this space intentionally left blank

December 11, 2005

Filed under: music»tools»excel

The beat goes on

I don't want to turn this into an Excel-hacking extravaganza, but a visitor by the name of Andrew has turned DrumPad into a full-fledged drum machine, albeit one that currently supports only one pattern.

I couldn't resist, I modified it and turned it into a mini sequencer (attached). Just put 1's in the ticks that should trigger the hit, and hit play. Feel free to post it if you like!

I might expand it to handle multiple patterns, and let you arrange the patterns in a song. Pity I can't figure out how to alter the velocity of the wav.

Hey, I'm still impressed. To run this, you'll need the samples and bass.dll from DrumPad. You can grab Andrew's spreadsheet sequencer here. I'm going to have to move this stuff into the music directory once the link hubbub dies down, because it's not really gaming-related anymore.

December 9, 2005

Filed under: music»tools»excel

DrumPad.xls alpha

Download DrumPad here.

Minimum system requirements:

  • Microsoft Excel 97 or better
  • A computer capable of playing sound

Recommended system requirements:

  • All of the above plus a wireless controller of some kind.
  • ControlMK for mapping joypads to the keyboard.


  • Practically no configuration options whatsoever! It's an alpha, everything's in the code right now. The good news is there's nothing you can't change.
  • Play the drums on your computer! Oddly enough, finding free software to do this is surprisingly difficult.
  • Impress your friends! The idea that someone would build this kind of thing in the Office suite should provide at least 15 seconds of amusement to fellow corporate drones.
  • Impress me! Nothing says "I trust Thomas as a random stranger on the Internet" like opening your computer to a possible macro virus.

Installation notes:

Included in this archive is the bass.dll, which performs sound decoding and mixing for DrumPad. You'll need to put this somewhere that Windows can find it--the /WINDOWS or /WINNT directory will work fine. Not included are samples, because I don't want to be distributing possibly copyrighted or credited audio. However, I've been testing it using recordings of the Korg DDM-110 drum machine, which I found here. Just extract the samples from that page into the same directory as the Excel file, and it should work fine. If you want to use another kit, you can close the DrumPad subwindow and press ALT-F11 to enter the VBA editor. This is also currently the only way to change keymappings. The next version will allow you to alter the configuration from a GUI, and store it in the main worksheet.

Operating instructions:

Opening the sheet, assuming that you've enabled macros, automatically launches the DrumPad window. As long as you've got that pretty drumkit as your active window, the keyboard will trigger samples. Out of the box, the bindings are mapped as:

  • Spacebar - kick drum
  • F or J - snare drum
  • K - High tom
  • D - Low tom
  • G - Rimknock
  • H - Closed hat
  • U - Open hat
  • L - Clap
  • I - Cymbal
There are two keys for the snare so that you can theoretically do rolls and faster rhythms. To control the drums with a gamepad, use ControlMK to map the buttons to the appropriate keystrokes. I like to put the kick on the triggers, the toms and snare on the buttons for the right thumb, and the cymbal/hats and snare on the d-pad for the left thumb.

Hints and tips:

The first thing that you are going to notice is that you're not any good. Don't feel bad--this is a very difficult instrument, and you're lucky: you've probably played computer games that required you to chord and type right under your fingers. Real drummers have to have this kind of coordination across their whole body. It's fun to mock drummers ("What do you usually find on a drummer's music stand?" "Drool."), but we do have to respect at least the process behind the instrument.

That being said, let's start out with a very simple rhythm. We'll call this the "Meg White:" start hitting the kick drum on quarter notes ("1, 2, 3, 4"), and then add a snare hit on the 1 and the 3. Toss in some cymbals and you've now got just about every White Stripes beat up through Elephant. Try playing along with some .mp3s. It's simple, but it feels good, doesn't it?

Now let's shift things up and try a stereotypical rock beat. This will involve three rhythms. The first is a closed hat every eighth note ("1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and"). The second is a bass drum on every quarter note (or on every other hat beat, "1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and"). Finally, you want to add a snare accent on every other quarter note, which shuffles really well on the 2 and the 4 ("1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and"). This will take you a few minutes to get everything moving in concert, but it'll be instantly familiar when you do.

On a more technical note, I recommend using gamepads with all-digital controls for input, if possible. Your goal should be as precise as possible, and the throw of an analog trigger or stick makes it difficult to judge when the drum will respond. xBox triggers register halfway through their travel, which is not too bad but still not optimal. A PS2 controller is better, but may be intimidating for non-gamers (or even some gamers who don't have Sony consoles). My best recommendation, honestly, is an SNES pad, which includes triggers for the kick, plenty of other options for the sticks, but only as much as you could need.

Good luck, and feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions or comments. Work will continue on upgrades as I experiment with the controls and different musical combinations.

Future - Present - Past