10 Tips for Writing MIDI Drums in REAPER

January 27, 2023

This is how I program MIDI drums in REAPER ✨

📒 In this video:

1. Renaming notes

2. Rearranging notes

3. Different ways to display

4. Custom drum view

5. Insert notes in one click

6. Quick ways to adjust velocity

7. Quick way to adjust grid

8. Paint notes

9. Select notes in pattern

10. Humanize

1. Renaming Notes

First, I like to work using named notes instead of a piano roll. I find it super useful to see the names of the actual drum parts.

You can press alt/opt + 2 to switch to named notes.

Then double right click to rename them accordingly.

You can save this by clicking on File > Save notes/CC names to file. This way you can just load it next time without having to do it all over again.

Now, doing all of this manually can be very time consuming. Luckily there’s a good chance that someone already did it for you and uploaded it on the internet!

If you go to there’s a MIDI drum map section where you can find a lot of drum maps for different drum kits. Just go to the category and do a search for the drum kit you are using, and load this file into REAPER.

It’s usually very well labeled! Feel free to do your own tweaks, and save those changes.

One cool thing is that you only have to load the drum map once. All other MIDI items in your track will start using that.

Another cool thing, is that if you save this track as a template, it will also remember the drum map next time you load it!

2. Rearranging notes

Once you have your drum map, one of my favorite things in REAPER is that you can rearrange the notes without having to remap anything.

Why is this cool? So…

GM mapping is the standard MIDI mapping for drums. Most people use this. Most drum MIDI libraries use it. It’s perfect for collaborating and it just has all the benefits of being the standard.

The big downside of the GM mapping is that the note order may not make so much sense in the MIDI editor. As a result, people often remap things and create custom mappings, which can become quite messy.

For example, it may make sense for you to have your snare on the bottom and your kick on the top. Or you can have your toms in the middle and your cymbals on the last row.

So, the beautiful thing about this REAPER feature is that, you can reorder this however you want and still be using the standard GM mapping.

To do this you hold cmd on mac or ctrl on windows and drag the note up and down.

When this feature was introduced I was so relieved. Because I started using more and more libraries and all of them had different mappings and it made it difficult to switch from drumkit to drumkit. So now I just set them all to GM mapping and all of my MIDI drums will work with any of my libraries.

Now, once you are done rearranging your notes, again you can go to File > Save notes/CC names to file and save those changes. And next time you load it, it will remember the names and the way you arranged it.

And again these changes will also be saved in your track template.

3. Note Display

There’s three ways you can display notes in REAPER.

If you go to View > Piano Roll Notes, you can either choose Rectangles, Triangles, or Diamonds. You should also find these in your default toolbar icons.

Now, this is a matter of preference, but my favorite is Diamond. I spent most of my life using Rectangles, and sometimes I find myself going back to it, mostly cause it looks the cleanest to me.

The problem with rectangles though is that sometimes you want to put notes next to each other and they overlap in length. So you have to change the length and it just becomes too distracting to my workflow.

With diamonds, you don’t have to worry about length. You can just insert it and focus on where the hits go. And that’s a better experience for me.

In this same View menu, there’s some extra things that you can change about the way your notes are displayed.

You can show note names. Which is very helpful if you have a drum map.

I would suggest disabling show velocity handles on notes. I think it gets in the way a lot of times. I will later show you some tips for velocity.

Another one I use a lot is alternating between coloring by pitch or velocity. I have these two actions in my toolbar. And most times I like to color by pitch, I find that it helps me a lot identifying the drum parts.

4. Custom Drum View

With all these settings you can change, the beauty of REAPER is that you can combine all tweaks into a single button.

What I mean is that you can setup a custom action that will change the MIDI editor layout to something that makes more sense for drums.

So, normally you’d have this layout, I call it piano mode, where you have your rectangles and the piano.

Then I can switch into drum mode, where it will change the layout to named notes, and instead of rectangles I get diamonds. On top of that, and this is optional, it will hide all of the unnamed notes.

It’s super nice that I can go back and forth with these. It makes it straight forward whenever I open the MIDI editor, I can choose to either be piano mode or drum mode.

Let me show you how to set that up.


To do this, we need to create two custom actions one for your piano mode and one for your drum mode. For this we go to the Actions menu and select New action… > New custom action.

Let’s make the drum mode first, then piano mode.


In here we will stack the following actions:

  • View: Show events as diamonds (drum mode)
  • Mode: Drum Map
  • View: Hide unused and unnamed note rows.
    (This one is optional, if you prefer it to show all notes, you can ignore this one.)

Press OK.


In here we will stack these actions:

  • View: Show events as rectangles (normal mode)
  • Mode: Piano Roll
  • View: Show all note rows

Press OK, and now the two custom actions that you just made should appear in your actions list.

Search for them and you can either set a shortcut to it. Or what I prefer is placing it in the MIDI toolbar. To do that, right click in an empty field of the MIDI editor toolbar, and click “Customize toolbar”. You can add the action in here and set a toolbar icon for it.

Once it’s setup you should now be able to easily switch into drum mode any time you are dealing with drums!

5. Inserting MIDI notes in one click

By default, the way you have to insert notes in the MIDI editor in REAPER is by clicking and dragging a bit. This can definitely slow you down when writing drums, especially when you need to quickly insert multiple notes in one after the other.

Luckily it’s an easy fix.

Go to Preferences > Mouse Modifiers, in the Context menu, select MIDI Piano Roll, left click.

Double click on the default action and select “Insert note > just insert

Now you should be able to insert notes in the MIDI editor in just one click.

You may now wonder “how do I unselect notes now?”. You can just press shift + click anywhere in an empty field of the MIDI editor.

6. Quick way to adjust velocity

Method 1: Adjust velocity with mousewheel

There’s an action that allows you to adjust the velocity of selected notes using your mouse-wheel.

In the Actions menu, search for “Edit: Adjust value for events (mousewheel/MIDI controller only)” and add a shortcut to it. I like to use shift and move my mouse-wheel. But you can do any other modifier key.

Now, you may notice the mouse-wheel action sensitivity is pretty low. Which can be a good thing if you want to be really precise. But I honestly prefer it to do bigger jumps than that. So here’s a little quick trick whenever you want to increase the steps of any action in REAPER.

We can create a custom action that will have a bunch of these actions stacked together. I have the adjust value stacked four times. That means I get 4 times the amount of velocity change. So I am comfortable going all the way to top and down in just one single roll.

Again, you don’t have to do this, it’s only if you wanna increase the sensitivity of the mouse-wheel change.

Method 2: Copy other velocity

Another trick I use a lot is selecting a note that has the velocity I want, and just add my next note like normal. When you select any note in REAPER, it’s gonna make so it so the next note will have the same velocity.

7. Adjusting the grid with your mousewheel

Another thing I like to do is to adjust the grid size with my mouse wheel.

So if I want more divisions, I just need to scroll up; if I want fewer divisions, I just need to scroll down. 💪

And for this I am using a Reapack script.

The script name is: Script: mpl_Adjust MIDI Editor grid (mousewheel).lua

I set it to shortcut: shift + alt + mousewheel

You need
ReaPack to install this script.
If you don’t have it,
check out this tutorial I made.

Once you set this shortcut, you should be able to quickly change your grid size.

It’s also really helpful setting up toolbar icons for the different grid divisions.

I also enjoy a lot having a toggle triplet grid action called SWS/NF: Toggle triplet grid – If you have the SWS extension installed, you should find this in your Actions menu > Section: MIDI Editor.

8. Paint notes

Here’s a short tip, but it’s one of of my favorite things.

If you hold alt + ctrl you can paint a line of notes like this that will follow the grid size.

This is super useful for cymbals, snare rolls, blast beats, double kick, and things like that.

Usually I would write my kick and snare pattern, and then I would set my grid size to the length I want my cymbals and start painting.

And if I wanna change the velocity, I can do it with my mouse like this or even better with what I am about to show you in the next tip.

9. Select notes in pattern

A lot of times when you have many notes in a row, you may want to add some dynamic variations in between hits. This can add a lot to the song's groove and make it sound even more realistic.

Let’s say you’d want a pattern of a strong hit after a soft hit. You could go ahead and select every other note manually. Or to make things easier, there’s a script that can select only odd notes and another one for even notes.

If you have Reapack installed with me2beats repository, you should see these two scripts called “Select only odd notes” and “select only even notes”.

You need
ReaPack to install this script.
If you don’t have it,
check out this tutorial I made.

Once Reapack is installed, make sure to import
me2beats repository. To do so paste the following link into: Extensions > ReaPack > Import a repository.

Mapping shortcuts to these two scripts is super useful cause you can now select all the notes in your row, select only the odd notes, and turn those down. And if you want to select the even ones, select it again, run the script and adjust the velocities accordingly.

Now, if you want to be even more advanced with your pattern selection, I highly recommend the script called “Script: js_Select and deselect MIDI notes by step pattern.lua”.

This script allows you select notes in any kind of pattern. You can select how many notes until the pattern repeats, then you can select or deselect any notes in that division. You also get a live preview of what you are selecting.

10. Humanize

To fix the robotic feel of this beat, we can select all these notes and press H. This is going to bring up the Humanize window.

In here we can select how much variation in dynamics and even timing to apply to the selected notes. Play around with these and hit “new random seed” to get new results.

This feature is such a time saver. I usually like to select a bunch of the same or similar drum parts, and just run some slight variations in timing and velocity.

That’s it!

There’s still a few more things I would like to add, so maybe a part two, if that’s something you want!

I hope these tips make writing drums a little less painful for you.

Thank you for watching and I’ll see you in the next one! bai bai

Hai there!

I'm Alejandro, and I created this ad-free page to give you the best experience learning REAPER.

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