Using a Roland SPD-11/20 to slave a TD-20

This article details step-by-step how to fire off a TD-20's percussion samples from an SPD-11 or SPD-20. The concepts work pretty much the same if using other modules or pad controllers as well.

Why bother?

The first question you might ask is 'why'? Why not just utilize the onboard sounds already present in the SPD-11? Well the short answer for *me* is that I already had an SPD-11 laying around from my first foray into electronic percussion back in the mid-90s but have since upgraded to a TD-20 which has much better sounds onboard than the SPD-11 and I would like to trigger those instead. Some other reasons and benefits for doing this though are:

  • Doesn't use up the mix-in bus of the TD-20 or require an external mixer to combine the two signals.
  • Doesn't use any DAC/ADCs if you use S/PDIF out of the TD-20 -- allows you to stay completely digital.
  • Doesn't require any level adjustments. This is a big one if you gig out or move your kit alot -- no need to mess around with the headphone out and mix-in trim knobs, the levels between the percussion instruments and the rest of the drumset are just always exactly the same.
  • Consistency of effects. Since the sounds are being triggered from within the TD-20, they use the same ambient and compression effects as the rest of the kit, allowing the two blend much more nicely. The overall effect is much more natural as you won't have a dry kit with an echoey woodblock, or a gong that's *way* louder then the rest of your kit, etc..

So enough yammering, how do we do it? Well, obviously this involves MIDI. If the mere mention of the word makes sweat appear on your brow, don't worry! This is much easier than you might think.

Making the physical connection

You're gonna need one MIDI cable, long enough to reach from the TD-20 to your pad controller. Since we'll be using the SPD-11 to slave the TD-20, the cable is routed from the MIDI 'out' of the SPD-11 to the MIDI 'in' of the TD-20. If you get these mixed up, here's how to think about it... when you strike the pad on the controller, you want the signal to go *out* of there and *into* the TD-20.

MIDI Out We go *out* of the SPD-11...
MIDI In ...and *into* the TD-20

Getting the two units talking to each other

In order for the TD-20 to understand what the SPD-11 is telling it to do, it needs to be listening on the same 'channel' that the SPD-11 is broadcasting on. By default, the TD-20's percussion group is listening on channel 11. You can determine if this is correct by going into Setup -> MIDI and locating 'percussion' in the list:

TD20 Channel Determining the MIDI channel that the TD-20 is listening on.

Now we need to get the pads on the SPD-11 to send on channel 11 as well. At this point you should choose a patch on the SPD unit that you will use for your MIDI performances. Any patch will do, but you may want to pick one that you don't mind editing as we'll be making some changes to it.
Use the 'select' button on the SPD-11 to move over the MIDI column, so that you are editing the 'TX CH' value. Strike the first pad and modify the TX CH value so that it reads '11' (mine was '10' by default). Now strike all the other pads in succession and change their values at once. (NOTE: each pad is capable of transmitting on different channels. You can capitalize on this by having some pads that fire off backing instruments, etc.. Were going to just assume you want all pads to fire off percussion for now though.)

SPD11 Channel Setting the MIDI channel that the SPS-11 transmits on.

At this point each pad should be firing off instruments on the TD-20 -- but you may have trouble hearing them as the level will be too low. What we need to do now is increase the level for each pad. To do this, edit the 'sens' value in the MIDI column and set it to the maximum of 15. Once again, strike each pad and make the same change as well. This will bring the volume of the percussion instruments up to the same level as the TD-20. A maximum strike on the pad controller will be comparable in value to a maximum strike on a trigger attached to the TD-20.

SPD11 Sensitivity Setting the sensitivity to the maximum value to match volume levels on the TD-20.

Selecting the instruments

So all that's left now is to choose the instruments you want to trigger and which pads to assign them to. The complete listing of available instruments is on pages 96 and 97 of the TD-20's owners manual. The numbers in the left column denote the MIDI note number. For instance, 38 is 'Tambourine2'. To trigger this, edit the 'Note #' parameter on the SPD-11, strike the pad you want to trigger the Tambourine from and set the value to '38'. Then continue to the other pads and select instruments for them as well.

SPD11 Note Selection Selecting MIDI note #38 (tambourine) on the SPD-11.

Layering sounds

The SPD-11/20 has two trigger banks, 'A' and 'B'. If you would like two instruments to fire at once when striking a particular pad, you can do so. Simply switch over to bank 'B' and perform the same setting changes as we did above (set the TX channel to 11, the sensitivity to 15 and the MIDI note # to whatever). Now you can fire off two MIDI notes at once. You can also adjust their level and panning independant of each other.. very cool.

That's it!

Really that's all there is to it. I hope this helped you in connecting your pad controller and module together via MIDI. Other units will use the same settings and nomencalture, so this is not limited to just the SPD-XX and TD-XX units. You can also daisy-chain pad controllers together to expand things even further, as well as fire off MIDI patterns and backing instruments within the TD-20.

Have fun!

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