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Cubase: Using Chord Pads

Steinberg Cubase: Tips & Techniques By John Walden
Published February 2024

The updated Chord Pad window incorporates the Chord Assistant, including its handy Circle of Fifths display, in a panel on the right.The updated Chord Pad window incorporates the Chord Assistant, including its handy Circle of Fifths display, in a panel on the right.

The revamped Chord Pad offers even better support for songwriters than before.

Cubase’s Chord Pad facility has always made experimenting with different chords easy for anyone, regardless of their version of Cubase (it’s included in the Pro, Artist and Elements editions) or their level of keyboard competence — you can create (or load) a palette of suitable chords, which can be as simple or as complex as you like, pick a key, and then all you need to experiment with different chord sequences is a single finger. Thus, it can be a very powerful aid to songwriting... and Cubase 13 brought some interesting refinements that are aimed squarely at this use‑case scenario.

Strike The Right Chord

As shown in the first screenshot (above), the Chord Pads can be accessed in the Project window’s Lower Zone. At its simplest, you can use the pads, each of which is associated with a MIDI note, to trigger a full chord on the currently active MIDI/virtual instrument track. However, you can now specify a larger number of pads (configured in the Chord Pad Remote Setting dialogue box, accessed using the MIDI connector icon located top right). You can also opt for a grid‑based layout (in the Chord Pads Display Setting dialogue, accessed very top right), which may be helpful if you are using a drum‑pad‑style device to trigger your chords.

The top bar menu system has been reorganised to provide better access to options for transposing or re‑voicing chords on selected pads. There are also improved pattern performance options (very neat, but a topic for more detailed consideration another day...) and options to configure both how chord triggers are quantised and how note overlaps are handled.

Steinberg have added a bunch of new Chord Pad presets that are well worth exploring but it’s easy to build your own selections, and we will look at one songwriter‑friendly route for doing this in a moment. Before we do, I want to offer you a quick reminder about the Adaptive Voicing (AV) feature. In essence, if this is active when you trigger chord changes, then Cubase will attempt to make those changes smoother by using the smallest shifts in pitch required to move between chords — much like a competent piano or guitar player might do. This can be activated on a per‑pad basis using the AV buttons in the toolbar. But sometimes you’ll want more specific control over the voicing used on a specific pad (for example, by setting the notes used with your MIDI keyboard), and in that case you can deactivate the AV system for that pad altogether and, as an extra ‘failsafe’,...

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