Grooves Features

Steinberg Cubase Tips & Techniques

Published in SOS March 2003
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Technique : Cubase Notes

Cubase VST's Groove Control window.

Cubase provides powerful features for working with grooves, but they aren't totally intuitive. We shed some light on the subject for users of VST and SX/L.

Mark Wherry

A commonly overlooked feature in Cubase VST is Groove Control, which enables you to impose different feels on your MIDI data based on preset grooves or those that you create yourself. Of course, Cubase's Groove Control is not to be confused with Spectrasonics and Ilio's Groove Control technique for producing sample libraries, which also allows you to manipulate timing information. To open the Groove Control window in Cubase VST, select Functions / Groove Control.

Groove Is In The Part

Applying a groove to a MIDI Part is essentially very easy: select the appropriate Part or Parts in the Arrange window and, in the Groove Control window, select the required groove and click Do It — note that you can also apply a groove to only the selected MIDI Events if you have an editor window open. However, you'll notice that the Groove Control window offers many other parameters for controlling exactly how much of a groove's feel is applied to your MIDI Parts and Events.

Firstly, you'll notice there are three vertical sliders to the right of the groove list (Timing, Vel and Duration) and that the Timing slider is set to 100 percent by default. As you might be able to guess, this means that the MIDI Events the groove is applied to will take on the exact timing of the groove. A setting of 0 percent would give no change at all, so this slider allows you to set by what proportion the MIDI Events are moved to fit with the selected groove.

A really important point to bear in mind when using Groove Control is that the maximum distance notes can be moved is actually set by the Quantise pop-up menu on the Arrange (or editor) window's toolbar, regardless of the Timing slider's setting. This can be really confusing because if Quantise is set to Off, Groove Control will be unable to apply grooves to MIDI data, but if Quantise is set to 1, Groove Control will be able to move individual Events up to a whole note away from their original positions. You shouldn't have to worry too much if you have Quantise set to 16 or lower, but having Quantise set to 32 or higher can mean grooves aren't applied correctly, because Groove Control can want to move the notes further than it's allowed to.

Getting back to the sliders, a groove can also contain velocity information, and the Vel slider lets you set how much the velocities of the destination MIDI Events should be changed to match the groove. And finally, the Duration slider sets by what proportion the lengths of the selected MIDI Events should be changed in order to match the lengths of the notes in the groove.

A neat trick when applying grooves is to have the song playing in the background, because when you have the Prelisten option crossed in the Groove Control window, the selected Part will automatically and non-destructively play with the currently selected groove applied, allowing you to easily find the most appropriate groove before clicking Do It. Another useful feature is Pre Quantise, which as its name suggests, allows you to perform a straight quantise on the selected MIDI data before the groove itself is applied.

Roll Your Own

While the default grooves are all well and good, the best aspect of Groove Control is the ability to create grooves based on your own MIDI Parts. I recently found this useful for a Logic user who wanted to be able to access Logic's swing quantise settings (16a, b, c, and so on) in Cubase; not because they're anything special, but just out of familiarity. So, I exported a MIDI file from Logic containing MIDI notes hard quantised with the required swing settings and imported this into Cubase. Once you have a Part containing a rhythm you want to turn into a groove, make sure that that Part is selected and choose Functions / Convert to Groove — alternatively, you can simply drag the Part in question into the groove list in the Groove Control window.

Grooves are stored as standard Parts in the Grooves folder within the folder containing the Cubase application itself, and because of this, grooves are available globally to any Song you have loaded. You can change the folder Cubase looks in for grooves by clicking the Set Path button in the Groove Control window and selecting another location in the file selector, and the currently selected groove in the Groove List can be deleted by clicking Remove. The Groove List mirrors the layout of the Grooves folder on your disk precisely, so to create groups such as the default 8th and 16th Shuffle groups, simply create ordinary folders in the Grooves folder and drag the Parts into the folders as appropriate.

Because grooves are stored as Parts, you can also drag grooves from the Groove Control to the Arrange window to create a new MIDI Part, which can be useful if you want to create a new groove based on an existing preset. Alternatively, you can also edit grooves in one of Cubase's MIDI editors directly from the Groove Control window, by selecting the appropriate editor from the Editor pop-up menu and clicking Edit. The other parameters in this group let you set the length and time signature for the currently selected Groove.

The SX Groove Fudge

Although Cubase SX/L has a pretty good range of quantising options, including the rather useful Quantise Setup window, there's no way in the current version of extracting the groove from a MIDI Part and quantising other MIDI Parts based on the same groove — or is there? Well, no, but there's a rather neat workaround, because while Cubase SX/L can't extract the groove from a MIDI Part, it can extract the groove from an Audio Part... I think you can probably guess where this article is going, and it while it sounds ridiculous at first, this workaround is actually surprisingly quick and effective.

Extracting a MIDI groove and applying it to another MIDI Part by means of an Audio Event. The two List editor windows at the bottom allow you to compare the original MIDI Part with the new MIDI Part, which has been quantised with the groove extracted from the Audio Event, as illustrated in the Quantise pop-up menu.

The trick is basically to take a bar of a MIDI Part, convert it into an Audio Event, and extract the groove so we can use Cubase's Quantise function to apply the resulting groove back to other MIDI parts. The first step is therefore to set the Left and Right Locators to surround the bar where you want to extract the groove from a MIDI Part, and solo the Track containing the required MIDI Part. As an aside, you can press S to solo the currently selected Track on the Project window, or the currently selected Channel on the Mixer.

Next, add the A1 synthesizer to the VST Instruments window and assign the MIDI Track in question to output to this virtual instrument. If the MIDI Track has finely tuned settings, you might want to copy the required MIDI Part to a new Track and assign this to play the A1 synth instead. With the appropriate Track selected, in the Inspector set the Program to 'Made of wood' — you could use a different sound, but I've found this program works the most effectively.

Assuming the Locators are set and the Track containing the MIDI Part with the groove is in solo mode, check that Part plays back correctly as normal with the new sound, and if everything's fine, select File / Export / Audio Mixdown. In the Export Audio Mixdown file selector, choose an appropriate place for the audio file to be stored (maybe in a subfolder within the Project Folder's audio folder), set Type to Wave, Channels to Mono, and Resolution and Sample Rate according to your Project. Make sure Include Automation and Effects are disabled, Import to Pool and Audio Track are enabled, and finally click Save to perform the export.

The Clever Bit

After the export, you should find a new Audio Track added to the Project window, containing the newly created Audio Event. Double-click this Event to open it in the Sample Editor, and activate Hitpoint Mode by clicking the Hitpoint Mode button, which is the last button to the right of the Sample Editor's toolbar next to the Selection field. Normally, you won't have to do anything else, but it's important to check visually that all the Hitpoints have been identified before proceeding, adjusting the Hitpoint Sensitivity slider as necessary. If you can't get all the Hitpoints to be recognised by moving the slider, you may need to export the MIDI Part as audio again, setting the A1's volume fader on the Mixer higher.

  Cubase VST 5.2-ish  

Cubase VST 5.2's VST System Link panel.

A public beta of Cubase VST 5.2 for Windows is now available offering many bug fixes, support for sample rates up to 192kHz, and a handful of small new features, such as the ability to set the horizontal zoom factor by Control-dragging the Arrange window's ruler, much like you can in Cubase SX/L. The biggest change is support for VST System Link, although this functionality has a few limitations, most notably that VST 5.2 can only be used in a two-computer network, where SX/L is the Master and VST 5.2 is the Slave. Steinberg say that you must be running the latest version of SX/L (1.051) on the Master computer, and also recommend this machine be a Windows PC, not a Mac. Download your copy from:
It's also worth checking that Bars is set to 1 and that the signature and tempo have been correctly identified. For a more detailed explanation of working with Hitpoints in Cubase SX, see September 2002's Cubase Notes column. However, for this procedure, it's best not to adjust the positions of the Hitpoints manually as Cubase usually seems to get this right in my experience.

Once all the Hitpoints have been correctly identified, select Audio / Hitpoints / Create Groove Quantise and close the Sample Editor window, which you can do simply by pressing Return — and that's all there is to it. You can now select this Groove Quantise from the Quantise pop-up menu to Quantise other MIDI Parts with, and you'll notice that the preset takes its name from the name of the Audio Event used to create the Groove Quantise.

So how effective are the results of this process? For the most part, the newly quantised MIDI Parts have identical timing right down to the number of ticks, and I only noticed a couple of instances where the newly quantised MIDI Part contained one or two notes that were one tick out when compared with the original MIDI Part — an inaudible difference. However, this degree of precision isn't totally surprising since Steinberg pride themselves on the sample-accuracy of Cubase's audio system.

To conclude, it's worth remembering that quantise presets are again stored in Cubase itself and aren't tied to any one Project. To delete a Quantise Preset, open the Quantise Setup window by selecting Setup from the Quantise pop-up menu, select the Preset you want to delete in the Presets pop-up menu, located at the bottom-right of the Quantise Setup window, and click Remove. Bear in mind, though, that while there are no warnings, this operation cannot be undone.

DAW Techniques


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