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Cubase: Beat Designer

Steinberg Cubase: Tips & Techniques By John Walden
Published August 2023

Beat Designer: drum machine‑style pattern creation with a simple workflow.Beat Designer: drum machine‑style pattern creation with a simple workflow.

Create drum machine‑style grooves in a flash with Cubase’s Beat Designer.

Classic drum machines such as the LinnDrum or those in Roland’s TR range helped to shape a whole smörgåsbord of electronic and dance music styles, but their influence didn’t only live in the distinctive sounds they offered: the grooves of their drum patterns were also a hugely significant factor. The feel of these grooves came from the grid‑based pattern creation process that lay at the heart of these machines — and with Cubase’s Beat Designer MIDI plug‑in you can emulate that workflow. What’s more, with a few key tricks under your belt, patterns can be created really quickly. So, without further ado, let’s explore Beat Designer’s, um... beat designing options!

Basics: Sounds & Beats

You can configure Beat Designer’s lane layout to suit your needs.You can configure Beat Designer’s lane layout to suit your needs.Beat Designer is placed as a MIDI insert plug‑in on whatever instrument track you wish to use. You’ll need to load a suitable drum instrument, of course, and the bundled Groove Agent SE or a sliced drum loop within a Cubase Sampler Track both make good candidates. Beat Designer does include some good beat presets and, as I’ll discuss below, a single instance can host up to 48 different patterns (four sub‑banks of 12 patterns each). It’s easy to switch between patterns too, and if you set a cycle region and let Cubase loop playback, you can audition your pattern creations as you work. Initially, though, Beat Designer opens ready for you to start creating from scratch, without any pattern pre‑loaded.

The central part of Beat Designer’s GUI is occupied by the pattern grid. Arranged vertically on the left side is the list of eight individual drum lanes and you can add/subtract lanes as required via the small ‘+’ and ‘‑’ buttons on the far right of each lane. If the default drum selections don’t suit, you can use the drop‑down menu in each lane to pick the drum sound target from your drum instrument. You can also use the small speaker icon to audition each selected sound; it’s simple and easy to configure.

You can add hits by either clicking on a single lane/step, or clicking and dragging to add multiple hits (for example, on the hi‑hat lane). Where you click vertically within a step provides initial control over that step’s velocity (high velocities at the top, low at the bottom). Hits are colour‑coded based on velocity. Clicking and dragging up/down on a step lets you adjust velocity or, if you hold Shift while clicking/dragging, change the relative velocity up/down (until a step reaches min/max velocity values) for all active steps in a lane. You can also change the velocity on...

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