How to Trigger Samples Using a Drum Pad or Midi Controller

Triggering samples is an effective method to use when recording or when playing live. Some devices and instruments are designed to play samples when recording. However, I figured out a way to trigger samples by using  MIDI pad controllers or even MIDI keys.

To use a MIDI controller to play samples, you will need a laptop or mobile phone, apps, or computer software that can play samples, and a MIDI controller. All you need to do is assign the particular sample on the app, and use MIDI learn to transmit and play the sample using the MIDI controller. It sounds simple because it is that simple. MIDI pads are not only for one-shot drum samples. You can also use them to play samples with longer durations depending on the software or app you are using.

Instead of copying and pasting samples on the timeline of a song, triggering samples are used by producers who like to record music with a nice flow. Subsequently, you can use samples to enhance a live performance, especially if your band is short of members. DJ music producers also like to play samples in their live sets to create iconic drops to light up the dance floor.



For this example, I will use the AKAI MPK MINI II. It is a simple MIDI controller that has keys and pads that you can use to either play finger drums or play samples. Some people do not realize that you can use any MIDI device to trigger samples as long as you use the right software. You do not need to buy expensive drum machines to get the job done.

The Akai MPK MINI is a perfect example of a simple MIDI keyboard controller that can do wonders if you learn how to maximize its utility. When I first bought this controller, I didn’t realize how powerful this $99 device could be. Here are some of its features:

  • 25 velocity-sensitive keys

At first, I never thought you would be able to play chords on such small keys, but I was mistaken. The small keys on this device are capable of anything you can do on a real piano. It only takes a little time to get used to small keys, especially if you came from playing a full-sized keyboard.

  • 8 assignable pads with two banks

The eight responsive pads are such a pleasure to use when finger drumming or just doing simple piano melodies and chords. It has two banks so you can have 16 pads for each user preset.

  • Arpeggiator

This controller also has a built-in arpeggiator so you can create rhythmic patterns. Your synth lines would not sound monotonous and repetitive with the use of this feature.

  • 8 assignable knobs

The MPK mini also comes with knob control. For its low price, this midi controller surely has it all.

  • Free software included

When you purchase this MIDI controller, you can get free software such as MPC Essentials, Hybrid 3, Wobble, and the Akai MPK Mini editor. The editor is used to set the value of the pads. You can use them with any of your favorite DAWs.

You can use any MIDI controller to trigger samples. They all work pretty much the same, so it does not matter what kind of MIDI controller you use for this tutorial. As long as you have keys or pads, you can trigger cue in some samples.

Click here to find out what MIDI controller is best for your home music studio.


The next thing you will need is a LAPTOP or SMARTPHONE. For this example, I will show you how to play samples using a SMARTPHONE. Since I am a huge fan of simplicity, we will use the iPhone for this example. If you have a Laptop, do not worry, it will pretty much be the same. Just make sure you have the right software.

Now that you have the iPhone, you will need to learn how to connect a MIDI device to it. To connect a MIDI device to your iPhone, you will need a powered USB HUB and a USB to Lightning adapter. It may sound a little complicated at first. Still, these adapters and devices are what you need to power and use the MIDI controller by using an iPhone.

At first, I thought MIDI controllers were like keyboards with a built-in sound engine. It turns out that you will need a device that will serve as the MIDI controller’s sound card. When I just got my AKAI MPK MINI from Guitar Center, I rushed and bought everything else like the adapters and USB hub at the nearest BEST BUY.

To connect the MIDI device:

  • Connect the USB cable that came with the device to your MIDI controller
  • Connect the other end of the cable to the powered USB HUB
  • Connect the powered USB HUB to the USB to Lightning adapter
  • And lastly, connect the end of the lightning to your iPhone’s charging port
  • The MIDI device will light up, and it will be ready for use

Note: Modern MIDI controllers will have Bluetooth connection, so you would not have to go through the trouble of buying the adapters to connect it to your phone. To learn more about connecting your MIDI device to your iPhone, click here.

Laptops, on the other hand, do not need the powered USB hub or Lightning to USB kit to make a successful connection. All you need to do is connect the MIDI controller via USB using the single cable it came with.


For this example, I will show you how to trigger samples using the mobile app by Retronyms and AKAI called, “AKAI iMPC PRO 2.” This mobile app is an excellent app that you can use to play and record samples using your mobile phone. You can get the app for a meager price of $6.99. It has tons of features and one of which is the sampler, where you can assign samples. You can either record your own samples or get samples from their store. And get this, you can also use sample music from Spotify. Isn’t that amazing?


How to assign samples using Akai iMPC PRO 2:

  • Open the app and select “new project.”
  • You can choose one of the templates or choose a blank template
  • Now that you selected the template of your choice, it will bring you into the main user interface of the app
  • If you chose one of the pre-assigned templates, you would notice that the pads already have samples assigned to them
  • You can go ahead and edit the pads by selecting tweak at the bottom left corner
  • Now you can choose one of the pads and tap on “edit sound.”
  • In the edit sound menu, you will find a small folder icon on the right side
  • Click on that, and it will show you a selection of samples preloaded with your purchase
  • You can either choose one of those samples or record your own
  • Back in the tweak menu, there are three options to choose from
  • You can choose “audio paste,” ” edit sound,” or “new sound.”
  • Choose a new sound to record a new sound from inter-app audio or Spotify
  • You can also resample one of the existing samples assigned on one of the pads
  • Now that you have designated a sample, you can edit the sound
  • You can choose where to start or stop, or you can slice the samples into different pads

If you are using a laptop, you can purchase software such as FL STUDIO, SAMPLE TANK, or any other VST that acts as a drum machine. It will essentially work the same as the iMPC PRO on your iPhone, so it wouldn’t be that hard to assign samples once you get the gist.


How to use MIDI learn to trigger the samples using a MIDI keyboard:

  • Now that you have created the samples, you can now use MIDI learn to transmit the signal to the MIDI device or controller which in our case is, The AKAI MPK MINI II
  • Select the menu from the top left corner on the main menu of the iMPC PRO
  • Scroll down and select “MIDI Options.”
  • Make sure your MIDI controller is connected
  • The name of your MIDI controller will appear on the screen
  • Tap on the Edit Mapping option at the bottom to enter the MIDI learn editor
  • It will highlight the controls you can assign on your MIDI controller
  • To assign each pad, make sure you tap on the pad on the app first
  • Then once it turns green, tap on one of your pads or keys on your MIDI controller to assign the sample
  • Once you have you assigned everything, you can now exit the MIDI learn the menu and trigger the samples using your MIDI controller

Helpful tip: The AKAI MPK MINI II has two available banks so that you can assign one sample for each of the pads adding up to a total of 16 samples. Make sure you edit the notes on your MPK MINI using the MIDI editor software that came with the purchase. You will need to edit the notes of each pad to avoid repeating samples. Remember that all notes are supposed to be different. For example—you can edit the notes in ascending order from A to G to make sure nothing is repeated.

If you are using a laptop, you can assign the pads in the preference menu, depending on what DAW you are using. You can access the MIDI settings in the edit menu, then choose preferences. Most MIDI learn features will have similarities on how to assign them, so you wouldn’t have a hard time learning them if you know how to do it on the iMPC PRO 2.


  • How long is the maximum duration for a loop or sample?

The duration of a sample will depend on how long a particular software or app will allow it. On the iMPC PRO 2 software by retronyms, the triggered sample can go up to 30 seconds maximum.

  • Can you loop a sample for continuous playing?

In the example software, you cannot loop a sample, and there is no option to do so. However, you can try different software that allows you to loop the samples you play to keep the vibe rolling. Sample Tank by IK Multimedia will have the loop feature. You can also buy a separate device to loop a played sample for you, such as the KORG KP3. Looping is ideal for music production as well as live playback. It can be tough to master, but practice makes better.

  • Can you use two or more apps to trigger samples simultaneously?

I have tried to use two apps to trigger two samples at the same time with one single press of a button. However, I only attempted this on an iPhone, and it was kind of glitchy. I do not suggest triggering two samples with two different apps simultaneously. On the other hand, a better thing to do is to press two samples pads on your controller and play two different samples at the same time using one app. It won’t overload your computer or phone’s memory, and it will work like a charm.


Learning how to record and create music with the flow of triggering samples is an excellent technique for most music producers. If you are reading this article, it is either your curious, or you are really into this technique. Most producers want to go through the meticulous process of editing MIDI manually on the piano roll, and that is also an effective way. But throwing samples while recording is another fun way and can be as effective as the first one. I hope you learned how to trigger samples and continue pursuing your passion for creating awesome music!

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