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Steinberg Cubase

Tips & Tricks
Published May 1997

Niels Larsen, Steinberg's Sales and Marketing manager, lets you in on some crafty ways of using Cubase.

I have to admit that even though I drive my car every day, I still haven't read the user manual. This doesn't stop me from using the car, though! In the same way, many Cubase users find that they're able to start programming without even opening the manual, and the following hints and tips will be especially useful for them. But even if you have read the manual I hope you won't disregard this article. You might well find a tip or two that you've overlooked.

Some of the features I'll be referring to in this article will only be applicable to the PC and Mac versions of Cubase. However, many articles have been written in the past about the Atari version, so I hope Atari users will forgive me! I'll be using short names for key commands: 'Ctrl' for the Control key (Command/Apple on the Mac) and 'Alt' for the Alternate key (Option on the Mac).

Fast Copying

The key to efficient programming is mastering the arrangement page. Fast and accurate copying of parts will help you to do this.

  • Choose the pencil from the toolbox and hold down the Alt key while drawing over the part you want to copy. Keep drawing until you reach the position in the song to which you want the part copied, and release. Multiple copies will be created automatically. You can create ghost parts in the same way by pressing the Ctrl key instead of the Alt key.
  • Now select the glue tool from the tool box, press the Alt key and click on the parts you have created. This operation will glue all the parts on a track. If you wish, you can now resize parts by selecting the scissors, pressing the Alt key and clicking on a part. The length of the resized part depends on the distance between the start of the part and the point at which you are positioning the scissors.

Quantise And Snap Values

Quantise and snap values can be selected by pressing the numerical keys above your QWERTY keyboard (keys 1‑7). These will select quantise and snap values regardless of which editor you are working in. If you need triplets, simply press 'T'. Your computer's numerical keypad, by the way, will not activate this function because it is used for location points instead.

Marker Track

I often create a marker track when I'm recording, to help me to identify musical sections. Simply create parts representing the start and end points of musical sections. Name and/or colour‑code these parts for easy identification. Select a part, use the short‑cut command Alt Gr+[P] (the Mac shortcut is Option+[P]) and the left and right locator will jump automatically to the start and end point of the part. Press '1' on the numerical keyboard and you're ready to play the section.

For long, complex arrangements it can be easier to create groups for the musical sections. Select the part representing the first musical section and choose 'Build Group' from the Structure menu. You can also use the short cut Ctrl+[U]. Repeat this process until you have created groups for the whole arrangement. Now simply select the group representing the musical section you want to hear, use the above‑mentioned Alt Gr+[P] short cut again, and press 1 on the numerical keyboard. This will automatically place the Song Position Pointer at the beginning of the musical section in question, ready for playback.

Apply Freestyle Feel To A Song

I often write and develop my initial musical ideas on the piano. Despite my appreciation for facilities such as quantisation and editing, I sometimes find myself frustrated with the strict timing of a sequencer. Detailed programming of Mastertracks is possible, but I've found that Cubase has an easier solution.

  • Once a basic composition has been programmed and recorded, mute all the recorded tracks and create an empty MIDI track. Switch on the Mastertrack and switch off the metronome. Now simply play a musical part accurately to the structure of your music and with the feel you wish to apply.
  • Time‑lock the MIDI track when you're satisfied with the performance. (This is done in the arrangement window by clicking in the 'T' column, which is usually next to Mutes) A time‑locked track is not affected by any tempo changes that may take place in the Mastertrack.
  • Open the Key editor and select all notes on the track (Ctrl+[A]). Move the notes so that the note representing the first downbeat is positioned correctly (often the downbeat in bar one).
  • Go through the MIDI part and select a note for what should be the downbeat of every bar (holding down the Shift key and using the arrow from the toolbox to highlight these notes). When you've finished, copy these notes to the clipboard by selecting Copy from the Edit menu. The timing position of these notes is what we will use as the basis for calculation of the Mastertrack.
  • Exit the Key editor and make sure that both the left locator and the song position pointer are placed on the first downbeat of your music. Position the right locator at the end of the last part in your arrangement.
  • Now open the Graphical Mastertrack (a quick way to do this is using Ctrl+[M]). Once this is open, paste the clipboard into the Mastertrack, set the snap value to 1, select Fill Meter Hits and then Link One by One in the Do menu.
  • All parameters have now been set, so select Straighten Up from the Do menu. You have now created a Mastertrack based on the feel of your piano performance. Un‑mute your arrangement and your composition will play back with this feel. Note that if you need dramatic tempo changes, you may need to base the Mastertrack calculation on a higher resolution than once every bar. The procedure is the same, but make sure to choose the right value for Meter Hits; for best results, practice a few times. This feature can also be used to create scores from freestyle performances.

Real‑Time Pattern Triggering

Styletrax is a much overlooked module in Cubase, which is a shame because it offers amazing power. One of my favourite features is the triggering of patterns in real time. The first thing to do, of course, is record the musical parts.

  • Create a multi‑instrumental arrangement in cycle mode. The length of the parts recorded determine the length of the pattern. Continue recording patterns in this way until you have the material you need. The Cubase Styletrax module will allow you to trigger each cycled recording as a looped pattern, and if you give the first part of every cycled recording a different name you will even be able to select the patterns by these names. If you're running Cubase on the PC you'll need to activate Styletrax by selecting Setup in the Modules menu and clicking on Styletrax.
  • Then create an empty arrangement, while keeping the existing arrangement open. (Remember that Cubase can hold up to 16 arrangements in one song.)
  • Create a track and select it as a Style Track. Ctrl+[E] will open the Styletrax module, with a menu which offers five pages: Tracklist, GM Map, Settings, Remote and Styles. (In the Mac version of Cubase, the menus are called Style, Map, Param, Remote and Select.)
  • Choose Tracklist from the module's edit menu and make sure that your arrangement is selected in the top right corner. This defines the arrangement as a Style Track and automatically assigns it to key C1 on your MIDI keyboard. Subsequent patterns you define as Style Tracks will be assigned to the keys in ascending order: C sharp, D, D sharp, and so on. It's not possible to simply choose the key you want the pattern to be triggered by, so before you start you might want to think about the order in which you create your cycled patterns. Make sure that Mode in the instrument listing is set to Normal for all your instruments. Click on Remote to access the menu that sets the parameters for remote control. Make sure that Variation is switched on, but switch off Mutes, Stop and Thru.
  • Go back to the arrangement page and, in the Inspector, set Mode to Listening and switch to Manual. Activate play on the transport bar and you're now ready to play back your patterns in real time, either by playing the keys from C1 onwards on a MIDI keyboard, or selecting the patterns from the Inspector's Variation list.

You can also record complete arrangements by triggering patterns. Set Rec to On in the inspector and trigger the patterns, as mentioned earlier, but this time activate record on the transport bar. Tracks for every instrument will automatically be created once you've finished recording.


One of my favorite modules in Cubase is the MIDI processor, because it instantly provides a result. It's easy to set up for MIDI delays or arpeggios, and I find it particularly effective when developing percussion tracks. To spice up a percussion track, try this:

  • Select MROS as output for the percussion track.
  • Open the MIDI Processor and select MROS as input. This will route the recorded data through the module.
  • Now select the output and the MIDI channel relevant to the percussion patch. Make sure to activate the module and press Play on the transport bar.
  • Play around with the parameters, or try the following settings:

Repeat: 3

Echo: 24

Quantise: 1

Vel Dec: ‑20

Echo Dec: 24

Note Dec: 4

  • Change the Note Dec value to trigger different percussion instruments, or go back to the arrangement page and change transpose value for the track. You can, of course, also record the processed data. Select MROS as output for the MIDI Processor and create a new track in the arrangement page. Activate Record on the transport bar and the processed data will be recorded as a normal MIDI track.

Audio Tricks

  • Importing audio without the Pool
    Create an empty audio part and open the Audio editor. Select the pencil from the tool box and click once in the editor. A file selector appears: just choose the file you wish to import.
  • Analysing the tempo of an audio file
    Cubase can analyse the tempo of an audio part by looking at the distance between the Q‑point and the end of the part. First make sure that the audio part is accurately edited. If you're not sure, zoom in and out with the QWERTY keyboard's G and keys. It is also important that the Q‑point is positioned correctly. If the audio part starts with a downbeat, the Q‑point should be positioned at the very start of the part (value 0 in the information bar). Let's assume that the audio part is two bars long and is positioned on the downbeat of bar 1. Highlight the audio part by clicking once on the waveform, hold down the Shift key, click on the song position ruler at bar 3 (this is where we want the audio part's end point to be) and drag the black line that will appear to the exact end of the audio part. If you're time‑stretching audio files, you'll need to know the source tempo of a file, so practise a few times to get it right.

Applying Multiple Tempo Changes

  • Switch on the Mastertrack and create your first tempo map.
  • Time‑lock the tracks you want this tempo map to affect, by clicking in the 'T' column next to the mute column.
  • Now create a new tempo map for the tracks you haven't time‑locked. If required, this can be done for every track in an arrangement.

The time‑lock feature was particularly designed for visual work. If you've just spent a long time positioning sound effects and the producer has asked you to increase the tempo of the music, simply time‑lock the sound effects tracks and change the tempo. Job done!

Using Colour In The Key Editor

  • Assign different colours to MIDI tracks.
  • Select the parts you want to edit by clicking while holding down the Shift key.
  • Open the Key editor and select Colour by Part from the colour palette in the right top corner. The parts will appear colour‑coded in the editor, making identification a lot easier.

Cycle Mode Menu

I've always struggled with remembering the short‑cut key combinations that activate functions such as deleting the last recording in cycle mode. If you have the same problem, simply click on Cycle Rec on the transport bar when you're in cycle recording mode and the menu will appear (see Figure 8, left).

Mac Attack

  • Recycle without ReCycle
    I'm often asked by users whether Cubase has ReCycle, the incredible Steinberg groove analysis tool, built in. The answer has to be no. ReCycle is very comprehensive and, with its sampler compatibility, doesn't fit the design philosophy of Cubase. It is, however, possible to use facilities in Cubase in a similar way.

The following audio features are only available in the Mac programs. We are, however, developing a Windows 95 native version of Cubase which will include these features and Virtual Studio Technology. Cubase VST for PC is expected by the end of August.

  • Import a loop or riff into the Audio editor
    Make sure that Dynamic Events is ticked in the View menu and select Dynamic Events in the menu beneath the mouse position box (the default selection is Volume). Now select the audio part by clicking once on the waveform and choose Get M‑points from the Do menu. Use the default setting and click on Process (see Figure 9 above). Play the audio file and make sure that the M‑points have identified the rhythmic structure correctly. Excessive M‑points can be deleted with the rubber from the toolbox, and you can always re‑analyse and increase the threshold percentage if you're not satisfied with the amount of M‑points available. When you are satisfied, select Snip at M‑Points in the Do menu. This feature will isolate each rhythmic component and you can now change the Cubase tempo up or down and the audio file will follow the tempo. It is, of course, also possible to quantise the audio components. For best results, make sure your audio files are not too busy.
  • Quantising audio and MIDI
    An easy way of applying the feel of an audio part to a MIDI part is by using the Match Quantise tool in the arrangement page. Simply pick up an audio part and drop it on a MIDI part. It's also possible to go the other way, but you'll need to go through the process mentioned in the 'Import a loop or riff into the audio editor' tip above, or use Time Bandit.
  • Extracting groove templates from audio
    The feel of an audio file can be translated by analysing M‑points, as described in 'Recycle without ReCycle'. Then select the audio part, by clicking once, and open Match Audio and Tempo in the Do menu. Now select M‑points to Groove in the Audio menu and the groove template will appear instantly in the Functions menu, ready for use.