Guitar Hero-like scrolling music on Ubuntu

This year I began to learn to play the drums. Its been fun but I am not the most dedicated student. Its a hobby and I slack off a lot, but I really would like to get better.

I first got interested in the drums when I tried them out on Guitar Hero. It was fun playing with friends and you could play for hours without thinking about it. You'd see yourself getting better and more comfortable. You'd notice what got tired or sore after playing for 3 hours so you'd adjust or do some Google-ing and find out how real drummers do it.

Guitar Hero certainly doesn't have the capacity to teach you like a human teacher could. It doesn't how the technique you play with, and that's a biggy. On the other hand, real teachers cost money and scheduled time, which at this point in my life is more than I want to give. Over the weekend I set out on a hunt for something like Guitar Hero with a few extra requirements.

  • Work with a Alesis DM6 electric drum kit
  • Runs on Ubuntu
  • Can load songs of a format which can be easily found for free online (ex. MIDI)
  • Scrolls music vertically (like Guitar Hero)
  • Rates your ability to play with the song (like Guitar Hero)

(Note: I realize some electric kits can be connected to Guitar Hero directly but mine cannot. It has a USB-out, not MIDI-out.)

Synthesia via PlayOnLinux

My search brought me through a graveyard of abandoned projects but eventually I found Synthesia. Synthesia, as advertised, is almost what I want. Its actually made for learning/practicing piano, but it works off MIDI tracks, so theoretically it can work with other instruments as well.

Synthesia does not have an official Linux version. There is a forked Linux version, Linthesia, but it doesn't have a 64-bit version and Synthesia's wiki noted it was old and missing features. For a while I dug through discussion forums talking about how they managed to get Synthesia to work with Wine, but experiences seemed to vary and honestly I didn't want to dig in that deep.

Luckily I ended up stumbling upon the PlayOnLinux which, just by chance, added support for Synthesia two weeks ago. PlayOnLinux is a tool which quickly configures Wine for many Windows games and applications. I followed the Natty installation instructions and got PlayOnLinux installed without any issue. I then followed these instructions to install a PlayOnLinux application, in this case Synthesia. Lastly, I tweaked the Wine settings through PlayOnLinux to have Synthesia run in "windowed" mode by following these instructions.

From here Synthesia worked immediately with my wife's MIDI keyboard. Some articles suggest installing Timidity, which may be necessary in some use cases but not for mine. I simply had the keyboard input set to the MIDI keyboard, and the output also set to the MIDI keyboard. I had installed Timidity but it didn't seem to be necessary and it crashed once for me so I removed it.

Is that it for drumming with Synthesia?


This is where I've left off. Synthesia registers my drum hits and can output to my drum kit. I tried downloading MIDI files with percussion tracks and tried playing a long. None of my hits seemed to match the drums Synthesia wanted me to hit. I believe this is a MIDI note mapping mismatch. For example, my snare drum produces note 38, says QMidiRoute. I suspect the MIDI track I was playing to did not have the snare drum sound as being note 38. Overall I'm not really familiar with MIDI at all so this could be a completely ignorant assessment but for now its what I'm working on. When/If I find a good solution I will post it.