How does MIDI work with E-Drums?

One of the most popular questions on my channel and website is: “How does MIDI work?”. There seems to be a lot of confusion on how it works and how to use it. Understanding MIDI is necessary to be able to work with sample software like EZdrummer, Superior Drummer or Addictive Drums, for recording or just to enjoy the high-quality drum sounds while playing e-drums. I try to explain it in a very simple way and I hope this text will help you to understand it once and for all.


When you hit your e-drum snare pad, the piezo picks up the “shock” and generates an electric signal. The module interprets that “hit-signal” and samples the snare sound, that you can hear in your headphones. The interpreted signal, also called “MIDI note”, is identified by a number. This could be 38 for your snare pad, 36 for the bass drum or 22 for the snare rim. The second information that a MIDI Signal contains, is the velocity, the strength with which you hit the pad. This number goes from 0-127. If you hit your pad hard, it will generate a velocity value of 127, if you hit it very lightly, it might only generate a MIDI note with the velocity of 50.

The module does not only assign a sound to the MIDI note (e.g. your favourite snare sound), it does also send the MIDI information to the MIDI/USB output.


But how does the MIDI note travel to your PC?

You will have to connect your e-drum module to your PC and there are only 3 different ways to do this.

1. MIDI-to-USB cable

A “MIDI-to-USB” cable is basically an adapter from MIDI plug to USB plug. It has 1 or 2 MIDI cables on one side and a USB cable on the other side. The most famous one is probably the Roland MK-122.

2. MIDI Interface
A MIDI interface is usually also known as an external sound card. It is connected to your PC via USB cable. The interface needs a MIDI input which will be connected to your e-drum module via MIDI cable. These interfaces do often have Audio inputs for microphones and guitars too. I am using this setup simply because I had the interface already laying around.

I recommend using the Steinberg UR22 MK2. A friend of mine has a great experience using this interface for triggering a sample software via e-drum set and even for recording guitars.

3. USB Cable

midi_e-drumsimg_1879Newer Modules like the Roland TD-11 or TD-25 do have a MIDI output and a direct USB port. This way the module can be connected to your PC directly via USB cable. The module itself becomes the MIDI interface. This is the best solution since it only requires a USB cable and nothing else.

A MIDI note can be generated by your e-drum module or even a piano. Make sure you install the particular driver for the interface (external or module) you are using. Most MIDI-interfaces will not be recognized without the interface driver installed.

What happens with the MIDI note inside your PC?


However, the PC needs to be able to do something with this MIDI note. And here comes EZdrummer2 or Superior Drummer.

Both EZdrummer and Superior Drummer can be used as standalone software, without any other application or loaded within a DAW (recording software e.g. Logic X, Cubase or Reaper).

The next step is basically selecting the input device(the interface) which is either your Roland module or the MIDI interface you are using.

Your MIDI note gets interpreted by EZdrummer2. The Software does the same job as your drum module. It interprets the MIDI note (note number & velocity value) and assigns a sound of the particular EZD instrument to it. This happens so fast, you won’t even notice a significant delay.

daw midi

Again: Snare hit on your e-pad > module generates a MIDI note with velocity information > module sends the MIDI note via USB cable or interface to your PC – Ezdrummer2 catches the MIDI note >EZD generates a matching sound according to the MIDI note value and velocity level > sends it out via speakers or headphone jack or writes it into the recording software.

Your DAW is recording the MIDI note. You don’t need to trigger EZdrummer. You can also trigger the digital piano of your DAW or even a trumpet. Whatever digital instrument you can find.

That is all. It is really not complicated.

Superior Drummer in action on a metal drum kit:



But what is that mysterious MIDI Input that some E-drum Modules have?

The TD-9, 12, 20 and 30 do not only have a MIDI output to send MIDI notes, they do also have an additional MIDI Input to receive MIDI notes. But how is that working you ask?

Assuming you have a TD-30 and want to connect more pads to it, but all trigger inputs are taken. Just get a second module like a TD-12, an Alesis Trigger I/O or even a Samplepad and use it as a “slave module”. All of them do have a MIDI output that can be connected to your module’s MIDI input.


That means your “slave-TD-12” is sending MIDI notes to your TD-30. The TD-30 contains a percussion set, an integrated extra set of digital instruments. The same story as above: You hit a cymbal pad that is connected to your TD-12, which generates a MIDI note and sends it to the TD-30. The TD-30 samples a percussion sound, that could be whatever TD-30 instrument you have assigned to it.

And this is how you extend your TD-30.

Let’s go totally crazy now: The MIDI note sent from the slave module and received by the TD-30 can even be sent further to the PC that is connected to the TD-30 USB/MIDI output. So the TD-30 only leads it through. This way your 2 modules become 1 unit. Both can trigger the same sample software.

I hope this has helped you to understand what possibilities you have with your E-drum kit by using its MIDI features.

Related Posts: 4 Ways to add more pads to your e-drumkit

Here is a video about the Roland TMC-6 slave module connected to the Roland TD-9:

And this video is about setting up EZdrummer2:

24 Replies to “How does MIDI work with E-Drums?”

  1. I have a Roland Octapad SPD-30 which has eight internal pads and connections for external snare, kick, ride and hi-hat with controller. I have external pads connected to all of these. The Octapad has MIDI in and out, and there are a set of pad configuration settings under a configuration group called “Percussion Set”. However, I cannot find any information in the manual or online that suggests that I can connect a MIDI trigger controller such as a TriggerIO or a TM-6 to the Octapad allowing me to connect more external pads (such as a set of two crash cymbals, for example) and use the internal sounds in the Octapad. I’m pretty sure the Octapad will pass-through MIDI data from the MIDI-in to the MIDI-out or USB, which I could then connect to a PC with VST such as EZ Drummer. But I don’t want to do that, I want to trigger internal sounds in the Octapad using external pads connected to the Trigger IO or TM-6.
    Do you know if this is even possible on the Octapad SPD-30? Everything I have read seems to suggest the Octapad internal sounds are only usable with the internal pads or its directly connected external pads.

  2. I have EzD2 on my laptop,connected through a Roland Um-one midi cable,going into a Roland td10 module. When I hit my pads the EzD2 software shows me hitting the correct drums,however there is no sound from my amp,just the laptop speakers. I hooked up an audio jack from the laptop to my module and now I have sound. My question is shouldn’t the sound come out through the Roland Um-one midi cable w/o using the audio jack? Is there a setup on my module I’m missing? Any help is appreciated. Thx

    • Hi Matt,

      maybe you should read the article again:) Midi is not audio. A midi cable cannot transport audio signals but Midi signals. I don’t know how your amp is connected, but normally you would connect the PC audio out to headphones or a mixing desk and then to an amp.

  3. I have a classic cantabile edrum set and I use a USB MIDI interface. The problem I am having is that the interface can not detect the edrums and only the red light goes on. The green one does not light up.

  4. Hi,
    I’m set up using a new Alesis Crimson II kit with the direct USB cable for MIDI connected to my laptop using Superior Drummer 3. Everything is working okay except latency is really bad (over 10ms) whether I use Windows Audio or DirectSound. Can I improve latency if I get an external USB sound card?

  5. Hey. I have a Konix Silicon Roll Up Drum Kit. But I’m unable to connect it as MIDI. It has USB cable as MIDI wire.

  6. Hi Marcel,

    Thanx for the blog, very informative, here is my question.

    I have a DDrum Trigger Interface that I wish to slave to a Roland TD-50 Module. First things first, is that possible?

    Secondly, I am hoping to max out all of the available inputs of the DDTI to basically build one monster of a Roland kit.

    If I can do that, Will there be any lag/latency issues in regards to playability with the TD-50 running all of the extra inputs and also do I need to worry about excess MB issues when it comes to saving the kits?

    I only ask, because The Alesis Strike is having a few issues with this, namely, there are not any extra MIDI notes that can be assigned to an external interface, and you are also hampered by a MB limit of 200MB total for any one kit.

    Any advice would be much appreciated.


  7. Hi Marcel,

    When using MIDI with my TD-17 I have to adjust pad settings;
    sensitivity, threshold etc. These settings are global and screw up my regular kits. Is there any way around this?

    Thanks for all informative and entertaining posts!

  8. So what happens at the end result after the signal goes through SD2 (or any other software) to an OUTPUT sound? Does that midi signal feed back through Midi Cable to the Roland Drum Module (which my Amp is connected to)? Or is there another device/setup to use between PC Software output to AMP. As mentioned currently Amp is connected to Roland Drum Module. Thanks

  9. Question, how would I use my V-drums TD11Kv to trigger samples in Ableton? I want to use Ableton Drum Racks w/ my E-kit. Having trouble mapping it. Thanks!

  10. Hi Marcel,

    First of all congratulations. And thanks for all the help already given to me through your articles and videos.

    One “simple” question / request of help… =)

    Here is my starting point:
    – TD-17 (handling all the pads that come with it)
    – TD-4 (handling as many pads as I can… old ones)
    – MacBookAir with 2 USB ports and EZDrummer2 (+metal machine xts)
    – PreSonus iTwo AudioBox (1 MIDI IN / 1 MIDI OUT)
    – iConnectivity Mio 1×1 midi to usb

    Here is my goal: to have a “huge metal drum kit” sounding on EZD2 that I could then send to my DAW to record or just play on my PA.

    I have some ideas for working this out (I’m flying back home at the end of the month so it’s just “ideas” for now):

    IDEA #1:
    1. Connect TD-17 directly via MIDI-USB to my Mac.
    2. Connect TD-4 via MIDI-DIN to PreSonus midi IN.
    3. Connect PreSonus midi OUT using the Mio1x1 to my Mac.
    4. Hope that EZD2 recognizes both midi signals into one kit… I’ve been told it’s possible if I change MIDI numbers (notes) on the TD-4.
    5. Have my monitoring (headphones) coming from the PreSonus and also the output in case I want to connect to the PA.

    IDEA #2:
    1. Buy a MIDI merger and 2 midi cables and connect both modules to the MIDI IN of the PreSonus (go all MIDI-DIN).
    2. Don’t know if the PreSonus USB signal already transmits to my Mac the MIDI signal. If not, use the Mio1x1 to go there. Shouldn’t have problems EZD2 recognizing the signal, as is coming from just one source.
    3. Have my monitoring (headphones) coming from the PreSonus and also the output in case I want to connect to the PA.

    IDEA #3:
    1. Buy a USB 3.0 hub (powered) and go all MIDI-USB.
    2. Connect TD-4 to the port using the Mio1x1.
    3. Connect TD-17 to the port using the MIDI-USB signal.
    4. Hope that EZD2 recognizes both midi signals into one kit.
    5. Have my monitoring (headphones) coming from the PreSonus and also the output in case I want to connect to the PA (it will be connected to the second USB port of my Mac)… but I’m not sure if it will get anything from there, as nothing is plugged in directly to it, just my Mac.

    IDEA #4:
    1. Forget about PreSonus =( … it was handy
    2. Go from my modules to my USB ports (TD4 using the Mio1x1).
    3a. Not having the ability to go at the same time to Headphones and PA. 3b. Buy a splitter for the simple jack in the Mac, and hope it will handle well the sound coming out from the computer.
    3c. Go through a simple mixer (guess there’s an old one somewhere around my house) and handle all the outputs from there.

    Okay… Looks like a puzzle but it’s a very interesting challenge to me! Hope you can help me.



  11. What I dont understand why I need a slave unit to send Midi notes back to TD-30. That’s why came here trying to find a way to invoke the module sounds rather than Logic drum sounds with the midi I recorded.

    SO I can record midi playing Vdrums, I can hear Vdrum sound while playing but to playback I need to use a virtual instrument inside Logic.
    I don’t want it, I want Logic to use my TD-30 sound while playback and ultimately I want that sound to be recorded as audio… I already have Midi Out and Thru connection through USB. What should be the Logic settings or TD-30 if necessary…

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