and using a simple device driver will have you pounding -or button mashing- away on your virtual drum kit in minutes.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • PC
  • Joystick or Game controller
  • USB adaptor (optional)
  • Keyboard-to-joystick mapping software
  • Virtual MIDI cable
  • Virtual keyboard software
  • Digital recording software w/soft-synth capabilites

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  1. 1

    Plug your joystick or game pad into one of the computer's USB inputs. Modern joysticks are usually USB-compatible, but you may have a favourite controller from a specific video game console you wish to use instead. Adaptors for many non-USB controllers can be purchased at and>

  2. 2

    Install keyboard-to-joystick mapping software. This is software that will allow you to assign keys on your keyboard to both the joystick or directional pad and buttons on your controller. Joy-to-Key and xRC Map are both popular freeware keyboard mapping programs that are capable of accomplishing this, and will remain active as long as they stay open.

  3. 3

    Download and install a virtual MIDI cable, a piece of driver software that connects virtual MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) instruments to synthesizer programs. You will need this to complete the chain from joystick-to-drum machine. Sony Creative Software, Maple and LoopBE provide free virtual MIDI cables. Maple is self-installing while Sony's and LoopBE will require you to go into your PC's hardware wizard, select it from a list of devices and restart your computer to install. When choosing a driver check the website's compatibility list to make sure the driver works with your version of Windows.

  4. 4

    Choose a virtual keyboard. Virtual keyboards are programs that enable you to play notes on an on-screen piano with your mouse or by pressing keys on your PC keyboard (they are also the programs that require the virtual MIDI cable). Having the keyboard-to-joystick mapping software open during usage will allow you to trigger the notes with the joystick and buttons on your game controller. Bome's Mouse Keyboard, RemPro's Live MIDI Keyboard and Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard are all available as freeware or in trial versions.

  5. 5

    Select your virtual MIDI cable as the output device on your virtual keyboard. All MIDI based virtual keyboards have this option, and should be available in the menu bar at the top of the main screen. This enables the software to talk to other programs with MIDI so it can control devices within them.

  6. 6

    Open your recording software, leaving the virtual keyboard and keyboard-to-joystick mapping software open. Pro-Tools, Reason and FL Studio are all programs that are capable of using outside MIDI devices and contain drum machines to be controlled by them. Select the virtual MIDI cable as the input device in your programs's MIDI device menu, and your joystick should now be in charge of any MIDI-reading device within your program, including the drum machines and samplers.

Tips and warnings

  • Adjusting the button set-up on your controller will require a few trial-and error attempts to get right, as you may have selected keys for it that don't actually trigger any noise in your soft-synth program.

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