Alternative to MIDI keyboard input for VDL / Sibelius - CH Products MFP

When writing for battery, most VDL users input notes using a MIDI keyboard. The vast majority of the remaining users input notes using the computer keyboard, first inputting the note in the correct place on the staff, then going back and changing the notehead. In Sibelius, noteheads are changed by holding down the ALT and SHIFT keys and typing the notehead number.

Since I started using VDL a few years ago I have always felt that using a MIDI keyboard to compose for battery is a rather unintuitive process (although Tapspace has done a remarkable job making it as fluid a process as they have). I wanted to devise a method that is more intuitive - a method where the input device more appropriately mimics the instruments for which we write.

I have come up with a method using the the [b]CH Products MFP[/b] (Multi Function Panel). This is a programmable device that actually uses wireless buttons to send commands to your computer. It is programmable through the CH Control Manager software, which is easy to use. Most importantly, up to 50 keys can be placed anywhere on the control surface, and a custom underlay can be used underneath the keys.


I have devised an MFP layout and a programming file that are designed to be used with the VDL 2.5.2 Template v6.0a in conjunction with Sibelius 6. The MFP is programmed to mimic keyboard commands. As a result, the workflow follows the same pattern as note input with a computer keyboard: input the note at the correct place on the staff (with any desired articulation), then return to it and change to the proper notehead. However, the MFP programming handles keystroke combinations such as ALT+SHF+51 (the notehead number for a L-hand bass unison) with the simple push of a button instead of the use of two hands or the contorted use of one. Don't know the VDL/Sibelius notehead numbers? No problem; with this input scheme you don't have to, unless you run into a sound for which you want to write that isn't included in the MFP programming. I have programmed most of the common sounds for battery writing; a full list is given below.

So, how does this work? Well, first you need a CH MFP and the additional set of keys 26-50. Unfortunately, being a high-quality computer controller, the MFP retails for about $170. The additional set of keys is about $65-70. I recommend purchasing from, a respectable and legit website that often has the best price on CH Products hardware. Once you've got the MFP and the 50 buttons:

1. Download CH Control Manager Software from [url=]this link[/url].

2. Install the Control Manager Software. When you install you may be asked if you want to ";Install the Programmable CH Control Manager Software"; or ";Install the Programmable software for the MFP and Trackball Only."; Select the first choice even if you only have an MFP.

3. Plug in the MFP's USB cable. Detailed Control Manager / MFP installation instructions can be found [url=http://]here[/url].

4. Download a .zip file containing my prepared files, attached to this post.

5. Open the .zip file and open [b]CH MFP underlay for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template 6.0a.PDF[/b]. Print this file [i]in color, with no page scaling[/i] (i.e. 100% size) on 8.5";x11"; paper.

6. Trim the printed sheet of paper along the outer gray rectangular border.

7. Remove the MFP plastic cover, place the trimmed underlay underneath, and replace the cover.

8. Place the MFP keys onto the plastic cover according to the numbers on the underlay. If you need to remove a key, twist; do not pull. MFP keys are infinitely removable and replaceable when used properly. Be aware that the adhesive on new keys is protected by a transparent piece of plastic; be sure to remove this before placing a key or it will not stick.

9. Open the downloaded .zip file and extract the [b]CH MFP command file for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template 6.0a.cmc[/b], [b]CH MFP map for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template 6.0a.cms[/b], and [b]CH MFP map for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template[/b] files to [b]C:\Program Files\CH Products\Control Manager\Maps[/b].

10. Start CH Control Manager.

11. Click the ";Load"; button in the upper left corner (looks like a folder).

12. Select the [b]CH MFP map for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template[/b] file and press ";Open";.

13. Click the ";Load"; button again.

14. Change the ";Files of type"; dropdown to ";CMC Files";.

15. Select the [b]CH MFP programming for VDL 2.5.2 with Sibelius 6 and VDL Template 6.0a.cmc[/b] file and press ";Open";.

16. Click the ";Download"; button, which downloads the programming file and lets the MFP emulate keystrokes.

17. Exit Control Manager.

Once the MFP has been set up and programmed, it can be used in Sibelius. The programming has been designed for four different input modes: GREEN UNSHIFTED, GREEN SHIFTED, RED UNSHIFTED, and RED SHIFTED. The Green/Red control is a hardware switch on the top right of the MFP bezel; press the top button to switch to green mode and the bottom button to switch to red mode:

The unshifted/shifted control is a button in the middle of the MFP; hold it down while pressing other keys to activate shifted commands, and leave it alone while pressing other keys to activate unshifted commands.

The red/green modes and shift button allow for up to four commands to be programmed onto a single MFP button. Accordingly, the underlay distinguishes these four options:
- green commands are labeled in green text
- red commands are labeled in red text
- unshifted commands are labeled without parenthesis
- shifted command are labeled between parenthesis

In addition, any articulations that are required to achieve the labeled sound during Sibelius playback (such as buzz roll ";Z";s and staccato dots) are placed within square brackets. Note that many other articulations that are commonly used for battery notation, but not [i]required[/i] for proper playback, are not shown on the underlay.

1. The MFP programming uses letter keys (i.e. A,B,C,D,E,F,G) to input notes on the staff. Unfortunately, while Sibelius does indicate out-of-range notes on the staff, there is no way to limit input notes to a certain range. That means that notes will often wind up an octave out of position. Accordingly, there are two buttons on the MFP, ";Octave Up"; and ";Octave Down";, that help to quickly get notes where they belong.

2. The schools I have worked for have only ever used a maximum of 5 bass drums. Thus, the programming is only designed for a maximum of five bass drums. It may be possible to fit buttons and commands for a sixth bass drum if necessary; please let me know if you are interested in such a feature. Similarly, the layout is designed for 5-drum tenors, not six-packs.

3. To minimize the number of MFP buttons necessary, some of the alternate mappings in the VDL Template 6.0a have been utilized. If you are used to using a MIDI keyboard some of the notehead numbers will differ.

4. The shift button has been placed in the middle of the MFP so that it can be reached with one hand while pressing any other button.

5. A button is programmed to the ESC key because it is necessary to press ESC after inputting a note before returning to it to change its notehead.

6. Left-hand sounds are on the left side of the ";Notehead change"; areas. Right-hand sounds are on the right.

7. Overall, the MFP layout has been designed to be used by the left hand, while the right hand stays on the numpad and arrow keys to use the Sibelius keypad and move the cursor to the desired note.

8. The text ";*open*"; indicates and unprogrammed position on the MFP. ";(*open*)"; indicates an unprogrammed position that would otherwise be shifted.

9. I took the pitctures in this post prior to the final editing / de-bugging of the underlay. As such, the final product differs slightly from that depicted in the images.

10. The following sounds have been programmed:
L/R rims
stick click
L/R dreads
L/R hits
L/R backsticks
L/R shots
ping shot
OTH double shot
dry crush
fat crush
rim knock / cross-stick
short decrescendo roll
medium decrescendo roll
long decrescendo roll
short crescendo roll
medium crescendo roll
long crescendo roll
fp sustained roll
vocal duts
metronome accent
metronome click
sticks in

Drums 1-4 + spock 1 L/R rims
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 L/R hits
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 L/R shots
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 dry crushes
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 fat crushes
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 decrescendo roll
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 crescendo roll
Drums 1-4 + spock 1 sustained roll
Drum 4 skank
Drum 4 muted tap

Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R rims
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R hits
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R muted hits
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R crushes
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R decrescendo rolls
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R crescendo rolls
Drums 1-5 + Unison L/R sustained rolls
Unison stick click

While this does not included a great many of the VDL battery sounds, it is all of the sounds I commonly use when writing. Remember that there is nothing stopping one from using the MFP input in conjunction with a MIDI keyboard or computer keyboard.
Nerd Alert :) (Goonies reference, for the uneducated)

Joe - I'm stunned. Would you mind me passing this on to Daniel Spreadbury, the Product Manager for Sibelius? Not sure if he'd bite, but I think this would make a great post for his Sibelius Blog! Unfortunately, unless I'm misreading the Provantage description of the MFP, it's Windows only.

Again, I'm blown away! Such brilliant use of available technology to really streamline your workflow. Thanks for sharing all of your hard work with us!

Sure, please pass it on. This would also be good encouragement for implementation of a Sibelius feature that limited note input to certain locations on the staff. That would get rid of having to mess with the octaves and would streamline this input method quite a bit (right now the octave corrections are things that get in the way of the real writing).

It is true that this appears to be a PC-only device.
CH product page:

Joe, this is pretty incredible. While I'm still wrapping my head around it, I'm blown away at your ingenuity here!

You're absolutely right about the unintuitive nature of entering ";unpitched"; notes via actual pitches (MIDI keyboard entry). That alone, is sometimes the first challenge of explaining the basics of percussion mapping to someone who's new to notation software and/or VDL.

I hope some people will get some good use out of all your efforts here. I'm sure with some use in daily practice, it'll continue to grow and improve.

Thanks again for this. I'm looking forward to hearing more about real-world examples of how it helps user's experience with VDL. Great stuff!!
I believe I will be following this thread!!
Very cool Joe.  I like the layout.  Thanks for taking the time to write it all.

I've been using the M-Audio Trigger Finger to drum on (with xylo mallets) as my input device.  16 pads = 8 different R/L sounds per instrument.  But now I'm messing around with TouchOSC on the iPad as a wireless MIDI controller.  You can create a custom interface with any combination of pads, knobs, faders, etc. on the screen.  It's a headache to learn though. 
As promised, this was passed on to Daniel at Sibelius, and he has featured it today on the Sibelius Blog:

Remind me to hit you when I see you this week for neglecting to inform me of this!

Busy week, man. :)
Ok, guess I need to get on the forum more often.  Thanks to Bryan, I found this by browsing the Sibeliusblog.  

Very nice insight and work, Joe.  I too will be keeping my eye on this thread.  Now, what about Mac compatibility?
cool stuff.  Well done Joe. :)
Great idea!  I had just submitted to the keyboard route.  There are probably several other controllers that would allow us all a more intuitive experience.

Available for Mac yet or anytime soon?
No, not available for Mac yet, and since the product has existed for a number of years unfortunately I don't think it ever will be available for Mac.
It would appear that this iPad app could be used to create something very similar (although I don't know if it supports the 2-mode and shifted operation that the CH MFP does):
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