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Steinberg Cubase Score

Published April 1996

Cubase, in its many guises, has established itself as an industry standard on Apple and Atari platforms, and now looks set to be the benchmark by which other PC sequencers will be judged. Kevin Pawsey investigates what Steinberg has to offer the score‑producing musician.

Being a staunch user of Cubase on the Mac and ST, I have always had the impression that music software on Windows PCs has been playing 'catchup'; but now I am glad to inform PC owners that their long wait has, at last, been worthwhile. Cubase Score v2.0 has many refinements over previous versions which really warrant further investigation. This review concentrates on the key new features and improvements in the program.


The package comes in two boxes; one box contains the Steinberg Copy Protection Key and three program disks containing all the relevant program and management files. The key locates in the parallel port and must be installed in order for the program to run. Also included is a disk containing the Studio Module. A CD‑ROM is supplied for those PC owners with the relevant hardware, containing the Studio Module and associated files, StyleTrax and WavePlayer (for playing back samples).

Software developers would appear to be listening to their users' requests; the second box contains four clearly‑written and illustrated A5 manuals: Getting Started, Getting into the Details, Modules and Score Layout, and Printing. These instruct you how to apply functions in a musical environment, using structured tutorials, and the program itself also comes complete with excellent, on‑line help files which are both comprehensive and easy to follow.

Installation is a painless process; the software readily identifies installed soundcards and drivers, and a complete set of icons will appear in a window once the installation is complete.

You can send MIDI data to a variety of destinations: your internal soundcard; your MIDI Out (or Outs, if you have a multiple port interface); or to MROS (Steinberg's MIDI Real‑time Operating System, which allows you to patch directly into like‑minded MIDI software). You can also use it to play internal samples via WavePlayer (see the boxout on sample playback). Once your outputs are organised, you should save the entire setup as a DEF file, so that this configuration is installed every time the software is loaded.


Cubase's graphics‑based Arrange window has been one of the program's strongest selling points; a basic knowledge of a word processor means you can use it! For this version, the Arrange window has been redesigned to make full use of SVGA windows drivers, so colour is now available, to help distinguish between sections of an arrangement or families of instruments. This is invaluable when working with many tracks and parts.

To record a section of music, you must first select a MIDI track, of which there are a virtually unlimited number, depending on available free memory (compared to 64 on previous versions). There are seven different track classes in Cubase Score that determine the type of MIDI data to be recorded; MIDI tracks (the most common type), Drum tracks (for use with the Drum Editor), Mix tracks (for use with the MIDI Mixer, which allows you to control volume, settings and parameters of any connected MIDI devices), Group tracks (containing information from parts that have been grouped together), Tape tracks (used to control multitrack tape recorders from within Cubase), and Style and Chord Tracks, which are used by the StyleTrax module.

To record a part, selectan appropriate track and associated MIDI channel, left and right locator points and hit Record. You have a choice of Replace or Overdub mode, and whether you want the pattern to cycle, making it easy to create rhythm parts, for example. Once recorded, you can then cut, paste, copy or delete sections using the Cubase tools; each edit page has its own set of tools specific to a given task.

All of the features that made Cubase such a powerful program have been retained; the MIDI Mixer, the numerous quantise functions, Logical Edit (see Simon Millward's feature on this function in SOS March, April and May 1995), the Interactive Phase Synthesiser, and of course all the Options and Edit pages. Most of these have been covered in depth in previous Cubase reviews and features, for example Simon Millward's detailed examination of Cubase's structure, which ran from SOS September '95 to December '95.

Steinberg have kept the edit pages pretty much the same as in previous versions of Cubase, although one aspect that has been changed is selecting controllers — it's still done in the Key Edit page from a scrolling list, but now you have to laboriously click through a menu in a pop‑up box, although you can directly enter the relevant controller numerically.

A new feature (see above) is the GM, Roland GS and Yamaha XG editor. The GM editor allows you to select one of the standards, and any settings made are then stored as part of a Song. The editor itself consists of 16 channels, structured in a similar way to a conventional mixing desk. Each channel allows for the control of volume, pan position, reverb and chorus depth, and also a pop‑up program menu that must rate as one of the easiest methods I have encountered for selecting sounds. Select a sound group, and up pops a sub‑menu, where a sound can be selected from a group.

I am happy to report that as much as I tried, I could not get this new version of Cubase to crash, even during extensive real‑time editing (older versions used to lock up on me occasionally when I was editing during playback).


While some modules remain from previous versions of Cubase, Steinberg have developed some rather nifty new modules, such as the Studio Module, StyleTrax, AVI Monitor and a SMPTE Display module. The MIDI Mixer, Interactive Phase Synthesiser, and Score Edit are no longer classed as modules, and are now integrated as part of the main program, although the MIDI processor (which allows you to create delay, flanging and arpeggio effects by manipulating MIDI data) remains a module.

The Studio Module (see picture, left) will be of most interest to those with an assortment of MIDI devices; it is able to address (via SysEx) many different manufacturers' devices, using files known as drivers. Some 150 drivers are included with the software, but it is a shame that many popular synths and samplers are not covered (the latest Akai sampler provided for is the S612!) .

Once you have taken the trouble to set up the Studio Module (which could take a while, depending on the complexity of your MIDI system), the whole process of MIDI device management becomes integrated into Cubase Score. For each device, the MIDI channels on which MIDI data can be sent and received can be set, along with a complete list of banks and programs that exist in each device. To select a patch, just click on the name of the voice desired. Some drivers also contain a macro editor, which consists of faders with a predetermined function assigned to them, which enable small changes to a patch to be made. It is also possible to send and receive bulk dumps from different devices. The Total Recall function enables you to retrieve all of the settings in all of your MIDI devices in one go.

The StyleTrax module is a programmable, real‑time auto‑accompaniment generator. Although auto‑accompaniment has progressed a great deal in recent years, I am still not convinced that it is a module that many semi‑pro and pro musicians will make great use of. StyleTrax basically operates on the same principles as the auto‑accompaniment on keyboards, and even includes the fingering patterns adopted by Casio, Roland and Yamaha. You can load in a preset style, assign GM sounds to elements of the chosen style (drums, lead, brass, etc), try the variations on the style, and even scale preferences. Creating your own styles and variations is quite time‑consuming; I suspect that sooner or later, a third party will emerge for those interested in this module. If you are really interested in auto‑accompaniment, Band in a Box is a much better proposition. You'll achieve comparable results with considerably less effort, although it will mean switching between two programs.

Of more interest is the AVI Player. This enables Video for Windows AVI files (no support for QuickTime movies though...) to be loaded within the Arrange window, and played back using the transport control. Putting together a complete soundtrack for an audio/visual project is a possibility, as long as the correct SMPTE frame setting is used. I don't think it's going to give Digidesign any sleepless nights, but it is a certainly a worthwhile addition, and a new direction for Cubase. The final new module is the SMPTE Display. This is a resizable window that duplicates the timing and bar settings in the control bar. You can elect to show SMPTE time or position in bars and MIDI ticks; great if you need to work to video.

It Shoots... It Scores!

The first impression of Cubase Score v2 is that Score Edit is a greatly refined and integral aspect of the program, rather than just a means of knocking up a few lead sheets. I always felt, in previous versions of Cubase, that Score Edit could not compare with dedicated Score writers such as Encore, so I would often transfer tracks to that program as it had greater flexibility over the final score layout. The refinements Steinberg have made to Cubase Score's Score Edit page could well put an end to this.

There are two ways to enter notes into a score; in real time and step time. Entering notes in step time can be very laborious, although it is invaluable if you are working on an arrangement of an existing score. For step‑time note entry, the quantise values select the appropriate note value, which then appears in the Score Edit toolbox. You then use the mouse to locate notes on the score. Rests are entered using exactly the same method, but you select the rest symbol instead of the note symbol in the toolbox.

Real‑time note entry is a faster mode of working, but the score will require greater editing. Score Edit uses the time signatures specified in the Master Track to make any alterations to the time signature, although you can edit these by double‑clicking on the time signature symbol on the staff.

The staff settings dialogue box is the key to producing a legible score with the minimum of fuss. Here, you can set the staff mode to specify a single staff (for solo instruments), a split staff (for piano) or a polyphonic staff (for choir or quartet). It is possible to have up to eight voices displayed simultaneously on a split staff. Setting the key and the clef for each staff is also initiated from the staff settings.

I found the Display Transpose function invaluable when producing scores for performance by ensembles; if you are writing for instruments that need to be transposed, such as a B Flat clarinet or trumpet, select a transposition value and it will transpose the score without affecting the MIDI data.

The symbol palette on previous versions of Cubase could not match dedicated scorewriters for flexibility and a full set of symbols. Now, Cubase incorporates Layout and Note symbol layers, either of which can be hidden while working on one or the other. The symbol palette has been greatly expanded, and now consists of several separate groups; Clefs, Note Symbols, Dynamics, Lines (for arpeggios and the like), Graphic (accidentals), Other (tempo symbols, and so on) and Layout (for example, brackets, coda, and segno). Each symbol can also be assigned a MIDI meaning (such as dynamics, using velocity data) that affects how the score is played back. The symbol palettes are the most comprehensive and easy to use I have come across. You can also change note head shapes, stem length and direction, and insert grace notes (at last!). It is also possible to give a note or a group of notes a different colour, for easy identification.

Cubase Score v2 now also allows the creation of drum and percussion scores, guitar tablature and chord sheets. The guitar tabulation can be entered manually or fully automatically, and you can even send each string out on a different MIDI channel; useful if you have a guitar synth. Preset guitar chord symbols would have been a welcome inclusion; entering these is incredibly laborious. I'm sure it would be possible to have a list of the basic guitar chords to select from.

Creating chord/lead sheets is incredibly easy, and is one of the score features of Cubase that I tend to use frequently. You can insert chords manually, but a much better way is to let Cubase do the work for you. Just play in a chord/bass sequence, select all the notes, choose the Make Chords function, and you have an instant chord/lead sheet. Lyrics and text are also easily included. You can also work with different layouts; so you can have a different layout for a full score and a single instrument. It is then possible to select layouts from the layout list, ready to use in the Score or Arrange window. Finally, all the scores you produce can now be exported as a BMP file. The print quality is excellent (although of course this does depend on the printer you use), and the size of staves and notes can be adjusted to suit your needs.

Although some functions are a little fiddly and time‑consuming, I would not now hesitate to use Cubase Score for many of my scoring needs. I don't think it will persuade dedicated users of Encore or Finale to change their working habits, but it is certainly not a poor substitute.


My old Atari has just been made redundant from its last and only job. I have been using Cubase on an Atari since it first appeared, and Cubase Score v2 for Windows simply demonstrates how outdated the Atari technology is, and how PC technology is progressing at a rate of knots. Cubase Score is without doubt the best PC music software that I have ever used, so much so that I have opted to use the new version to complete a large‑scale project that needs full scores and live sequencing; I don't believe I will need to resort to old favourites such as Encore or my Mac. If you already own a PC version of Cubase and are not particularly interested in notation, then it may not be particularly worthwhile upgrading, unless any of the new modules appeal to you. However, if you want one of the top, fully integrated sequencers and scorewriters currently available on the PC, give Score v2 some serious consideration; I for one am beginning to look at my PC and Windows in a totally different light!

Sample Playback

Steinberg have included the ability to use WAV samples from the Arrange page. Please note that this is not hard disk recording; you need Cubase Audio for that! One of the programs that comes with Cubase Score is WavePlayer. WavePlayer allows you to load in WAV files and assign them a MIDI number, so that they can be recorded and played back within the Arrange page. Obviously, the quality of a sample is going to depend on the resolution/frequency at which it was recorded, and the quality of the A/D and D/A converters in your chosen soundcard. Something along the lines of a Turtle Beach Tahiti or Tropez soundcard is needed for anything more than experimenting with the possibilities.

The architecture of Cubase is designed to give priority to Tracks in numerical order. For example, if samples play an important role in an arrangement, it is good practice to place them in Track 1 (this also applies to MIDI data; any SysEx or rhythmic tracks should be Track 1 or 2).

Master Track

Steinberg have included a graphical tempo editor to make changes to song tempo or time signatures as easy as possible. There are two ways to alter the tempo of the Master Track; graphically and using a list editor. The graphical approach displays the tempo curve against time. Tempo changes can be recorded in real time, or 'drawn' in using the pencil tool. The Master Track list editor works the same way as in previous versions — you can insert tempo changes, time signatures and now hit points. Hit points are used to match time positions to meter positions, by altering the tempo of an arrangement — especially useful when matching music to visual cues.

System Requirements

  • Minimum Processor: 386 DX 33
  • Minimum Display: 16 colours, 640x600
  • Recommended Processor: 486 DX2 66 or better
  • Recommended Display: 256 colours, 800x600
  • Windows 3.1 or Windows 95
  • 8Mb RAM
  • MIDI Interface/Windows Multimedia Driver

NOTE: Although the manual states that Cubase Score can be used on a 386DX, the software will not run particularly effectively. I tried a 486 DX2 66Mhz, and while for sequencing requirements this was more than adequate, things got a great deal slower when I tried to use internal samples and any of the modules (forget using the AVI movie player for a start!). Cubase requires a powerful processor to help get past any bottlenecks within the PC architecture. For this review, my P60 Pentium with 8Mb of RAM was utilised with a SoundBlaster AWE32 soundcard installed. I just about managed get everything running together...

Cubase Score v2 will run under Windows 95, although no improvements are made to any functions within the program; the only real benefits appear in the form of an improved desktop and more coherent file management. Please note, however, that in order to run Cubase Score under Windows 95, you will need, at the very minimum, a fast 486 machine with 8Mb of RAM. Running Windows 95 does not offer any improvements in terms of performance over a similarly‑specified machine running Windows 3.x.

Steinberg have made it clear that a Windows 95 (32 bit)‑specific program is under development, which should make full use of all the new technologies within Windows 95.


  • Score Edit's ease of use and wealth of features now rival most dedicated scorewriters.
  • Ability to import a score into an art or DTP program as a bitmapped or postscript file.
  • That interface just keeps getting better and better!
  • New modules give access to some innovative features.


  • Does a professional musician using a professional sequencer really need auto‑accompaniment?
  • A more comprehensive list of drivers for the studio module and MIDI mixer would be appreciated!


An excellent piece of software that demonstrates the true ability of the PC and Windows as platforms for a MIDI musician. Although it takes a while to fully explore all of the features, one can initially use it just as a very user‑friendly MIDI sequencer, and investigate the advanced features later.