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Cubase: Keyboard Shortcuts & Key Commands

Steinberg Cubase Tips & Techniques By Mark Wherry
Published January 2003

The Key Commands window showing a user assignment of the 'Add Track' Audio Command.The Key Commands window showing a user assignment of the 'Add Track' Audio Command.

While using keyboard shortcuts in a sequencer is nothing new, this month we explain how Cubase SX/SL takes the idea further, and look at Hans Zimmer's unique solution for accessing Key Commands in Cubase.

Although the mouse has arguably made computers easier to use, it isn't always the most efficient device for carrying out certain tasks, especially when you might have to navigate a large display that spans multiple monitors. For this reason, keyboard shortcuts have been popular since even the very early graphical user interfaces, allowing you to instantly access commands from a single key combination and develop efficient patterns of working for different tasks.

In Cubase, the handling of keyboard shortcuts (or Key Commands, in Cubase-speak) is very flexible, and almost any action in the application can be assigned to a Key Command. Unlike previous versions of Cubase, SX/SL doesn't allow you to assign Key Commands to MIDI events, but the extra functionality now provided in this area of the application more than makes up for it, and it isn't something I've personally missed since I began using SX.

Key Commands

The management of Key Commands is handled, unsurprisingly, by the Key Commands window, which is opened by selecting File/Key Commands. To make life easier, the Key Commands have been grouped into a list of Categories, and the Commands list always shows the Key Commands available in the currently selected Category. However, if you're not sure which category a Key Command might be listed under, you can use the search facility to help you.

To search for a Key Command, click 'Search' to open the Search Key Command window. Click the black text field at the top of the Search window, type in a keyword and press Return — don't click 'OK' just yet, as this closes the window without performing the search. If your search was successful, you should see a list of matches describing the Key Command, the Category it's listed in and the keyboard shortcut that triggers the Command, if a shortcut has been assigned. Unfortunately, the Search Key Commands window is just a reference tool and you can't use it to automatically jump to a Key Command.

Once you've selected a Command in the Key Commands window, any assigned keyboard shortcuts for it will be detailed in the Keys list, so if the list remains empty, you can deduce that the Key Command is currently unassigned. To assign a Key Command, make sure the one you want to assign is selected, click the text field underneath the 'Type New Key Command' label and press a key (or combination of keys) on your keyboard. If the key (or keys) you pressed is already assigned, the Key Command it's assigned to will be displayed underneath the text field. Should this happen, try another combination.

When you have a unique keyboard shortcut entered, click the Assign button to assign the Key Command, and you'll notice that it appears in the Keys list. You can remove an assignment from the Keys list by selecting it and clicking 'Remove'. You'll then have to confirm, in the Alert that appears, that you really do want to remove the assignment, by clicking 'Remove' once more.

Many of the available Key Commands are unassigned by default. Perhaps the most commonly used Commands just crying out to be assigned are the Add Track Commands. However, it's interesting to note that some of the unassigned Key Commands can't be accessed in any other way than by assigning them. These include useful features such as the nudge Commands, which allow you to nudge the current selection by the current quantize setting.

Key Command assignments are Project-independent and stored within Cubase SX itself, meaning that any Key Commands you assign will be available to any Project you open or create. If you want to use your assignments on another system, you can save them by clicking the Export button in the Key Commands window, and reload them via the Import button. Steinberg supply many Key Command sets with Cubase, to emulate the way keyboard shortcuts are assigned in other applications, such as Logic, Sonar, and earlier versions of Cubase. Windows users can find these in the 'Program Files/Steinberg/Cubase S?/Key Commands' folder, while Mac users will find them in the 'Library/Application Support/Steinberg/Cubase S?/key commands' folder.

Macro Madness

While Key Commands are useful, Cubase SX/SL takes the idea one step further by implementing Macros, making it possible to define a sequence of Key Commands that can be triggered via a single command from the Edit/Macros sub-menu. And, naturally, you can also trigger a Macro with a Key Command, since any Macros you define automatically appear in the Macros category of the Key Commands window.

The Key Commands window again, showing the Macro options with a recreation of the 'Loop Selection' Command.The Key Commands window again, showing the Macro options with a recreation of the 'Loop Selection' Command.A good example of what's possible with Macros is the Loop Selection Command in the Transport menu (while this is not strictly a Macro, it does demonstrate the kind of command that can be defined with one). If you're not familiar with Loop Selection, it sets the Left and Right Locators based on the current selection, positions the Project Cursor at the Left Locator, activates Cycle Mode and starts the Project playing — all in a single Command that can also be triggered by pressing [Shift]-[G]. But let's pretend that the Loop Selection Command doesn't exist for a moment and investigate how we could create it using a Macro.

As mentioned above, Macros are handled in the Key Commands window, and although the Macro options are hidden by default, you can access them by clicking the Show Macros button. To create a Macro, click the Create Macro button, type a suitable name into the highlighted space in the Macro list, and press Return. The next step is to add the Commands you want the Macro to trigger, which you can do by selecting the Macro you want to add the Command to in the Macros list, selecting the required Command in the upper part of the window and clicking 'Add Command'. It's important to note that the Command is always added below the currently selected item in the lower Commands list, and that there's no way to change the order in which the Commands are triggered after they've been added, unless you manually remove them and start again. You can remove a Command from the Macro by selecting it in the lower Commands list and clicking 'Remove Command'.

To recreate Loop Selection, you'd need to add the following Commands from the Transport category to a Macro, in this order: Locators to Selection, To Left Locator, Cycle, and Start. Once a Macro has been defined, you can assign a Key Command to it in the upper part of the window, or simply close the Key Commands window by clicking OK. Macros can be triggered by either pressing the assigned Key Command, or selecting them from the Edit/Macros sub-menu.


It will be interesting to see if Macro functionality is enhanced in future versions of Cubase, but, even as it stands right now, there are plenty of interesting uses for Macros. For example, you could define a Macro that created Hitpoints and audio slices in a single keystroke, or a series of quantize buttons, such as 'quantize quarter notes' or 'quantize eighth notes' that select a quantize resolution and quantize the current selection — and this is just scratching the surface. If you come up with any interesting Macros, email them to us, at, so that they can be featured in future Cubase Notes columns.

Key Commands & Control Surfaces

If you use a hardware control surface with Cubase that supports user-assignable function keys, you should be able to assign Key Commands to them in the Device Setup window. This works really well with control surfaces such as the Mackie Control, for example. This unit has eight function keys that, with the aid of a shift key, can provide access to 16 Key Commands. However, Mackie Control also supports two footswitches that can also be assigned Key Commands, and I've found it really useful to assign these to Start/Stop and Return To Zero, in the Transport, for example.

Burger, Fries & Transpose The Selection

This month, I've been fortunate enough to spend some time at Media Ventures in California looking at Cubase SX with Hans Zimmer, who's probably the world's most experienced Cubase user, in addition to being one of its greatest film composers. Over the years, he's developed an incredibly efficient working method with Cubase, and one aspect of this is based around the concept that it should be possible to trigger every action with a Key Command. Inspired by the keypads used on cash registers in fast-food restaurants, where keys are assigned to different foods and beverages, Hans and his team came up with a really neat way of accessing Key Commands in Cubase, using the same type of keypad.

The model in question is the Electrone KM128A, which provides a 16x8 matrix of 128 user-definable keys that can be assigned to any combination of standard keyboard actions. Devices like the KM128A behave just like regular keyboards and have no problem co-existing with such keyboards, interfacing with your computer via a PS2, USB (with the aid of a PS2-to-USB adaptor) or serial connection. Unfortunately, a Windows PC with a serial or PS2 interface is required to program the keypad, since the supplied software is only compatible with Windows and doesn't support USB, although, once programmed, you can also use the keypad with a Mac.

During keypad programming, each key is assigned a unique combination of keys that you would never hit by accident on a normal QWERTY keyboard, and that wouldn't already be assigned to a Key Command, such as 'Control/Apple+Shift+{'. So when you're assigning Key Commands, you simply press the required key on the keypad, which Cubase interprets as a regular combination of keys on a standard keyboard. Afterwards, as you'd expect, you can press the same key on the keypad to trigger the Key Command in Cubase — pretty neat.

So which Cubase Key Commands does Hans assign to his keypad? This is where things get interesting. Since most of the commands Hans wanted to assign to his keypad couldn't be assigned as Key Commands in Cubase VST, the team turned to CE Software's QuickKeys, which allowed them to create both relatively simple menu-based shortcuts, to trigger Logical Editor presets, and more complicated macro-based solutions.

Although you can now create Macros in Cubase itself, you still can't assign Key Commands for Logical Editor presets. Another feature you'd still have to use QuickKeys for in SX/SL is Hans' row of keys for switching the data displayed by the Controller Lane in the Key Editor. Being able to switch between volume, pan and modulation data, amongst others, with a single keypress is particularly useful — so useful, in fact, that Steinberg are considering adding this ability directly via built-in Key Commands in future versions.

If you're interested in getting one of these keypads, at £265.55 in the UK (from their cost is fairly high, although you might be able to apply the same ideas to cheaper alternatives. QuickKeys is available as an online download, at It costs $79.95 and comes in three different versions, for Mac OS 9.x, Mac OSX and Windows.

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