Quick Tip: Re-Mapping MIDI Notes on MPC Drum Kits

By MPC-Tutor | Last modified: May 29, 2021 | 1 Comment

  • MPC Model: MPC One, MPC Live (I & II), MPC X, MPC Software 2.8, MPC Beats
  • Also Requires: External keyboard or pad controller
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Estimated Completion Time: 30 mins

These days a lot of MPC users are attaching MIDI keyboards to their MPCs, which are perfect for playing expressive, multi-octave instrument parts. One thing they are quickly discovering is that while keyboards work really well for plugins and keygroup programs, they experience a strange mapping issue if they ever try playing MPC ‘DRUM’ program using their keyboard. So why is this happening and how can we fix this?

The Crazy MIDI Layout For DRUM Programs

The problem is down to the default MIDI note mapping found in MPC ‘DRUM’ programs (this is the default type of program used for building drum kits). While keygroup and plugin programs use a standard ‘chromatic’ MIDI note layout identical to what you would expect when playing a keyboard, DRUM programs use a layout that seems based on a General MIDI Drum standard (I’ve added the GM instruments in green below):

This is same MIDI layout used by every MPC since the MPC60. The problem is that this layout isn’t particularly intuitive for finger drumming and it also isn’t typically compatible with the way most modern kits tend to be set up. Consider a very basic MPC kit, with kick, snare, closed hat and open hat assigned to pads A1 to A4 (a very common layout), and some chromatically mapped bass tones assigned to pads A5 to A8 (because MPC DRUM programs are often used for musical one shots as well!):

When this kit is played on the MPC pads, there’s no problem – the drums run in the order you set them to, as do the bass tones. But on a MIDI keyboard, the sample order is all over the place, just take a look at the first octave on a keyboard, starting at C1:

Owners of keyboards with built in pads (such as the Akai MPK and Arturia Minilab) experience similar issues as the pads on these controllers will be set to play chromatically, often starting at MIDI note C1, so again, there will be empty pads and an unintuitive order for the samples that are present. So what’s the solution?

Editing the MPC Program’s Note Mapping

It’s actually quite easy to completely re-map the MIDI notes on an existing MPC Drum kit, but you’ll need to be running MPC 2.8 or greater. In a standalone MPC such as the MPC One, MPC X or MPC Live, make sure the program you wish to edit is assigned to the current sequencer track in MAIN and hit the ‘pencil‘ icon at the end of the program row. Select ‘Edit Pad Map‘:

While in the MPC Software and MPC Beats, simply go to Edit > Program > Note Mapping:

While you can change the MIDI note for each pad individually, it’s quicker to use one of the presets. Typically I would use CHROMATIC C1 for an MPC drum kit, as this will assign midi notes to the pads in a chromatic order starting with note C1 (36) on pad A01. With our basic DRUM program remapped to ‘CHROMATIC C1’, the kit will now look like this on a MIDI keyboard:

Now the MIDI keys run in the same order as the MPC pads (i.e. kick, snare, closed hat, open hat, bass tones 1, 2, 3 and 4), which makes it much easier to play on a MIDI keyboard.  And if you have built-in pads on your keyboard these should also now mirror the mapping found on the MPC pads (if it doesn’t check out the ‘Re-mapping An External Controller‘ section below).

After editing the MIDI mapping of your pads, save this as a separate ‘chromatic’ copy of your kit and you’re all done. The whole process should only take a few seconds. It is worth noting that re-assigning MIDI notes on a program will mean any sequencer tracks that were recorded using the old kit layout will no longer play in the correct order, so it’s best to edit program note mapping before you record any sequences with it (or retain the original version of the kit for these existing sequences).

Chromatic Program Templates

Unfortunately there is currently no way to choose CHROMATIC C1 as the default layout for a new MPC drum kit, so either get into the habit of editing the MIDI mapping as soon as you create a new DRUM kit, or set up a project template that already contains blank ‘chromatic’ DRUM programs.

To create a project template, first start with a new blank project and set up your preferred project configuration, i.e. pre-define your favourite track order, track configuration parameters, preferred FX inserts and returns, submixes, output routings etc. Make sure you assign a blank ‘chromatic C1’ DRUM program to one of the DRUM tracks. When you save this project, check the ‘Save As Template‘ box on the ‘Save As’ screen. You can then configure this as the default project template in MENU > PREFERENCES > PROJECT LOAD/SAVE

Re-mapping External Pad Controllers?

If your keyboard controller has a set of pads you could instead re-map the MIDI note layout of these pads to match the default MPC DRUM program layout. Most controllers can do this either via a software app or within the controller itself. I have an Akai MPK249 which already had an ‘MPC Essentials’ preset with the 16 pads mapped to the ‘classic’ MPC MIDI note layout.

The MPC Bible

You can learn more tricks like this in my complete tutorial course for all modern standalone MPCs, The MPC Bible, where you’ll learn how to master the MPC through a series of hands-on, step by step tutorials.

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