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Recording & Editing Music Using MIDI in Cubase 6 - Recording Your Own Tracks Without Using a MIDI Keyboard

Updated on October 27, 2011

So You Want to Record Your Own MIDI parts, eh?

Okay. Hopefully you've been following along with my tutorials because if you haven't, you will start getting lost. If you haven't been following along, first check out, then move on to The 2nd link, is the most important because you need it to get yourself up and running. Once you have loaded Song1 into Cubase, close the Key Editor window so that you're viewing all of the MIDI tracks in the Project Window.

Now that we're back where we left off, it's time to introduce you to a few things: VST Instruments, MIDI tracks, and the virtual keyboard. You will not need to run out and buy a MIDI keyboard for this exercise-or ANY exercise in this series. It's most common to record MIDI with a MIDI keyboard, but most people who program MIDI are keyboard players. With my tutorials, you don't even have to be a keyboard (piano) player in order to create your own music in Cubase (as you will soon discover).

Before we begin, I'd like to bring up a new feature available in Cubase 6. This feature is great for those who are starting out with Cubase. If you own the intro level version of Cubase 6 (Cubase 6 Elements), you have the option to download a FREE 60-day upgrade to either Cubase 6 Studio or the full version of Cubase 6. If you happen to own Cubase 6 Elements, I recommend downloading the 60 day trial of Cubase 6 Studio so that you can fully take advantage of the files we're using in my tutorials. You can find out more about taking advantage of this and also about a discounted upgrade at

Working with MIDI Tracks

Located in the Project Window on the left hand side is the Track Display. Seeing as how we're only working with MIDI in these tutorials, all of the tracks displayed are MIDI tracks (as shown in the photo above). In the photo, I have zoomed-in on the Kick & Snare MIDI track. You can resize the view of this track by clicking & dragging the bottom edge of the track. Notice that this MIDI track contains a lot of strange looking buttons. These buttons can come in handy, but for a newby like you, they can be pretty confusing. There is one button, however, that I would like to introduce to you. This button contains the letter "S". This is known as the SOLO button. By selecting the solo button, you will only hear the selected track. If you SOLO multiple tracks, you can concentrate on just a few tracks without hearing it all at once. Select SOLO on the Kick & Snare track and playback the track to hear only these drums.

As I mentioned in the previous tutorials, MIDI is simply data. The sounds you're hearing aren't MIDI. The sounds are coming from a VST instrument that is being triggered by this MIDI track. To view the VST instruments used in this project, select Devices from the Menu Bar at the top of the window, then select VST Instruments from the Devices menu. The VST Instruments panel appears and looks similar to the photo below. Notice how most of these instruments read as HALion One. That's because I used the included HALion One VST instrument when programming these MIDI tracks. To view the actual instance of HALion One that I'm using on the Kick & Snare MIDI track, select the "e" button on the VST Instrument panel. HALion One should appear as shown in the photo below.

NOTE: I mentioned the word instance above. An instance is sort of like a copy of a VST instrument or effect. Even though Cubase comes with one HALion One VST instruments, you can use multiple copies or instances at once. Using multiple instances is a great way to get the most out of any VST instrument or effect. There usually is no limit (except for you computer's processor limitations) to the number of instances you can be using at once.

Changing VST Instruments and Recording MIDI

Now that Cubase 6 has a lot more to offer than Cubase 4 (The program that this MIDI track was written for), let's switch up this VST Instrument with one of the new ones. To do so, select where it says "HALion One" in VST Instrument slot one. This is a list of all of the VST instruments that are available for you to use. Select "Groove Agent ONE" from the list. A prompt will appear asking if you'd like to create a MIDI track. Select "Cancel" within the dialog box. You've just removed the Hip Hop drums and the HALion One instrument from the VST instrument panel and replaced it with a blank instance of Groove Agent ONE. If you were to playback the MIDI track right now, you would hear nothing because no sounds have been assigned to the newly selected Groove Agent ONE. There's also another problem, Since you deleted the original HALion One track, the MIDI track displays that it's output is "Not Connected". In the MIDI track, select where it says "Not Connected" , then select "Groove Agent ONE-MIDI IN" from the list of available VST Instruments.Now, with your VST Instrument panel open, select the "e" on the panel so that you can view Groove Agent One as shown n the photo below.At the top of the Groove Agent One window, you'll see a few buttons, then an empty text box with a small box-like icon next to it. Select the box, then select "Load Preset". A list of presets will appear. Select "Collins Kit" from the list.

Recording a New Drum Part for My Song

Groove Agent ONE has a lot of features that HALion One doesn't have.For one thing, you can simply use the mouse to select a pad to audition a sound. Go ahead and use the mouse to select some of the pads on Groove Agent ONE. You should hear the sounds that are available in this cool retro Phil Collins style drum kit. If you play back the same ole MIDI track from my demo song, you'll also hear that my old Hip Hop drum groove is now beling played on a Phil Collins "In the Air Tonight" sounding electronic kit. THIS IS ONE BIG EXAMPLE OF THE POWER OF MIDI that I discussed in the first tutorial on MIDI.

Now, this track sounds a little sparse so I want you to record some more parts. Select F2 so that you can see your transport panel. On the transport select the "L". Selecting the "L" should move the cursor to the start of the song. Now select "Click" on the transport. This will give you a timing reference beat. There's one thing that you can't achieve with the Groove Agent ONE VST instrument--it has no MIDI OUT. What this means is that it can not record the MIDI from playing it's pads with the mouse. You can, however, use a cool feature called the Virtual Keyboard to trigger the drum sounds from Groove Agent ONE. To do so, right click anywhere on the Transport and select "Virtual Keyboard" from the top of the menu so that it is checked. When you close the menu, your transport should now look like the photo below. Make sure that the Kick & Snare track is selected and tap the mouse on some of the keys from the virtual keyboard. You should be able to hear the sounds on the Groove Agent ONE just as if you were tapping the pads on the Groove Agent ONE. The cool thing is that you can actually use your computer keyboard to control the virtual keyboard. Tap the #5 key on your computer's keyboard. You should hear a hi hat sound. Now you're ready to record.

Make sure the cursor is at the start of the song and you're ready to bust out a new hihat part to this boring drum groove. When you hit record, you will hear the click as a guide. Now select the red circle RECORD button on the transport. The track will start playing back and there are 2 measures before the other drums come in. Tap out whatever rhythm you want. The MIDI notes you are tapping will be added to the MIDI track that already exists here. When you're finished recording, hit the STOP (or just utilize the spacebar on your computer keyboard) button on the transport. Congrats! You've just recorded your first MIDI track without even using a MIDI keyboard!

In Conclusion...

Yes, recording with the Virtual Keyboard can be limiting for some, but considering that you don't have to be a keyboard player to use it, and can take it with you on your laptop as opposed to lugging around a large MIDI controller keyboard, the virtual keyboard is a great tool to utilize.

There's a lot more to learn about MIDI tracks, HALion ONE, Groove Agent ONE, and even the Virtual Keyboard. For those who want to learn more now (as opposed to waiting for me to post more details), check out my book MIDI Editing in Cubase or you can get a lot of information from the manual by selecting Help/ Documentation/Operation Manual or Help/ Documentation/Plug-In Reference from the Menu Bar.

We've also just scratched the surface on recording MIDI and I haven't even begun to discuss editing MIDI yet. In next week's tutorial I will be showing you how to correct the timing of your poorly played MIDI part so that every hit falls on beat (just like the pros!). Thanks for reading!


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    • unvrso profile image

      Jose Juan Gutierrez 4 years ago from Mexico City

      This is a very interesting program for musicians. I once had the program on m y computer and learn a few features. I will probably try the 60 day free trial of this program.

      Voted interesting!