How to use a Yamaha DD-5 to trigger a Korg Volca Beats

There are lots of old Yamaha DD-5 drum machines available very cheaply. I just had a quick look on eBay and there are four of five all for around £20-30. We actually got this one for free as my girlfriend works in a music shop, someone tried to sell it to them but since it has no resale value they didn’t purchase it. At the end of a fruitless day trying to sell it to other music shops, he came back and gave it to them because it wasn’t even worth him carrying it home!

They’re essentially cheap toys. The sounds are bad but they do have some retro charm. The potentially useful thing about them is that they do have a midi output, which made me wonder if I could use it as a set of midi drum pads to trigger a decent sounding drum machine such as the Korg Volca Beats.

By default the pads send the notes A1, E2, A2 and D#3 which is not much use. It is possible to change these notes (read how in the manual here) but it’s a bit fiddly since there is no screen. This was the first thing I tried and I got it working, however I was disappointed to find that when you turn the DD5 off and on again all these changes are lost, so it’s a bit of a waste of time.

So the next obvious thing to try is to remap the midi notes it sends using Logic. This way when the DD5 sends A1, I can convert it to C1 so it triggers the kick sound on the Volca.

Instructions on how to do this are below, or if you prefer you can just download my working Logic Project file here and play around with it.

Obviously first you need to connect the MIDI OUT of the DD5 to the midi input of your soundcard/interface and the MIDI IN of the Volca to the output.

First step was to check/set the midi channel on the DD-5 which is not too complicated. Hold down PAD ASSIGN and press TEMPO UP/DOWN to change it or press TEMPO UP and DOWN at the same time to set it to 1. (Since there’s no screen I use Midi Monitor to check what’s going on). I set it to 1 for simplicity. Then I set the Korg Volca Beats to receive on channel 1 too – hold down MEMORY while the Volca is turned off and then turn it on and you will see the channel displayed on the screen. Select channel 1 by pressing Kick then press play and record at the same time to save.

Then in Logic create a new Software Instrument track and choose ‘External Instrument’ as the plugin. (Important: dont create an External Instrument track as you can’t use MIDI FX such as ChordTrig on them.) For MIDI Destination select your soundcard, for MIDI channel select 1 and for input select 1. Then on the track between the External Instrument plugin and the EQ you’ll see ‘MIDI FX’. Click this and choose ChordTrig. Select Multi, double click Clear to get rid of any default mapping. Then Click learn. Now for each note from the DD-5 (A1, E2, A2 and D#3) you need to select it on the top keyboard then choose a note to map it to on the lower keyboard. To map them to the Korg Volca Beats Kick, Handclap, High Tom and Closed Hats sounds I use A1>C1 , E2>D#1 , A2>D2 and D#3>F#1. Unclick learn and close ChordTrig. Now try hitting your DD5 – hopefully it’ll be triggering the Korg!

If you want to link the DD5 pads to other Volca sounds, here is a full list of the Korg Volca Beats midi notes and numbers:

KICK C1 36
CLAP D#1 39
LO TOM G1 43
CRASH C#2 49
HI TOM D2 50

Of course you could use this method to trigger any synth or drum machine software instrument on Logic or any external synth or drum machine that receives midi.

If you use Reason rather than Logic, this blog shows you how to do the same thing.