If anyone follows me on Twitter you’ll notice that I play an awful lot of XBox games but one in particular will crop up more often than not – Rock Band 3. I’m mad for it. I fell in love with Guitar Hero back on the PlayStation 2, but Rock Band takes the idea of pushing little buttons in time with music and evolves it beyond a simple game. The controllers for the third iteration of this series range from the usual simple coloured button layouts to more complex “real” instruments. These are in the form of a simple two octave keyboard and a 17 fret guitar with buttons for each fret/string combination and six nylon strings which you
pluck (pictured here as it’s easier than trying to describe it).

Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar
Rock Band 3 Pro Guitar

One of the things that always appealed to me about these, as a hobbyist musician, was that they had MIDI outputs on them – they could be used as controllers for MIDI devices or software. That’s a cool thing, as you can do some very interesting stuff this way.

Recently I’ve been playing around with GarageBand on my iPad, experimenting with loops and different sounds. Rock Band has revitalised my interest in playing keyboard (something I’ve not done for quite some time) so I wondered if there was a way to use the MIDI component of the controller to play these parts, rather than using the somewhat cumbersome touch screen piano roll.

The answer is – yes! But I had to try it for myself to see whether it worked or not. So, this post is a little “How To” to demonstrate it both working and show what components you need.

In a nutshell, the ingredients are:

These need to be chained together as you’d expect; the only catch out I found was that the MIDI connector you plug into the instrument needs to have “IN” written on it, rather than “OUT” (which is what I expected it to be).

I’ve also noticed that recording via MIDI seems to suck up more memory from my little iPad 1 than recording via touch screen. So, make sure you close any memory hungry apps before you have a go at this.

If you’ve already got the iPad and instruments, this shouldn’t set you back more than £30 for the connectors and App; not bad in my opinion. The one thing that this set up doesn’t give you over a touchscreen is the ability to fine tune notes, using the pitch slide on keys for example, or bending a note on guitar. But chords on the guitar and note runs on keys will be far more accurate this way.

I’ve made a bit of a video on YouTube showing this in action which I’ve embedded below – feel free to watch and let me know if this is useful to you!

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