Published On: Thu, Jan 21st, 2010

Cubase Tutorial: The Key Editor

It appears deceptively simple, but delve beneath the surface and the Key Editor has some very useful tricks up its sleeve. Hollin Jones lifts the lid in this Cubase Tutorial




Cubase started life as a MIDI sequencer, and although it has matured beyond recognition since those early days, MIDI recording and editing are still among the core features that make it such a great program, the others including audio recording and editing, plug-ins and, perhaps less tangibly, its friendly interface.

Anyone who has worked with MIDI in Cubase will almost certainly have come across the Key Editor, but many users merely scratch the surface of what it can do, limiting their interaction with it to simply deleting notes or dragging them around. In truth, it’s a remarkably powerful tool that bears further inspection, so we’re going to look at how you can get the most out of it.

Get the Key

If you open the project file that accompanies this Workshop you will find that it contains two MIDI loops that have not yet been quantized. If you double-click on the first track it will open in the Key Editor window. The button at the very top left, called Solo Editor, when pressed will ensure that as soon as you enter the Key Editor, the MIDI part you’re working on will be solo’ed; when you close it and return to the Project window, all other tracks will be unmuted.

One of the most common MIDI editing techniques is to quantize it – the process of snapping notes more accurately to a grid. You can do this by selecting a MIDI clip in the Project window, but by opening the Key Editor you can manually select certain notes or groups of notes. This is particularly useful when you’re working with beats and you want to apply different quantize values and amounts to the kick, snare, hats and toms, for example.

Determine the quantize value in the box at the top then drag around the relevant notes using the Object Select cursor tool.

Hit Q to quantize the notes – you can undo this and try a new value if the first one doesn’t fit. To tweak quantize settings for more precise control than you get with the standard presets, select MIDI>Quantize Setup and you can set parameters such as swing and strength for a less rigid, more human feel.
By zooming in on the MIDI part you should see that the notes actually display their names both on the events themselves and on the keyboard running along the left. Clicking on the graphical keyboard will audition notes. You may be able to see a chord/note box at the top of the window that will recognise and display the names of chords when you select groups of notes or when playing back, which can be helpful when trying to understand a part or a composition or tell others what to play. If you don’t see these boxes at the top of the window, you can make them appear by right-clicking in an empty area of the background and choosing the required tools to show or hide.

One available option comes in the form of the Colour Scheme box, which enables you to customise the note displays, choosing between things like velocity, pitch, channel and part. For many of these you can choose the Setup option to manually determine the colour scheme. Getting quick visual feedback on how notes are arranged in relation to each other in terms of velocity or pitch, for example, can be a great help. Let’s assume you quickly need to see any notes that may have been played too quietly or too loud – by selecting Velocity this will become immediately apparent.

Tools of the Trade

The tools available to you in the Key Editor are worth getting to know as they can really help you out. The Arrow tool is perhaps the most basic and enables you to drag notes around and select them.

The Pen tool is for drawing in notes or other data; the Eraser is for deleting them. With the Trim tool selected, click at any point on a MIDI note and it will be trimmed to that location from right to left – shortened, if you like. If you hold down the [Alt] key (Mac) or [Ctrl] (PC) key while clicking, the trim is made from left to right, cutting the start of the note but leaving the end. If you click and hold with the Trim tool while dragging, a line is created that can be used to trim multiple notes at once and isn’t limited to uniform cuts but can do graded trimming, too.

The Split tool can be used to divide MIDI events or notes without deleting anything, which is useful, for example, when working with more complex MIDI data. Let’s imagine that you have a held chord with associated parameter changes or automation happening over time – knob movements, panning and so on. By splitting notes you keep the other data intact and it can be moved with them. If multiple notes overlap and are selected when you use the Split tool, all selected notes will be split at the same point. The Split tool follows the current snap settings, so snapping can be as precise as you like (or you can deactivate it to make freeform cuts). Next up is the Mute tool, which will mute any notes you click with it – helpful for auditioning different melodies, chords or beats without having to duplicate parts or delete material. It’s also good for making variations to duplicated clips – missing out a couple of drum hits to make a break, for example. Just mute the relevant notes and unmute them to bring them back in.

The Glue tool, when clicked on a note, will merge it with the next note event on the same note channel. Clicking twice will glue the note after that and so on. This is really more useful on entire clips and with audio events than MIDI notes, but it’s worth knowing about nevertheless. The Zoom tool is fairly straightforward; holding down the [Alt]/[Ctrl] modifier keys while clicking will zoom out rather than in.

It’s not much to look at, but the Line tool is a nifty addition to any Cubase user’s arsenal. For a start, you can click and drag with it anywhere in the Key Editor to create a note of any length. If you drag at an angle you can create a ‘run’ of notes.
If you click and hold on the Line tool in the menu you will reveal a series of sub-tools that will insert data using specific preset waveshapes such as parabola, sine, triangle and square.

These are more useful for creating regular patterns when drawing in CC data, for example, but by using them in the Key Editor’s note section you can create some weird and wonderful melodies or beats without having to think too hard about it.

The final menu option for the Line tool is called Paint. This gives you a more or less freeform way to enter data on multiple note channels for some inspired insanity.

Changing Lanes

All MIDI Continuous Controller (CC) data associated with MIDI tracks can be viewed in the lanes at the bottom of the Key Editor. By default you often see velocity or perhaps sustain (if you have recorded with a sustain pedal). By clicking the tiny plus arrow at the bottom left you reveal multiple lanes; for each one, use the dropdown menu to determine the kind of CC data it will display. In Cubase 5 you can also view articulation lanes.

Data is recorded here as you play it, but it’s also perfectly feasible to draw in data using the Pen, Paint or Line tools. In the context of the CC lanes, doing this doesn’t create notes but rather parameter values to change whatever the selected kind of data is. Here, for example, you could use the Pen tool to create sustain on a synth line.
Alternatively, let’s imagine that you want to create a sort of a fade-out within a MIDI clip – the way to do this would be to view the velocity lane and use the Line tool to draw a ramp down to zero.

These are just some of the many things you can do with the Key Editor. In the next Workshop we’ll be looking at other ways to control and edit MIDI in Cubase.




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