reviews

Students using Cubase © Steinberg

Cubase 9.5: Review

Steinberg

UK Education prices including VAT
 
Cubase Pro 9.5 – (boxed) £308, (download) £291 
Cubase Artist 9.5 – (boxed) £171, (download) £153 
Cubase Elements 9.5 – (boxed) £58, (download) £57 
 
Special educational pricing is available for all Steinberg software products saving 40% off the suggested retail price. There is further discount on site license orders, updates and upgrades.
 
Please contact your local retailer for more information and price quotes.

Jazz musician and producer, Steve Rose, reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 9.5.

Key information

  • Title: Cubase 9.5
  • What it is: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Available from: local retailers and the Steinberg website

Pros

  • Extensive audio and MIDI manipulation
  • Integration with other Steinberg products
  • PC and Mac compatible
  • Ability to collaborate with other Cubase users over the internet

Cons

  • Steep learning curve, especially with Cubase Pro
  • Virtual Instrument sounds can be a little unrealistic

These days, choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has become a major investment – not only in money but also in the time needed to learn the considerable feature sets that today’s software offers. 

There is a wide range of rivals: besides Cubase, some of the more popular choices are Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Avid Pro Tools and Propellerhead Reason.

Each has a similar overall concept albeit with variations, providing the ability to record both audio and MIDI information, together with extensive editing and creative possibilities that grow ever more sophisticated with each software version.

So why is Cubase 9.5 a good choice of DAW?

Cubase 9.5

While Logic Pro X has become very popular due to its strong MIDI instrument set and editing possibilities, it still runs on an Apple-only platform – so if you have a PC, you’re out of luck.

Cubase runs on both platforms and because it has been around since 1989 (when it was then only able to record MIDI information), it is a mature and well-featured piece of 64-bit software. It is equally suited to recording a large acoustic ensemble, creating loop- and sampler-based modern music genres or making a film soundtrack.

Complete beginners might be daunted learning the workflows associated with such sophistication but Steinberg has various versions in its Cubase 9.5 range, starting with a very basic cut down DAW in the shape of Sequel (currently £68 from the Steinberg online store here), which provides a selection of loops and a basic ability to record audio & MIDI. Here, a beginner can get up and running in a relatively short space of time but they might feel the limitations of the software after only a few weeks of use.

For more sophistication under the Cubase banner comes Steinberg’s Cubase Elements (£85), followed by Cubase Artist (£265), with the flagship Cubase Pro (£480) offering a dazzling array of features. The system requirements obviously grow as the power features increase.

Cubase Pro

As its name suggests, Cubase Pro is aimed at audio professionals and consequently has the biggest learning curve.

As a recording musician for over 30 years, I began using various tape machines at my home studio back in the 1990s but gradually incorporated computers as their power grew. I used an early incarnation of Cubase in about 1998 together with the revolutionary Yamaha DSP Factory sound card – revolutionary because at last computers could record audio reliably, which was a major step forwards.

Now, 20 years later, I was curious to see how quickly I could become reacquainted with the software which has grown out of all recognition since those early days.

Initial setup

Initial setup took me hours when I expected it to be minutes – I can’t say Cubase Pro is very intuitive on this. The relevant ‘Audio Connections’ page required me to enter all the inputs and outputs of my Universal Audio Apollo sound card before I could hear anything at all.

Fortunately, the internet is full of useful videos and advice from many users who have come up against the same problems plus the Manual is pretty clear. Dedicated learning Music Technology sites such as Groove3 also can be worth the subscription fee for the time it takes to thoroughly familiarise oneself with a new piece of software.

I always say learning the idiosyncrasies of a new DAW requires similar dedication and patience to learning to play an instrument. Both can be very frustrating!

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

What can it do?

Having at last got everything working, I began testing out the capabilities of Cubase Pro.

There are thousands of good-quality audio loops already loaded in a variety of styles, together with the ability to slow them down and speed up, fit to a given length, play backwards, drop into a sampler for playback on a keyboard plus anything else the user can imagine.

Recorded audio can be similarly treated, tuned and quantised and Pro offers over 90 high-quality plugins to tweak things still further.

The ability to take a piece of recorded audio and replace it with MIDI blurs the barrier between the two and allows such things as the replacement of drums at a later stage of production.

I like the idea of online collaboration using Pro’s VST Connect software – getting a musician anywhere in the world to play on one’s own track in virtually real time is now a possibility thanks to Steinberg’s groundbreaking features.

Score-writing

While not primarily score-writing software, Cubase Pro can produce decent-looking scores and parts (although they can’t be refined as much as dedicated engraving tools such as Sibelius or Steinberg’s new Dorico).

However, writing basic parts for live performance from, let’s say, a MIDI track can be handled easily even in Elements and Artist but Pro adds more functionality.

I hear there are plans to integrate Cubase Pro with Dorico, which would be an amazing achievement, but as yet it hasn’t happened.

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

MIDI sounds

MIDI instruments built into Cubase 9.5 are largely centred around their HALion software, a sample player that incorporates over 3,000 instruments in Pro.

I find some of the sounds a little uninspiring when compared to, for example, Logic’s excellent Alchemy but nevertheless, there are plenty of useable sounds, especially when complemented by Steinberg’s other Virtual Instruments.

Certainly, Cubase has a full set of textures on offer right out of the box but for really excellent pianos, strings and other acoustic emulations, 3rd party VST instruments would be better.

Other features

Cubase Pro has excellent Video writing facilities: finished soundtracks can be exported to video directly from Cubase, which uses the same engine as Steinberg’s Nuendo (a DAW dedicated mainly to video and game audio production).

I like iC Pro’s ability to use an iPad or iPhone as a remote control for Cubase, which ends running to and from a computer when recording on one’s own.

Also worthy of mention is the seamless linking to Wavelab, Steinberg’s mastering software, for example, allowing the use of forensic editing tools to get rid of that fire engine that went past during the perfect take at the click of a button.

Who’s it for?

I would say that Cubase 9.5 Elements or Artist has a good balance of features to usability/learning time, perhaps something school students aged 14-18 might put to good use.

For University level, Cubase Pro 9.5 has all the features that would ever be needed while Steinberg’s Sequel might be ideal for younger children to learn the basics of Music Technology.

You can compare the features of each package here.

There are too many facets to Cubase 9.5 to cover in this review but I’m very impressed with the overall feel and unique workflows that Cubase offers. I’m even starting to use Cubase over my familiar Logic Pro X for some recording projects, which must mean I’m a convert!


Header photo: Students using Cubase © Steinberg 


About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

Steve RoseHe has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with Rambert, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.

Website: http://www.steverose.co.uk
Email: steve@steverose.co.uk

Posted In  Product reviews

Dorico

Key information

  • Title: Dorico
  • What it is: Scoring software
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Price information: Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480 / Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239 / Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282 / Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136
  • Available from: https://www.steinberg.net / https://www.dorico.com or music shops

Dr Steven Berryman road-tests Steinberg’s new score-writing software

The background to Steinberg’s Dorico – a new notation software to join the likes of Sibelius and Finale – has been told well in previous reviews and music educators might be interested in new software but might have plenty of scepticism towards it too.

Investing in music technology equipment and software is an expensive venture – it needs regular updates and quickly dates. I was keen to see if Dorico offered something that might tackle the frustrations that users have with other programs in addition to matching the well-used interfaces of software such as Sibelius and Finale. I have used Sibelius since the beginning and, while I was not particularly sceptical, I knew it would be a steep learning curve approaching new notation software after so many years of using Sibelius. I went in with an open mind and, thankfully, Daniel Spreadbury at Steinberg (@dspreadbury) was able to give me an introduction to the software at Steinberg’s offices in London.

Bringing it all together

To those of you familiar with Cubase, Dorico was built to make use of Cubase’s audio engine, meaning Dorico has access to the same VSTs and the various procession tools (amp modelling and synths for example). This is good news for those schools or users that might have Cubase already as now you can have the notation editor that can give you a superior result to the inbuilt notation editing facilities of Cubase.

A more intuitive approach to writing

One thing I always found frustrating with other notation software was that you needed to obey the rules of music theory from the outset. In some respects, I needed to know what I wanted to write in Sibelius before I entered it as changing musical details (note lengths particularly) would necessitate bigger changes. For students in the classroom, particularly at GCSE and beyond, I would often see a plague of common time: students entered their compositions without thought to metre but their music would be in common time (4/4) by default. Discovering that they meant their composition to be in triple time meant a hefty rewrite. This is in no way a significant criticism of Sibelius but a flaw in a software as a composing tool. You are not free to express yourself devoid of the rules of music theory. Dorico provides a flexibility I personally always wanted in Sibelius and an approach I use in my own composing: not quite knowing the metre required but writing free of bar-lines and adding in these details once the musical ideas become longer. What surprises you upon using Dorico for the first time is that you can enter notes and the ‘bar’ keeps growing to accommodate. I can add in details such as time signatures later and even change the note values without disrupting the material and necessitating significant rewriting. Daniel called these ‘non-destructive edits’ and you are pleasantly surprised by the automatic re-notation of the material as a result of any edits.

Starting the writing process

Starting the writing process

I missed the ability to move the notes around with the cursor keys as I would in Sibelius when I clicked in the wrong note. I did enjoy being able to add a bar line where I wanted, free of any considerations about my metre. Being able to add the metre later is a real joy and being able to change it and have Dorico re-notate your music correctly in the new metre is a dream. Dorico separates the process of ‘writing’ and ‘engraving’ and it is good that you can save the necessary tweaks to a separate part of the process. I think this is a clear message to students of the work process: set up your score, write your music, ‘engrave’ your music, play it and then print it. As Daniel put it, Dorico looks to ‘stretch what a scoring programme can be: out of your brain into the software’.

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

Spacing and parts

Music teachers are endlessly producing arrangements and parts for classes and ensembles and the quality and ease of producing these will be a significant concern to those working with groups. I wanted to see how Dorico would fare with scores I have already produced in Sibelius so I exported these via XML. I opened up a Bach Chorale exercise from a student and this appeared without any error and the look of the score is very pleasing. Extracting parts was easy and the look is excellent and print-ready without much editing needed – though I am looking at very straightforward material.

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

Music frames and the potential for handouts

I am probably not alone in trying to create worksheets and handouts for students that feature musical examples lovingly engraved and I have grown fond of the ability to export graphics from Sibelius and be able to insert these examples into documents. Daniel introduced me to ‘music frames’ and the possibilities are quite exciting. An ingenious way of creating a worksheet or handout directly in Dorico without the need of exporting material but also a way of replicating the various instances where you might need a small additional staff on a score (for example, if you are putting the plainsong at the start of a choral work or a small example at the bottom of a score for how an ornament might be realised) or other occasions when you might need to add additional musical details without conflicting with other material. I would need even more time to explore this feature but, already, I can see some quick ways to devise handouts suitable for teaching in a variety of contexts from school to university. Being able to create frames that can be altered in size and remain as editable music and not a fixed graphic is thrilling.

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material

Summary

Having spent over two decades working with Sibelius and being at the stage where I felt I would not need to look for an alternative software and trying something new and learning the various shortcuts and processes would be daunting, I was pleasantly surprised by Dorico. Of course, it is different but some shortcuts were similar and I was able to discover various processes through exploring. Also, by looking at the impressive YouTube channel, you can discover more about the software and learn in a relatively short space of time how to get started. It might not have a lavish printed manual but having instructional videos is incredibly handy, particularly if you are in a class context and want students to be able to learn various features of the software independently. I recommend taking a look at Dorico – you will be surprised by the intuitive nature of the ‘write’ process and will discover some possibilities that other software has not been able to do with such ease. The Dorico journey is not quite over yet and you might find some features that do not match the likes of Sibelius but, given time, I sense we are going to have an impressive software that is going to allow greater freedom in the composing process not only for those in schools but also those working professionally. Steinberg shows a great deal of energy and support for those working in education and I welcome this as a school teacher. We often pick up our music technology skills on the job and knowing there is a good support network and a dedicated education officer who you can contact for advice is fantastic.


About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music. Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper Dreams. Opera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012). Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.

Website: www.steven-berryman.com
Email: info@steven-berryman.com


 

Posted In  Product reviews

Kings College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

Music Education UK reviews the vocal extravaganza

The London A Cappella Festival (LACF) is an annual fixture on the UK choral scene, attracting performing groups from all over the world as well as hundreds of workshop participants and concert-goers. Based at Kings Place, with satellite events taking place at nearby LSO St Luke’s, the festival runs for four days and is an ambitious mix of concerts, workshops, children’s events and showcases.

Curated by a cappella supergroup, The Swingles, this year’s festival – the 9th – ran from 24-27 January 2018. Media partners, Music Education UK and sister site, Choral.ly attended on the last day, enabling us to sample workshops, showcases and the final concert.

What struck us first and foremost was the friendly, almost intimate, atmosphere of the event. Festival-goers were in evidence from the moment we arrived, hanging out on the ground floor of Kings Place or chilling in the basement where most of the action takes place. Riding down the escalator, we saw the foyer open up to reveal the showcase stage, situated between Hall 1 (where festival concerts take place) and Hall 2 (which hosts festival workshops). With Vocal Dimension Chorus’s showcase in full swing and an appreciative audience standing or lounging on banquettes or the floor to listen, applaud and sing along, there was a feeling that this festival is as much about chilled-out participation as spectating. Many of the people around us seemed to know each other and we sensed that people come here in groups – families, friends and, above all, fellow choir members.

All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus

All-female a cappella group, Vocal Dimension Chorus

This was echoed in the first workshop where participants were quick to shed bags, coats and even shoes in their eagerness to get comfy for the warm-up – a two-minute meditation-style exercise led by the beatboxer from all-female contemporary vocal group, Musae (stepping in at the last minute to cover for Huun-Huur-Tu, a throat-singing group from Tuvan on the Mongolian border, who’d had problems getting visas). While the rest of Musae watched from the stage, Mel Daneke and fellow singers, Jessie Litwin and Sam Creighton, led 80 of us in a session exploring what it takes to prepare for a performance. It’s always good to feel the fear and do it anyway and we found ourselves sharing some quite intimate experiences, including moving across the floor to music representing water, air, earth and fire, discussing where we feel confident and where fearful and, for eight lucky people, lip-synching a stage performance to a backing track! I found myself next to LACF’s Festival Patron, choirmaster and broadcaster, Gareth Malone, and was delighted to see him getting stuck in as we swam, flew, stomped and sizzled our way through the session.

Musae’s workshop

Musae’s workshop

The second workshop was a sit-down affair in which beatboxer supremos, Grace Savage and Hobbit, talked us through the basics of beatboxing. Not being as au fait with the contemporary a cappella scene as I might hope, it took me a while to work out why beatboxing had been given such a prominent spot in the festival until I realised that a cappella groups performing any kind of music with a groove need a ‘rhythm section’ and beatboxers provide that. I counted about 120 participants in the workshop and it was great to see everyone having a go at this most challenging of musical forms. As before, people were keen to get stuck in and the hall was soon full of impromptu vocal drum grooves and faux-electronic whistles and woofs. The audience had its fair share of beatbox aficionados, all keen to jump on stage and improvise with Grace and Hobbit, and, for me, this encapsulated the spirit of LACF – an event where lovers of a cappella can congregate to listen and learn, share and network and, above all, perform. You could almost feel the thirst for knowledge in the Q&A section and there was no sense that people felt intimidated – rather, this was a friendly community of a cappella brethren, united in the study and practice of group singing.

L-R: Grace Savage and Hobbit improvising with a member of the audience

Post-workshop, we hung out to three more showcase performances by NoVI, The Rolling Tones and The Gold Vocal Collective before making our way into Hall 1 for the final concert by The Swingles. Founded by Ward Swingle in 1963, this London-based group performs everything from Early Music and Bach to contemporary folk, pop and jazz. With effortless blending and consummate control, they are hugely impressive and well deserving of their reputation as masters of their craft. For me, the path they tread between their obvious classical training and the need for vocalese to sound ‘cool’ can be a little unconvincing at times but this is more than made up for by their ability to bring nuance to their dynamics. So many of the other performing groups ‘belted’ their numbers that it was a joy to listen to quiet as well as loud singing!

Contemporary a cappella group, The Gold Vocal Collective

The group was joined on stage towards the end of the night by many of the other festival headliners – including Musae and New York Voices – as well as Gareth Malone. The warm camaraderie between the performers and the audience confirmed that LACF is a labour of love and a place of sanctuary for the a cappella community. Roll on next year!


Header photo: Kings College London-based a cappella group, The Rolling Tones

Posted In  Event reviews

Novello Guide to Sightreading

Key information

  • Title: The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing
  • What it is: Sight-singing guide and online resource
  • Authors: Ralph Allwood & Timothy Teague
  • Publisher: Novello & Co
  • Price information: £18.99-£19.99
  • Available from: Amazon.co.uk / Musicroom.com / Scorestore.co.uk (with a 5% discount)

Choral director, Brian Cotterill, reviews Novello’s new sight-singing guide

Ella Fitzgerald once said that ‘the only better thing than singing is more singing’. A major problem for so many potential singers though has always been how to sight-read. Sight-singing is different from sight-reading on other instruments because it involves pitching notes oneself, rather than ‘simply’ playing the correct note.

As a choral director, I have often found that the most useful singers in a choir are not necessarily those with the best voices but those who can sight-sing accurately.

This work – and it’s much more than just a book – is a fantastic publication. It can be used by students, teachers and choir directors alike. There is so much in it that it is, dare I say it, the ultimate resource.

Sight-reading has always been the scourge of music exam candidates. The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing should be in everyone’s music case. The authors have used their huge experience to produce the first truly interactive resource to teach the art of sight-singing.

The book

As a text book, this will be of immense use to singing teachers in lessons with their students but can also be used by students on their own, outside lessons. Although necessarily extremely detailed, the book guides the student through the theory and skills required to sight-sing effectively, notably rhythm, intervals, melodic shape etc. I particularly like the way the authors advise students how to pitch intervals – a common difficulty among singers.

The exercises are cleverly chosen from ‘real’ pieces of music and each one focusses on a particular aspect of sight-singing. The annotated musical examples in the book, while initially appearing quite daunting and reminiscent of university students’ analysis assignments, on closer inspection give a vast array of tips and techniques to improve one’s skills.

Screenshot 1

Additional Case Studies, Example 1

The book provides explanations, exercises and tips and tricks covering:

  • basic music theory
  • scales and stepwise motion
  • larger intervals and awkward leaps
  • fast and effective reading of choral scores
  • examples from popular choral repertoire
  • general good practice for choral singing

I don’t know of another book which brings such a thorough approach to the art of sight-singing. Singers are taught to notice things in a score as they sight-sing (arpeggios, scale passages, repeating patterns etc), aspects of sight-singing which are crucial.

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

Additional Case Studies, Example 2

The book is extremely thorough; indeed, perhaps a little too thorough for use by a student on his or her own. Nevertheless, for use with a teacher or by a choral director, it is a box of delights.

The online Soundcheck resource

The unique aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing is its online Soundcheck resource. By logging into SoundWise, not only is the whole book available as an E-book on screen but also all the exercises are available for practice, each pitched for both high and low voice.

Once the chosen Soundcheck exercise is on screen, the student can try to sing it (through the microphone of his or her computer) and the performance is then ‘marked’. The student can try each exercise as many times as he or she likes, hopefully improving his accuracy. ‘Stars’ are awarded to celebrate achievement.

Following a successful ‘performance’, the student is encouraged to do a ‘lap of honour’ by singing the exercise again. This helps confirm the skills used (and also checks that the previous performance wasn’t a fluke!).

SoundWise's Soundcheck resource

SoundWise’s Soundcheck resource

This online resource is of huge value and is the main thing which, for me, puts The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing in a different league from the old and crusty sight-singing books I have on my music shelves. Here, for the first time, the student can practise the art of sight-singing on his or her own with an online ‘teacher’ who marks every exercise instantly and will do so 24 hours a day – fantastic!

The SoundWise online aspect of The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing can be accessed on all media devices, including phone, tablet and personal computer, so is available for use anywhere – in a lesson, at home, in school etc – I even tried it in the bath!

In conclusion, I highly recommend The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing. It will no doubt establish itself as an extremely useful resource in the choral world. If I have one reservation, it would be that the book can appear too detailed for the student working alone, especially if he or she is young, but for use by adults, teachers and choral directors, it will doubtless prove invaluable. Ella Fitzgerald would have approved.


About the reviewer

Organist, pianist, choral director, composer and teacher, Brian Cotterill spent over seven years as Director of Music at Lanesborough School (the choir school of Guildford Cathedral) before becoming Director of Music at St Edmund’s School in Hindhead, Surrey, where he oversaw the running of seven choirs every week.

He has undertaken choir tours to Salzburg, Rome, Venice and Tuscany, which have included performances for Pope Benedict XVI. Brian is the official accompanist of Song Circle, a chamber choir formed from members of the BBC Symphony Chorus.

Web: http://briancotterill.webs.com
Email: brian.c@talktalk.net

Posted In  Publication reviews